Opportunities in Washington

One of the issues the Greek prime minister can take up with Barack Obama during his trip to Washington this week is why the US presidents hasn’t maintained a stronger regional presence. The prevalent opinion among people who closely follow matters of national importance is that the Americans have opted for a more discreet or peripheral role in developments. This is more than apparent in the Middle East and in Turkey. The Americans appear to be observing rather than trying to nudge developments in a certain direction.

As far as issues pertaining to Greece are concerned, it is clear that America is standing back. Despite the fact that the outgoing US ambassador to Greece is an exceptional diplomat with an excellent reputation in Washington, Greece seems to have lost some its strategic importance to American interests. Many wonder why the Greek government is not working more closely with the White House, but the fact is that it takes both sides to want closer ties.

Things could be very different, however. Greece could play a very significant role at a time when stability in Turkey is under question and the Middle East bubbles up around Israel. The thing about Greece’s role, however, is that it has earned a reputation for not having a strong presence in international developments. Even when Greece got over the phase of being openly critical of the US and of Israel, it failed to show that it was capable of handling delicate diplomatic issues. Policy has always been overshadowed by the fear of criticism, and governments are wary of getting in over their heads. This has given Greece a reputation for being unreliable, something that has done a lot of harm.

The truth is that the Americans have supported Greece through numerous difficult phases, not out of any particular love for the country, but because it served their own interests. They adopted a terse tone with Germany when a large part of the establishment there wanted to see Greece out of the eurozone. They are putting as much pressure as they can to change the policy mix of austerity implemented by the troika. The Americans have also played a role in holding back Ankara when it came to its blocking hydrocarbon exploration off the coast of Cyprus.

What is lacking in the equation of Greek-American relations is the factor of the diaspora lobby. It has weakened with time as many overseas Greeks have grown disappointed with the homeland. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras now has an opportunity to rally their support and he should take it. The prime minister’s visit to Washington is an ideal opportunity to see Greek-American relations in a different light and to find ways for the two countries to forge a closer relationship.