Dangerous affectations

Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s pathetic speech in Parliament last week, during which he sank to referring to the preposterous writings of late dictator Giorgos Papadopoulos in order to refute opposition allegations about the government’s entangled interests and corruption, coupled with the forced resignation of his close aide Giorgos Pantayias, have prompted the need to restore the prime minister’s image. From a political point of view, one can understand the worries of Simitis’s aides. But it would be tragic to attempt to restore the premier’s image using foreign policy issues and, more specifically, through creatively taking advantage of the current six-month period over which Greece holds the rotating EU presidency. Simitis already overstretched his leverage when he condemned the move by eight European leaders who pledged their backing for US President George W. Bush in an effort to counterbalance the criticism by the Franco-German axis on Washington’s impatience to attack Iraq. The visit by Foreign Minister George Papandreou to the headquarters of the United Nations was aimed at restoring the equilibrium, and he is generally believed to have done so with his public statements. However, any attempt to engage in foreign policy at the international level – even under the pretext of the EU presidency – should not go further than that. The Iraq crisis cannot be used as PR for the government – it is too grave an issue for that. It threatens the cohesion of the Western alliance; it could drive Islamic extremism to fresh excesses; it could have a dramatic impact on the European economy and cause a huge number of casualties – even though no one seems to be concerned with the last-mentioned factor. Papandreou’s Mideast tour offered little of substance – nor could it have produced anything more – because EU leverage in the region is very limited in periods of crisis, even more so since the White House has undertaken the task of draining the swamps of terrorism in the region. A Far East tour in China and North and South Korea, like the one planned by the Greek foreign minister, is not merely meaningless but also perilous. It makes one wonder what Greece and the Greek foreign minister could be aiming at by visiting North Korea, a country whose government declared that it will launch a pre-emptive strike against the USA if Washington continues to expand militarily in the region. Greece’s leverage will not be enhanced over this six months by the country’s leadership of the EU. Nor is Simitis «the new continent» of Greece’s political map merely because Pantayias described him as such in his resignation letter. The ostensible mobilization of the Greek presidency is comical at best. Of course, if the Greek administration deems that it should, and if it has the courage, to condemn the war on Iraq, it should do so, but affectations cannot possibly be perceived as serious foreign policymaking.