Greek view of US presidential election

“Greece is looking on with interest. It is not playing a role. It is a friend and ally of the United States, not a voter in the US presidential elections,» was the comment from a senior diplomatic source in Athens during a discussion regarding the Greek government’s expectations or preferences for the imminent elections in the US. At present within the Greek government there do not appear to be any perceptions regarding developments in Washington using the criteria of the past, according to which a «conservative» or «progressive» Greek government would prefer the US candidate of corresponding political hue. In any case, it is the «conservative» Bush government, for example, that has invoked US legislation to call Greece to order for «illegally» distributing American weapons systems to the Cypriot Republic, a move that is clearly in the nature of political pressure on what is also a «conservative» Greek government. The US’s role and immense power, in combination with its decades-long relationship with Greece and more generally the policies it has been implementing in the region, do not encourage Athens to expect a great deal. Of course the bilateral climate during the Bush administration, as was evident in Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s recent visit to Washington, is extremely positive. But this alone is not enough, for instance, to make the government an «absentee voter» for the next US president. Nor are some of Washington’s policy decisions, which have been anything but positive on issues of Greek interest (such as the Cyprus issue and tolerance/support for Turkish provocations), likely to make Athens a «transatlantic» supporter of the other candidate, John Kerry. Past experience leads to the conclusion that on some major issues of international, and in some cases particularly Greek, interest, American policy does not change according to whether occupant in the White House is a Republican or a Democrat. As Kathimerini reported last Thursday, US Ambassador in Athens Thomas Miller observed that irrespective of who wins this week’s election, one should expect continuity in the basic parameters of US foreign policy. A brief review of the recent past is enough to indicate that there has only been one spectacular change in the dynamic of US foreign policy that has indirectly had repercussions, to a greater or lesser extent, on Greece: Republican presidents make war in the Persian Gulf, Democrats in the Balkans. Under present circumstances, of course, events have changed dramatically. Particularly since the tragic events of September 11, much has changed in the world, not only in the behavior of the United States toward the rest of the world. On the other hand, one should not ignore the fact that the US’s relations with the European Union, and even relations within the EU itself, have been tested sorely, particularly with the latest crisis in Iraq. As a member of the EU, Greece could not but be influenced by this new situation and be put in the difficult position of a small country that had to take a clear stand in favor of one side or the other. It is being said, among other things, that if Bush is re-elected, the crisis in relations between the US and Europe would be perpetuated, since, especially the in past few days, it is clear that Europeans are strongly against Bush, something that will have an effect within the EU, with all that entails for better or worse, for Greece. Yet others are saying that in their second terms, US presidents are more cautious and concerned about the record they will leave behind them, meaning they avoid extreme, harsh policies, as they are no longer concerned about re-election. This could bring about positive changes in US foreign policy and an improvement in relations with the EU, with all that means for the region in general. Then again, some analysts claim that since we are now familiar with Bush’s personality, we know that even if he persists with his hard-line policies, the US «can go it alone.» Yet the more «tractable» Kerry could more easily draw into an Iraq-type crisis countries opposed to US policies (such as France and Germany) in the invasion of Iraq.