Scholarship influenced by politics

Why would one turn to an undergraduate’s paper to learn about contemporary political history? A good reason would be the absence of much relevant bibliography, which is quite true in the case of the US-Greek negotiations over the status of US military bases in Greece. This was the subject of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s senior thesis as a Harvard undergraduate in 1989-90, now published as a book titled «The Pitfalls of Foreign Policy» (Patakis Pub., in Greek). Mitsotakis, the scion of a family that has produced one premier (his father, Constantine) and one foreign minister (his sister, Dora Bakoyannis), follows in the footsteps of another Harvard student and political dynasty hopeful, John F. Kennedy, whose senior thesis «Why England Slept» was published back in 1940. That book became a best seller, partly because it addressed a timely issue. Mitsotakis’s work is unlikely to cause much sensation. Since 2004, Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been an elected MP with New Democracy (ND), getting the most votes in the country’s most populous, and most cutthroat, constituency, Athens B, which comprises most of the capital’s suburbs. Mitsotakis is now a backbencher with understandable ambitions but, at present, little hope of promotion in a party where the Karamanlis name (that of founder Constantine Karamanlis and his nephew, catapulted into the leadership on the single merit of sharing his uncle’s first and last names) is of near-totemic significance while, conversely, that of the latecomer Mitsotakis (the father joined the party in 1978 after more than 30 years in politics) is reviled by many who still see the family as interlopers. PR exercise? One could just be cynical and treat the book as a PR exercise destined to establish its author’s reputation as a serious foreign policy expert. (His reputation with his faithful voters is unlikely to change as most of them will not read the book, anyway.) But since he intends to present it as a serious work of scholarship – after all, it was crowned at Harvard with the Hoopes Prize for best undergraduate thesis – one must analyze its merits and shortfalls seriously. Mitsotakis wants to examine how two very different political parties, the center-right ND and the socialist-populist Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), approached foreign policy when in government in a comparable context, that of Greek-US relations. In fact, both parties negotiated with the US the revision of bilateral defense relations, mostly regarding the presence and operation of US bases in Greece. ND negotiated and concluded an agreement in 1975-77 and began to negotiate a second but abandoned it in 1981; PASOK restarted negotiations and concluded its own agreement in 1983, and began a new round of negotiations in 1987-89 which were concluded by a new ND government, under Constantine Mitsotakis, in 1990. Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s book does not deal with that last round, but retired Ambassador Christos Zacharakis provides an illuminating account in the preface. In his overview of the theoretical literature, Mitsotakis contrasts the views of the «realists» who believe that foreign policy is a rational endeavor in an otherwise anarchic world, played by definite rules, and those, mostly users of game theory models, who hold that foreign and domestic politics are inevitably intertwined. He seems to come down in favor of the latter, but his reservations hint at what is to come. While he convincingly argues that PASOK’s foreign policy was inevitably tied to the successful exploitation of Greeks’ anti-American feelings, Mitsotakis, incredibly but, perhaps, inevitably, argues that ND’s foreign policy was not influenced by domestic concerns but by a faith in the rational process of international relations and, implicitly, a metaphysical desire to «do good» for the country. This is the partisan politician speaking and while his conclusion will no doubt please his fellow ND readers, it immediately forfeits any pretense at serious scholarship. If this is the actual senior paper, his Harvard professors did him a disservice for not sending him back to the drawing board. Contradictions There are some serious contradictions in the argument: He calls the ND leaders, who were supposedly indifferent to domestic political considerations, «pragmatists,» but the populist Andreas Papandreou an ideologist. In fact, the «pragmatists» Karamanlis and Mitsotakis were quite capable of populist gestures, although not with the flamboyance of Papandreou. Zacharakis, in his preface, reminds us it was Karamanlis who pulled Greece out of NATO’s military arm for no practical reason except to satisfy the popular mood. The ND government began a new round of negotiations with the US in 1979, after Congress had rescinded the embargo on selling armaments to Turkey. The negotiations were halted in June 81, partly because the US correctly anticipated a PASOK victory in the coming elections. The ND government was also eager to suspend them because it did not want the issue to cloud its election campaign. So much for not yielding to the populist sirens. (Incidentally, it is not true Karamanlis suffered for his non-populism with a large drop of the vote in the 77 elections. The vote he had attained in 74, 54.4 percent of the total, was due to extraordinary circumstances: Greece had just come out of a dictatorship and Karamanlis was seen as the guarantee against further upheaval. Mitsotakis fails to acknowledge this.) In fact, both ND and PASOK governments could be quite accommodating and pragmatic in negotiations with the US because they enjoyed large parliamentary majorities. It was his large parliamentary majority, and his oratorical skill, that allowed Papandreou to do an about-face in foreign policy without anyone making a big fuss. In the subsequent renegotiation (1987-90) of a bilateral defense treaty with the US, Zacharakis reminds us, party politics dominated. ND concluded, in government, negotiations initially begun by PASOK which it had criticized, while the latter, in opposition, voted against a treaty mostly negotiated under its auspices. The negotiating team, Zacharakis reminds us, was the same under both governments.