The signals coming from the two centers of power in the United States, the president and Congress, are often conflicting, which makes it hard for Athens to carve out an effectual foreign policy. This conundrum is set to continue throughout the Trump administration.
The most typical example of this, as far as Greece is concerned, is Washington’s Turkey policy following the latter’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system and, potentially, of Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jets. The Congress has reacted to the purchase by adopting amendments and legislation as well as calling for sanctions on Turkey. However, the president has chosen to direct his criticism against his predecessor rather than Ankara. The chasm between the two sides can be observed on other international issues and it is obviously rooted in Donald Trump’s idiosyncratic character.
Mixed signals are counterproductive in the extremely volatile environment that includes Cyprus and the Aegean at the moment. Athens wants to deepen its cooperation with Washington. It is a promising development which has in recent years enjoyed cross-party support. However, the risks facing Greece are well known, as are its sensibilities regarding Turkey’s behavior with respect to Greece’s and Cyprus’ sovereign rights. It is therefore banking on the stabilizing role of and tangible support from its allies – most importantly the strongest among them.
Athens is naturally approaching specific agreements through that prism, such as the possible extension of the US-Greece mutual defense cooperation agreement, the signing of fresh deals on additional activities in parts of Greek territory, and other forms of cooperation. The new element entering the picture is that apart from the essential safeguards and measurable benefits that Greece reasonably anticipates from its strategic alliance with the US, there is now also the issue of American credibility.
For many decades and regardless of the ideology of different presidents, the foreign and defense policy of the world’s superpower was marked by continuity and consistency, which also made it predictable. Allies and foes both knew the rules that governed their cooperation with Washington and acted accordingly.
This seems not to be the case anymore. The president often rushes to limit or actually overturns the degree of protection that a country believed it had secured on the basis of official commitments and deals. And that puts even a forward-looking ally like today’s Greece in a rather odd position.