OPINION

Interests before friendships

interests-before-friendships

I have to admit I find it hard to understand those who were sorry to see Donald Trump lose the election, as if some loyal friend of Greece is leaving the White House. At the same time, I do not understand those who are celebrating Joe Biden’s victory from the narrow perspective of Greece’s national interests. Church bells were after all ringing in reaction to Jimmy Carter’s victory in 1976, a celebration that was not vindicated by what was to follow.

Biden has in-depth knowledge of the Cyprus issue and Greek-Turkish relations. As a senator, he supported the embargo against Turkey after the invasion of Cyprus and bonded with key members of the Greek diaspora, most importantly with former senator Paul Sarbanes, to whom Greece owes a great deal.

A very positive thing about the Biden administration is that there are at least 10 prominent members of the diaspora that could pick up the phone at any time to speak with the president. These include friends of Biden, donors, and people who stood by his side through difficult times.

Hellenism never really enjoyed meaningful access to the Trump administration, despite the fact that many Greek Americans backed the outgoing president. However, there was no person that could – and, more importantly, wanted to – reach out to him when Greece and Turkey were on the verge of military confrontation.

It will be hard to forget the image of Trump sitting, his arms crossed, staring at Archbishop Elpidophoros standing in front of his desk. Trump’s personal and family relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan overshadowed everything else. If the statements issued by the State Department were occasionally strong-worded toward Turkey, that was because the system was on autopilot, particularly over the last year. 

Furthermore, Biden will be surrounded by people who have good knowledge of Greece, who maintain contacts with Greek Americans and have knowledge of the issues at hand.

People and personal ties play an important role in foreign policy. Big powers hammer out policy on the basis of interest alone. Turkey is a big country that no one in Washington would want to lose. There is annoyance at Erdogan, his opportunism and his dangerous games with jihadi extremists.

The scenarios about the next day in Turkey are being prepared. The Biden administration will likely review the US-Turkey relationship. But nothing spectacular should be anticipated any time soon. The recommendation will always be “Sit down together and find a compromise” or “Avoid tensions and the militarization of the crisis.” 

Greece will have many acquaintances and friends but, as we all know, in diplomacy, interests come before friendships when decision time comes.