Is the US Congress coming through for Greece and Cyprus as it did in 1974?
Not since Turkey’s aptly named “Operation Attila” – its 1974 invasion of Cyprus and its Srebrenica-style citizen executions and mass graves – have I seen a more just reaction from Capitol Hill. This time it’s a reaction to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missiles. Analyses of the similarities and differences between then and now can help predict what may be coming next.
Today, the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez, who introduced the first Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, is playing a role reminiscent of my boss in the 1970s, Senator Tom Eagleton, who introduced the first Turkish Arms Embargo legislation.
In the House, Hellene Congressman Gus Bilirakis and Congressmen David Cicilline and Ted Deutch, the latter of whom is also Middle East Subcommittee chairman, introduced and led action on the House version of the Eastern Med bill. They are playing the role of then Rhodes Scholars and Hellenic Congressmen Paul Sarbanes and John Brademas following the Cyprus invasion.
With respect to the authorization legislation, Chairman Deutch and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, as well as Cicilline, who are all Jewish, are playing the role of 1974’s House European Subcommittee Chairman Ben Rosenthal, who was also Jewish. Jewish senators and members voted in favor of our embargo legislation at a higher percentage than any other group. They understand the damage done to America’s security interests in the Eastern Mediterranean when unbalanced US policy hurts our Western democratic allies, Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
Also similar to the embargo years are the Hellenic chiefs of staff for Congressmen Bilirakis and Cicilline – Liz Hittos and Peter Karafotas, respectively – just as Paul Sarbanes’ chief of staff, Peter Marudas, and I played such roles behind the scenes. In those days, from my Senate office, and on weekends, I could make long-distance calls telling our 500 churches and other Hellenic organization chapters which senators’ and members’ votes needed to be switched and how to switch them. Techniques learned from my father, Mike Manatos, who served as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House lobbyist, and from my Senate work, helped our lobby win 12 major votes. Our lobby made modern history as we moved the Congress to override the White House on a major foreign policy.
What happened then should caution expectations today. President Jimmy Carter came into office promising great things for Cyprus and Greece as he appointed me his youngest assistant secretary. He then believed Turkey’s promise that they would leave Cyprus if the embargo was lifted, and he ordered us all to make it happen. I offered my resignation and lamented his one-vote margin of victory to lift the embargo, which I am sure would not have succeeded if my Senate lobby-directing effort had still been in place.
Particularly crucial then and now are the Congress’ Appropriations Committees. Then they cut off funds for arms in the pipeline to Turkey.
Today, that committee’s role can be even more impactful because the powerful House Appropriations Committee chairperson, Nita Lowey, is one of the most highly regarded members and a great philhellene. Like President Bill Clinton, Assistant Secretaries Dick Holbrooke and Wess Mitchell, she understands that the US must take extraordinary steps to try to balance our Eastern Mediterranean policy by bolstering Greece, Cyprus and Israel.
To institutionalize today’s well-deserved State and Defense Departments’ cherishing of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, Lowey is instituting an Annual Washington Summit for our Eastern Mediterranean Partnership – the US, Israel, Greece and Cyprus. It will drive into our bureaucracy and Congress a deep understanding of the ongoing essential value of these three countries. The Appropriations Committee knows that over the years we have given billions of dollars in cash military aid to Turkey, most of which was deployed at Greece and Cyprus.
Given Chairwoman Lowey’s long-term knowledge of this issue, President Donald Trump’s recent refusal to sanction Erdogan in response to his purchase of Russian S-400s is likely to be discomforting to her. And her familiarity with Erdogan’s record likely makes questionable Trump’s description of this man who leads the world in imprisoned journalists as a reasonable person with whom one can deal.
Further, as a strong believer in the constitutional authority of the Legislative Branch, it is not likely that she will overlook our Executive Branch’s history of routinely ignoring the Congress’ laws regarding Turkey. For example, during the embargo it surreptitiously transshipped arms to Turkey and it makes a sham of the law requiring the reimposition of the embargo if the president can no longer certify to the Congress that the Turks are withdrawing from Cyprus. As the Turks audaciously increase their illegal presence and that of extremist imams in this Western democratic country tenfold, every few months the White House sends the Congress its certification that implies the Turks are working to withdraw.
Chairwoman Lowey brings new influence to this issue in that she possesses what Founding Father James Madison called “the power of the purse… the most complete and effective weapon.” Her power over the Executive Branch’s budget will make it difficult for them to ignore the Congress’ concern about this dangerous imbalance in the Eastern Mediterranean and our routine inadequate bolstering of all of our Western democracies in the region.
Andy Manatos is CEO at public policy and government relations firm Manatos & Manatos. He was an assistant secretary of commerce in the Carter administration and is a former US Senate Committee associate staff director.