Small time politics and big geopolitical games
Business File, November-December 2017, No. 113
The Greek side, addressing mainly its domestic audience, made every conceivable effort to bill the visit in geopolitical ramifications. Yet Greece has now a window of opportunity for a few years to “cultivate” its geographic significance and entrench its own objectives into US interests in the greater area – and that is for the duration of Erdogan’s stay in power.
By Dimitris Dimas
If one were to believe the stories served lightly to Greek audiences by a segment of the Greek media reporting on the Tsipras visit to the United States, reflecting the views of the “fastest tweet gun” in town, the American Ambassador to Athens Geoffrey Pyatt, they might have been confused and wondered: Is there really a 51st State in the making? Gosh, no! It’s all fake news!
There is nothing new! It has happened time and again. At the conclusion of such prime ministerial visits in Washington, disproportional loud bursts of triumph are heard all over the place echoed by synchronised cries of enthusiasm of their entourage and others who usually bene t from such events. There has always been a shortage of measured stocktaking as to what really transpired.
Once again, the Greek political system has shown inept behavior and has proven itself true to the prevailing no- tion in Washington that the majority of the political establishment in Greece has settled itself comfortably into very provincial leadership roles and in real- ity all they care about is small time politics. And, they endlessly argue about impressions and avoid substance – the latter left to decision making power centres outside of Greece, normally fol- lowing the directives from Berlin and concerned about Troika commands.
The wrong footing
So, what really happened? At first reading, not much, really! The PM’s visit did not leave a political imprint. Actually, it started noticeably on the wrong footing. It started from Chi- cago, a Democratic stronghold town, with a meeting, the Mayor of the town, Mr Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat. He and the American President, a Republican, are at each other’s throat. Did you get that? Before Mr Tsipras started his official visit, he went to meet with one of Trump’s chief critics in a town where weekly rallies are practically held against the President. It couldn’t have been more wrong than that! Totally undiplomatic…Mr Emanuel, a political wheeler and dealer and recipient of political contributions from wealthy Republicans, has declared Chicago as a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants – a politically motivated move to contradict the President on many grounds.
In their joint press appearance, it became apparent that the two men were talking
to di erent audiences – nationally and internationally
The paradox here is that Emanuel, a political op- portunist who is hated passionately by the liberals, was himself an anti-immigration proponent and had advised Bill Clinton, during his years in the White House, to go forward and achieve record deportations to increase his ratings during the Lewinsky a air! His proposal didn’t go very far. Clinton opted instead to bombard Serbia.
So, by starting his visit in Chicago, Mr Tsipras in essence was caught in a battle with fresh wounds between the President and one of his arch rivals. Was the Emanuel meeting necessary and who benefited from that? And who advised him to go there first? It is thought that some Greek-American business interests that operate in Greece prevailed against a better judgment and might have played a role in that! But regardless of whose recommendation and on what basis he went to Chicago, common sense dictates a certain protocol and that was not observed. And it did not escape people’s attention! As noticed, if necessary, the Greek PM should have gone to Chicago afterwards. Killing two birds with one stone in an unorthodox way sometimes doesn’t work. Especially when one of the birds is Trump!
It is reliably said that definitely the wrong signals were sent to the White House just two days before Mr Tsipras walked into the Oval Office for his meeting with US President Donald Trump. Can one imagine if Mr Trump came to Greece or his VP Pence as it’s been discussed, and met rst with the leader of the main opposition party, Mr K. Mitsotakis? Or, even worse, with some ambivalent character, the equivalent of Mr Emanuel?
Didn’t anyone give some thought of relevant political considerations?
Apparently, no serious deliberation was given to any likely reverberations of the Tsipras Chicago visit to preach Greek economic recovery. In the meantime, a lot of questions have been raised as to why a more appropriate place like New York was not chosen.
Of course, it is always easier to go and open new territories with smiles, handshakes, a few good words and some good meetings; and, effortlessly, to plow into new fields than to advance to a higher level business discussions that need a lot of work and preparation. The follow up is the most difficult aspect in all such efforts! Especially, when you have no answers to very demanding questions.
A private memo
As one New Yorker put it, “New York wants more solid information” and it would “have required a higher perform- ance standard” by the Prime Minister. At this time around it’s rather ironic and de nitely not enough to say you have created a task force in your o ce to deal with investments. “We have heard those things before and nothing has happened… as far back as ‘91, from another Greek Prime Minister, Mitsotakis.”
Most New York investors have a basic understanding of what “business in Greece” truly stands and definitely have serious difficulties in nding any value in the PM’s invitation to Americans to “invest in Greece”, is noted in a private memo. The American investor who “will take the bait” will soon find that, in terms of business, Greece has nothing left to other that reminds the “Land of Gods”. Instead, he will discover that Greece is highly corrupt (ranks 85th, down from 58th two years ago), normal activities require unorthodox practices, the public sector is a reliable provider of nightmares and the banking sector operates like a cartel and offers a wide range of rip-off practices, most of which deserve places of distinction in the Thesaurus of Banking Crime.
