When faced with foreign policy issues, we should try to keep our mood swings at bay.
One day we are on cloud nine because of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to Greece, the next day we are in despair because of a telephone call between US President Donald Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkey’s Syria incursion. Then gloom is gone again because the US and Europe turn against Turkey.
Foreign policy has little room for emotional reactions. Rationalism and cold calculation are, rather, a safer guide in decision-making. However, recent developments could pose a risk to the mental health of foreign policy observers. I do not necessarily mean experts, of course, as the game attracts all sorts of self-styled international relations and strategy analysts. So a bit of caution would be more appropriate.
Even the brightest brains in the most powerful states cannot make sense of ongoing developments or, for that matter, any safe predictions about how things will evolve. US influence is on the wane due to Trump’s handling, making it hard for other states to rely on Washington. Russia appears to be winning the PR game and feels empowered. Turkey is going it alone and is behaving like a big power, but flirting with hubris and economic disaster. The EU lacks strong leadership, is deeply divided and geopolitically paralyzed. The Balkans will soon see the distance with Europe grow, which is likely to trigger a fresh round of instability.
All that is taking place amid a landscape that is changing by the day as it is shaped by unpredictable players and the insanity variable is king. Faced with an environment of this sort, the best solution is to engage in active diplomacy, but in a cautious manner. Greece, for example, has no reason to lead the way in the case of Turkey sanctions. This should rather be left to the big boys, who will also be called on to pay the price. Greece can reap benefits from such an eventuality. It does not have to go out and advertise it for the sake of some passing applause from the domestic audience.
The same goes for Greece’s Balkan policy. Athens is on speaking terms with all capitals and it can play a meaningful role, but its foreign policy in the region cannot possibly be dictated by what the people at home would like to hear. That is why I get upset when I hear diplomats forget what their job is and instead behave like political communication consultants. The job that they are paid to do is to inform us what is beneficial to the nation, and not what would sell at home.
We need them in our effort to make sense of this nebulous landscape that carries risks as well as opportunities. We should stay away from mindless enthusiasm and frustration, but at the same time switch off the meaningless diplomatic cliches of yesteryear.