He talks frequently with the US president and he’s one of the few people who knows about the real views of Donald Trump on Greece.
Needless to say, the professor of classics and military history at California State University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is one of the rare breed of academics who support the current leader of the United States. His favorable views on Trump force him to swim against the current.
Well known in the US from his many books and his opinion articles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Time magazine, among others, Victor Davis Hanson is a self-proclaimed philhellene. He has been visiting Greece almost every year since the 1970s and has expressed the view that the US president is closer to Greece than he publicly alludes that he is.
In an interview with Kathimerini, Hanson articulates a markedly different opinion over the delicate balance in the Eastern Mediterranean, the role of Turkey and other powers and the dynamic of Greek-US relations.
Is a Greek-Turkish military confrontation likely in your assessment? Why should the US be concerned about it?
I don’t think so, at least in the immediate future, given the complexities of these Mediterranean relationships: Greece and Turkey are both NATO members warranting interest from the European powers; Greece is still enjoying fairly good relations with Russia, Turkey’s newfound “ally”; and Turkey is wary about estrangement from the US, given an unusual American interest in and support for Greece. The great concern of course is a big power rivalry or showdown should Turkey increase its aggression and draw in Russia. But I think Russia is too wise to stand off against the US and to side with an Islamist nation over its traditional Orthodox friends.
There is the perception that President Trump is very close to Erdogan and therefore to Turkey’s interests. I understand you disagree with that based on a conversation you had with the president. Could you elaborate?
I can’t as a mere private citizen disclose any details whether or even if I have spoken with President Trump. All I can say is that Trump in “art of the deal” fashion often seems superficially complimentary of less than democratic leaders, many of whom – such as Vladimir Putin, or Kim Jong-un or the Iranian theocracy – he has taken strong action against, in a way that surpasses that of any prior US president. For all the talk of Russian “collusion,” the Trump policy against Putin is quite punitive in a way rarely seen since the Cold War.
I have spoken with some military officers and State Department officials, and there seems to be a clear US interest in closer relations with Greece at a time when Turkey’s behavior in Syria, its F-35 intrigue, its Russian arms purchases, its recent de facto friendship with Putin, a more centrist government in Greece, pro-Greek American public opinion, and Turkey’s now bitter opposition to Israel have changed the Greek-American dynamic, clearly for the better in a way quite unimaginable to me when I lived in your country in the 1970s and visited almost yearly in the 1980s through 2019.
One other weird paradox: The much-praised bipartisan US foreign policy establishment, so highly esteemed in Europe, was actually predicated on preserving the status quo postwar order despite radical shifts in geostrategic realities.
In that context, unfortunately both of our parties’ establishments sized up Turkish assets, geography, and historical good ties with its past military-orientated governments and simply overlooked Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman/Islamist agenda, much of which was a pathological desire to get even with ancient rivals and enemies. Trump is an outsider and completely despised by the Washington – New York nexus. But one advantage is that he looks at the world in different terms, and in that context I think he is perfectly willing to seek closer relations with Athens, unconcerned with past acrimonies or realist calculations that come out of the Pentagon. Greeks, like Israelis, also are tough independent people who seek allies not patrons and do their own fighting, a tradition from Salamis to October 28, 1940.
What will Trump and the US do if there is a crisis in the Eastern Med? Will there be a US intervention?
Trump is a Jacksonian, “don’t tread on me” unusual president. He doesn’t like nation-building, and believes interventions usually turn out badly for the US, especially in a cost to benefit analysis in the Middle East.
But, that said, he is unpredictable (cf. the killing of Iran’s Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani or the bombing of ISIS) and will react if he feels an aggressor is seeking advantage against the US or counts on attacking its allies and friends without consequences.
In that sense again, although Trump is likely disliked in Greece, he is about the most suitable friend in these circumstances Greece could expect in a US president. He wants no imperial presence in Greece. He does not wish to order Greece around, but if he feels a bully seeks advantage by hoping on diminishing US interests and its allies, then he will protect those interests in a manner that won’t manifest itself in a large ground intrusion. I think Turkey understands it cannot predict Trump’s reaction and that is bothersome to it.
I note in closing that I hope that I offer an empirical analysis of the situation, but must plead some bias, because by training and frequent visits to Greece since the age of 19, I’ve been a philhellene.