The haste and the apparent lack of preparation in many respects has raised eyebrows in many quarters in so far as the reasons the PM was invited to Washington at this particular time – with many foul ups, embarrassing moments in his tete-a-tete with President Trump and the obvious belittling of the PM by Mr Trump in the Rose Garden.
In their joint press appearance, it became apparent that the two men were talking to different audiences – nationally and internationally.
The Greek side, addressing mainly its domestic audience, made every conceivable e ort to bill the visit in geopolitical ramifications. The term “geopolitics” was used so freely, so lightly and so many times that practically became a household discussion item back in Greece in many frivolous ways.
The visit, totally absent in the American media, was overblown in Greece. It gave credence to American objectives and according to knowledgeable and keen observers the Trump White House sent messages to many recipients – to a limited extent to Turkey, and primarily to Europeans
Indeed, the narrative, orchestrated by the neocon US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, contained in many respects a rather meaningless or shallow talk about geopolitics and one may rightly wonder as to the real purpose served in the over- stated prime ministerial trip.
The visit, totally absent in the American media, was overblown in Greece. It gave credence to American objectives and according to knowledgeable and keen observers the Trump White House sent messages to many recipients – to a limited extent to Turkey, and primarily to Europeans.
There are definitely “imperatives” in Greece’s international agenda in safeguarding its important and lasting national interests in the European terrain and in its more immediate environment. The overuse of the Tsipras visit in “geopolitical” terms trivialises the true meaning of geopolitics and in this case it gives an ephemeral dimension in the US-Greece relations.
Geopolitics is not a static idea and does not simply refer to a single brief period of time in de ning the relations of two actors. It is de ned by continuity that is made up from a totality of such periods of past and present rela- tions and future actions, normally determined by usual and unusual circumstances on any given time.
So, the false narrative that Greece is now a pillar of stability like it has never been before is an evident misrepresentation of Greece’s significance over a long period dating back to the cold war years. Dissimilar circumstances prevailed in various periods that gave a different perspective of the geographic importance of the country and its neighbours. Unfortunately, myopic considerations by its allies had robbed Greece of its full geographic significance and its contribution to stability in the area. The co-existence of phobias about political costs by a narrow-minded Greek political establishment didn’t help either.
As it has been discussed in DC’s power houses, five or six years ago, for instance, with the Arab Spring, there was a more hopeful environment in the area; Putin, the Russian leader, was less powerful and a new energy environment was shaping up. Now, the dynamics of the day have given another turn of considerations.
Definitely, the mess in the neighbour to the East right now gives Greece added significance to US interests. In addition, it comes at a time when Turkey and Russia, despite their varying long term objectives, are looking into finding tactical ways to help each other in the Caucasus and in South Europe that may eventually minimise US influence in the greater area. In that respect, Turkey’s flirtation with Russia is watched very carefully by Washington and an unusual traffic of high level American o cials travelling there has been observed.
For one, Turkey’s long term objective is to become a regional kingmaker and most definitely, as it is clearly indicated by the current row in their relations, Ankara does not want to be a junior partner to the US and simply “carry the water” on its behalf. It wants to play the big boys game and is doing a balancing act between Washington and Moscow. How this is going to play out remains a puzzle.
For the moment, Ankara seems to have posed to evaluate American intentions, especially after the Mattis visit there a couple of months ago. Apparently, the American Secretary of Defense has told the Turks things that intrigued their in- terest and they are watching carefully.
It is gathered that despite the vitriolic current rhetoric between Washington and Ankara, the Americans are being careful vis-a-vis the Turks. The value of the Incirlik air base in the Syria operations has played a role in the American approach. Furthermore, what makes the Americans nervous is the weapons deal the Turks have struck with the Russians – the s-400s that could potentially bring Russian weapons systems technicians in very close proximity to cities and sites where American equipment is located, being able to read their tech- nology signals.
Knowledgeable observers, taking a forward look, estimate that Greece has now a window of opportunity for a few years to “cultivate” its geographic significance and entrench its own objectives into US interests in the greater area – and that is for the duration of Erdogan’s stay in power. A westward turn away from the Russians should be expected by his not yet obvious successor.
It’s naturally assumed there was a measured part of that thinking in the Tsipras rushed invitation to Washington.
The real big signal to the Turks would have been some more concrete and substantial discussions about Souda Bay and open references of elevated accom- modations to the Americans. There were no such talks that would have alarmed the Turks. The fact of the matter remains that the Americans have got it all. The Greek government has signed off to all American requests and the supposed
As it has been discussed in DC’s power houses, five or six years ago, for instance, with the Arab Spring, there was a more hopeful environment in the area; Putin, the Russian leader, was less powerful and a new energy environment was shaping up. Now, the dynamics of the day have given another turn of considerations
discussions about a long term agreement have no foundation in fact – on the contrary, Washington, upon recommendation from Athens, doesn’t seem to mind yearly renewals in order to avoid reactions from SYRIZA hard core cadets. Indeed, American sources point to the di culties the main governing party has had in formulating its own platform about NATO and the Souda Bay accommodations. And, of course, they welcome the fact that Mr Tsipras, a “populist and realist” leader, decided to “come in” and ignore those difficulties.
