There’s a Greek song that says “love is for two.” It could have been written about Greek-American relations, except for the fact that there always – but always – seems to be a third wheel somewhere. Not just today, but for the past 65 years or so. No American official, not even the president, wants it to be so, but there it is: the Greece-US-Turkey triangle, referred to by American diplomatic circles as the “Bermuda Triangle,” because Cyprus and Greek-Turkish differences are seen as issues that cannot be resolved. No experienced diplomat wants them landing on their plate. One such veteran was so skittish about them that every time he was asked by a Greek or Turkish reporter to comment would respond, “The only way I’m getting into the Aegean or the East Mediterranean is in my swimming trunks.”
Here in Greece, we treat relations with the US through the prism of relations with Turkey. We believe – sensibly – that the outcome of any negotiation with the US will be an exchange that will protect us against Turkey. This has not changed; it is deeply ingrained. Generations of diplomats – from Dimitrios Bitsios to Vyron Theodoropolos to the handlers of these portfolios today – seek to make such a link.
But there is also a lot of passion and tension in this triangle. Euphoria can turn to disaster or disappointment, or even a sense of betrayal, within a matter of weeks or days. A large part of public opinion is still suspicious of the US and its intentions toward Ankara. One “false move” that seems like indifference or one unfortunate statement can spark major political upheaval. Great expectations can quickly turn into traps. Yet there is no doubt that the moment of truth in Greek-American relations will come if and when tensions with Turkey spikes dangerously.
There are many powerful circles in Washington which continue to insist that the American government should be careful about alienating Turkey. This was apparent in the efforts of important officials in the National Security Council and State Department to downplay the Greek prime minister’s recent visit to Washington. Their chief argument is that “the US cannot lose Turkey.” It’s impressive that they actually believe they still “have” Turkey – but also that they overlook how easily they could also “lose” Greece.