By Cem Yolbulan, Summer 2012 Intern
On June 27, 2012, the Middle East Institute held its Third Annual Conference on Turkey. Taking place in downtown DC at the National Press Club Building, the daylong conference covered a broad range of domestic, regional and global challenges to Turkey. Among the many distinguished speakers and panelists, Senator John McCain was the distinguished guest to give the opening keynote speech at the conference.
Beginning his speech by mentioning his life long affinity for Turkey, Senator McCain delivered a speech full of anecdotes and his usual sense of humor. Throughout his speech, he emphasized Turkey’s central role in the region and the American interest in military, political and economic cooperation withTurkey. He claimed that since Turkey is changing, the United States has to stop ‘romanticizing the past and misreading the present’ and try to adapt its relationship with Turkey accordingly.
The current, more confident foreign policy in Turkey, and the fact that Turkey is one of the only NATO members to increase its defense spending, make it crucial for common strategic framework in defense industries, according to McCain. He also further emphasized his personal commitment for cooperation with Turkey in fight against the PKK, referring to the resolution he submitted to the congress with Senator Joe Liebermann calling for increased cooperation in intelligence and military efforts by the United States with Turkey.
Senator McCain added that since Turkey and the United States have a ‘common vision of democracy, human rights, and rule of law in the region as a whole,’ they should work together against Syriaand the Assad regime. While condemning Assad regime’s violence and expressing solidarity with the Syrian people, he also criticized the Obama administration and its stance against Syria. A former presidential candidate and a staunch Republican, McCain used the opportunity to take a shot at the current administration, claiming that their actions have been ‘weak’ against Syria. I was expecting such remarks since I knew an experienced Republican politician like McCain would not have missed the chance of bashing the administration in front of a politically influential crowd of media and scholars, especially in the wake of upcoming elections. Yet, it still seemed to me that this conference was no place for such partisan remarks.
Furthermore, he called on the President to stand up for the suffering Syrian people, giving them a message of solidarity, which would also help show Turkey that the United States is a reliable partner and not a declining power.
The most striking common theme in Senator McCain’s speech, and perhaps the conference, was the unified solidarity and cooperation with Turkey and Syrian people against the Assad regime. All the panelists, speakers and guests including McCain seemed to share a great deal of sentiment towards Syrian people and agreed on Turkey’s key role in helping their struggle.
With his underlying messages of peace, solidarity and cooperation, Senator McCain undoubtedly won over the hearts of the audience, as he left with one ‘simple’ message: “Turkey and the United States can accomplish far more together than apart.”