The Turks who were the most worried observers watching the Tsipras visit more than anyone else, even the Russians, were noticeably relieved that there was all of that talk and no concrete steps. And they must have been even happier that the Greek foreign minister rushed to Turkey from Washington, in an apparent subservient move to appease Ankara. The invitation to Erdogan to visit Athens in early December, along with the surprising recognition from the Greek PM’s mouth in the lawn of the White House, that Turkey is a regional power have to some degree undermined the intended geopolitical benefits of the visit. And, despite his carefully crafted language, Mr Tsipras’s reference to Turkey’s European road map in a positive light baffled his audience in Washington – a town with hostile feelings against Erdogan’s Turkey. Even some European capitals were surprised by the invitation to Erdogan at a time when everyone in Europe snubs the Turkish leader.
All in all, Americans have been very careful in their dealings with Turkey at the present time and the one thing that should be clear is that in their minds, whatever the geopolitical usefulness of Greece, the latter does not constitute a substitute to the US imperatives in Turkey’s geographic area.
Trump stabs at the Europeans
In the meantime, Mr Trump, in an embarrassing moment for the PM, had a chance to take a stab at the Europeans and explain his version as to why they didn’t find him likable before – because, as he put it, he gave priority to his country’s interests. Now, as Mr Trump said, they have all come around. Like Mr Tsipras!
The American President also used Greece’s keeping with its nancial obligations vis-a-vis NATO to take another stab at Germany – which, contrary to Greece and three other NATO members, lacks behind in its nancial contribution to the Alliance although it is the world’s fourth largest economy. Underscored in Mr Trump’s comments are the totally different views on NATO between the US and Germany – its purpose and its mission.
In a way, Mr Trump’s reference to NATO is a reminder of the shaky relationship between Washington and Berlin and what’s to come in the future – and a clear indication that the problems for Europe are political in nature, tearing apart the make up of the Union over tensions of self determination, national identities and the Berlin dictated EU rules.
In that respect, Trump’s conditional remark for a “responsible” debt relief for Greece, an apparent serious retreat from Obama’s “meaningful” debt relief position, and the supposed American interest in helping to resolve Greece’s debt issue rather conceal a targeted approach in an overall scheme of things that centres around the idea of alienating Germany from its allies. Consequently, it is quite far fetched to think that Mr Trump and his advisers have any real intention to actually get involved at a higher level of engagement into something they do not believe in anyway! On the contrary, there was an obvious willingness to de-emphasise the reforms that have not been made and sugarcoat everything else.
Upgrade kits for the F-16s
The emphatically clear announcement was the sale of the upgrade kits for the F-16s. This is not just a sale for the Ameri- cans. It will keep the rest of the production lines going and it will benefit other allied countries that use the same platform. Each time someone buys these upgrade packages the cheaper they become for everyone else who follows and, of course, the American industry stays in business and thrives!
All in all, Americans have been very careful in their dealings with Turkey at the present time and the one thing that should be clear is that in their minds, whatever the geopolitical usefulness of Greece, the latter does not constitute a substitute to the US imperatives in Turkey’s geographic area
From the American perspective, the European reality is changing, developments in the Union are on a path to destruction, they contribute to instability and ultimately lead to tearing down the existing structures – thanks to Germany’s short sighted approach in dealing with Europe’s problems, lack of vision and leadership.
The Russian factor
A key element in Washington’s approach to Germany is the Russian factor and how it is dealt with. At the present time, insiders believe Germany is taking a hard look down the road into its future and is apparently hedging its bets by trying to slowly recreate the business environment with Russia and the kind of cooperation that existed some years back. A substantial German business delegation, reportedly, visited Russia and met with President Putin in mid October for that purpose. The current intense situation between the US and Russia does not help German objectives; it causes insecurity all around and alienates Berlin from some of its closest partners as was shown in recent election results in neighbouring to Germany countries.
So, in order to have a better idea and give a more clear meaning to the Greek PM’s presence in Washington one needs to relate the visit to a picture bigger than the present chaotic conditions in Turkey. In that fashion, one can make a safer evaluation about the strengthening of the US-Greece regional cooperation.
Obviously, there was a lot of noise in the Tsipras visit – noise attributable to Mr Pyatt, an excellent anti-Russian operator who deserves the credit for “bringing in” a former anti-American, anti-NATO and unrecognisable now political operator. But, discerning the noise from the sig- nals and the real messages is a different story altogether!