During a hearing before the US Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of “a very important strategic moment,” one in which the US should encourage those – like India and Turkey – who are reconsidering their relationship with Russia. Senator Bob Menendez responded with a simple but powerful point: “The choice is not between the United States and China [or Russia], the choice is what type of world you want to live in. One that is ultimately governed by the rule of law… or one [that is an autocracy]. [At] the end of the day, in pursuit of making that choice clear I hope that we will hold higher expectations of those that we describe as allies…”
Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ trip to Washington, DC and his virtuoso performances in multiple settings could not have come at a better time. American policy makers and the American public are becoming keenly aware of the implications of the “choice” described by Senator Menendez. Administration officials – as is so often the case – have not caught up with public sentiment, but the values proposition has become a much more important part of public discourse – both on the right and the left. The case of Pastor Andrew Brunson was escalated because Evangelical Christians exerted so much pressure. The #NoJetsForTurkey hashtag and video went viral because the left-wing Twittersphere adopted it. If the State Department doesn’t quickly realize that purely geopolitical considerations aren’t going to cut it with the American public, Washington’s foreign policy establishment is going to be eventually run over by public sentiment.
Several American officials imparted pieces of Greek wisdom during the prime minister’s trip, but here is one that the American public seems to be adopting: “Show me your friends and I will show you who you are.” Because of this, the prime minister performed the greatest possible service to Greece and Hellenism this past week: He presented Greece as more than a “pillar of stability,” more than a “reliable ally.” After this week, Greece is a paradigm.
Even for those who think geopolitics first, Greece stands out. Every country that is trying to balance their relations between Russia and the West cites the risks their economies, their tourist industries, their security relationships face if they take a hard line on Russia. Greece faces tremendous risks on all those fronts, but it has still imposed economic sanctions, closed its airspace, and provides unconditional support for Ukraine. As Mitsotakis clearly laid out before Congress, the commitment to the rule of law and territorial sovereignty cannot be inconsistent. On this front, Greece is a paradigm.
If the State Department doesn’t quickly realize that purely geopolitical considerations aren’t going to cut it with the American public, Washington’s foreign policy establishment is going to be eventually run over by public sentiment
The fact that the prime minister was able to draw the direct line between these principles that so affect core American values and interests and fundamental Hellenic national issues like Cyprus and the Aegean demonstrated a level of political maturity that no one expected from Greece. Mitsotakis did not engage in crass bartering. He has read the mood in America almost perfectly, effectively declaring: “Greece has chosen what kind of world it wants to live in, and it is one governed by the rule of law. But we will not have that type of world if we don’t apply the rule of law to Cyprus and the Aegean.” Once again, Greece is a paradigm.
The prime minister’s less heralded conversation with the Washington Post’s David Ignatius was also very telling. That Igantius presented Greece as “having held the center” and asked Mitsotakis for advice for US politics should be celebrated more. Ancient Greek democracy has long been a source of inspiration here in the US. Now modern Greek democracy is becoming a paradigm.
That Greece’s brand received such a boost the same week Turkey began its blackmail of NATO, continued violations of international law and human rights could not provide a better contrast. Reviewing the Twitter feeds of multiple members of Congress makes it clear that they themselves believe that PM Mitsotakis’ trip to Washington was one for the ages. It is time for Athens and the Greek-American community to start building on the foundation of “Greece is a paradigm.”
Endy Zemenides is executive director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council.