Greece and Cyprus will have to exercise great caution from here on out in the planning of their foreign policy and defense, as Washington appears to be sinking in a mire of political quicksand, if developments concerning Syria are anything to go by.
US President Donald Trump threw the entire political establishment under the bus with a simple phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and took the entire world by surprise. Even his close ally Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to find out about Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria from CNN.
Greece and Cyprus had so far counted on talks and consultations with top officials in the State Department and the Pentagon. There was an understanding that the United States would offer a certain amount of protection against Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that the American establishment was preparing a Plan B because it was worried about the possibility of Turkey becoming another Pakistan.
Now we know that the commitments made by important officials in the American government can easily fall through. Besides, people in key positions, such as the US Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford, will be stepping down.
Trump has shown that he appreciates Erdogan and thinks that “he can do business with him,” as the American president told a senior Greek official explaining the issue of Turkish aggression in the region. Maybe Erdogan is the type of leader Trump prefers to negotiate with; maybe there is something else behind this relationship.
The fact remains that while Athens has established lines of communication with several decision-making centers, it does not have direct access to Trump himself. There are no prominent Greek-Americans who know the American president personally and can pick up the phone to ask for something that would be in favor of Greek interests. Neither does Trump have some knowledge or contact with Greece. For better or worse, this always played a role, but now it matters even more.
It is, of course, also possible that Congress may be mobilized, as many of its members are very hostile toward Erdogan. But the biggest concern is what kind of decisions Trump will be called to make in “real time.” We may reach a point where although we have assurances on the presence of US warships in a specific region, Erdogan will call up Trump and ask: “What are your warships doing there? I will make you a better deal to use the gas deposits we will find there.” We do not know what answer he will receive – which is why the situation is so precarious.