On February 19, GMF hosted Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL), Senior Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe, and co-Chairman of the U.S.-Turkey Congressional Friendship Caucus, for a roundtable discussion at GMF's Ankara office, entitled the "New U.S. administration and the implications for the Turkish-American relationship."
Congressman Wexler's opening remarks outlined Turkey as regional power. Wexler said, despite the fact that there might be tactical differences between the U.S. and Turkey on the policies in Middle East, and that he does not necessarily approve Turkey's tactics, the strategy of these two countries toward the Middle East problem is the same. Both want peace based on a two state solution. Despite his disapproval of some of Erdogan's tactics and style, Wexler praised his courage in the negotiation talks with Cyprus and opening with Armenia. He concluded his remarks by listing some roles Turkey could play in the region.
Following his remarks, Congressman Wexler welcomed questions from the audience. His answers were as follows:
On the new administration's foreign policy style and approach to the region, especially to Afghanistan, will be acting in coordination with its allies and will not resort to unilateralism.
When asked about the "Armenian Resolution" and whether the "Davos" incident will cause the Jewish community draw back its support, Congressman Wexler clarified that the notion of "American Jewish community playing a disproportionate role in foreign policy issues" is misperceived. Accordingly, Members of Congress do not group themselves along with the religious divisions. Wexler hopes that the U.S. will prioritize defending its national security interests while making the decision. He also cautioned that involvement of a third party in the issue might obscure the recent on-going normalization process between Turkey and Armenia.
On the U.S. plan to withdrawal from Iraq, Wexler said the U.S. is aware that Turkey will be the one to be affected most after the withdrawal but continued by saying that the Obama administration appreciates Turkey's role in the region and will continue the strategic cooperation on the issues related to the region.
When asked about the differences between Obama and his predecessor, Wexler candidly accepted that a large group of people in the States, including himself, is not objective about the "last eight years" of the U.S. administration. At that point, Wexler pointed out that the Obama administration will be drastically different. On Turkey specifically, Wexler was hopeful that President Obama grasps the importance of Turkey as a NATO ally and a regional power.
When asked whether describing Turkey as "Moderate Islam" came to an end, Wexler preferred using the term "predominantly Muslim populated country" and praised again Obama for his genius and style. He quoted a recent Obama statement on an Arab TV channel.
On whether Turkey could be the country where Obama would be addressing the Muslim world in his early days in the office, Wexler said, "I think it would be great if President Obama could come to Turkey in the first hundred days of his presidency. However, President Obama should come to Turkey, not because Turkey is a predominantly Muslim populated country. He should come to Turkey, because it is a democratic country, because it is a secular country, because it is member of NATO and an ally of the United States."
One of the participants asked about whether U.S. has an interest in the status of human and women's rights in Turkey, making a reference to the headscarf issue, Wexler stated that U.S. would refrain from any act that could be considered as interference with domestic politics and added that it is very hard for an American to understand the headscarf issue. That said, he was very positive about democracy and secularism in Turkey.