INTERVIEWS

Bill Antholis: US should cooperate with Greece on Turkey

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Political scientist Bill Antholis, 56, who has been the director and CEO of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia since 2014, has a deeper knowledge of the goings-on in Washington than most people. Prior to that he was the managing director of the Brookings Institution for 10 years while he has also served as director of international economic affairs on the staff of the National Security Council in the Clinton White House. Antholis, who is Greek American, spoke to Kathimerini about the Biden administration’s new policies related to Greece, Turkey, Europe and NATO, while also providing useful insights regarding the recent developments in US politics that marked the tumultuous ending of the Trump era. 

In December 2020 you wrote an article arguing about the urgent need to “unify reality in the US.”

The United States is at the beginning of a post-populist moment. And I’ve been so impressed with how Greece, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who happens to be a friend, has dealt with its own “post-populist moment.” And one of the most important dimensions of post-populism is re-establishing objective truth.

Because what we’ve seen in the United States and in other countries is efforts to delegitimize the institutions that pragmatically have to manage truth – the government, the courts of law, the education, defense and intelligence systems, the media. These institutions are regularly filtering fact and fiction. During the next administration we will see an effort to reinstate these institutions as important. I know from my Greek school teacher mother that the word “autocrat” is a Greek word meaning “self-powered.” One person takes authority himself for determining what the truth is. Truth is a process of intersubjectivity. There is objective truth out there. But each of us knows the truth imperfectly. You only get toward a more perfect understanding of the truth by mutually evaluating it and coming to an established understanding with one another.

Can President Joe Biden do this?

I think we are uniquely fortunate to have someone who believes deeply in bipartisanship and civility and healing wounds. I wish he were the same age as Mitsotakis. I think he has the same sensibilities of the importance of science and rigor. I think he remains sharp and energetic and he has a terrific group of people around him. But I think there are many on the Republican side who will raise his age as a factor and, as a result, it will be a factor.

How about NATO? There has been a huge sigh of relief from Europe. Is NATO saved?

In order to understand the abiding administration’s perspective on NATO you can see the glass as more than half full but not entirely full. I think you have his secretary of state, his secretary of defense not to mention his new CIA director and his director of national intelligence. They are people who believe deeply in the Western Alliance and in NATO in particular.

How does this relate to Greece?

The greatest issue that the United States faces in the world is bilateral relations with China. More important in my view than even all of the disinformation and destruction that comes from Russia and the attacks on our own democracy. China’s toehold in Europe is the port of Piraeus. That is the issue that I think Greece will have to manage and manage well. I do think that the Biden administration should work cooperatively together with Greece on issues of Turkey, on issues of the Eastern Mediterranean and of Cyprus. But I think the people of the new administration will want to know the port of Piraeus will not be used as leverage against Greece on NATO joint action in the UN, on the issues of human rights, or action in the context of World Health Organization. It is the Achilles’ heel in the US-Greek relationship. It’s my own personal view because I followed China so carefully and closely over the years.

How will the Biden administration manage Turkey?

My hopes and expectations are that the Biden administration will return to a view of Turkey as a challenge to be managed in cooperation with Greece but not only Greece. Managing Turkey is a multilateral effort. Of course, there are reluctant or conflicted members of the EU who have to deal with a large Turkish minority and bilateral economic and other issues they might have with Turkey. I do think that the various migrant and refugee issues that come through Turkey to Greece are complicated from a US perspective. But I think what you will find is a greater sensitivity over how complex and challenging those issues are for Greece than you would have in a Trump administration. There is an opportunity for the Mitsotakis government and the Biden administration to work with European allies and partners to provide a more effective response.

How about January 6? Was it a coup?

Trump as president of the United States seemed that he didn’t care about legality or illegality as long as he didn’t get caught. And he certainly did not care about the letter of the Constitution because I believe that he believes that words are malleable. So, I believe what the former president was trying to do was to stay in power. He believed that the force of his will and the voice of his supporters could intimidate members of Congress. I don’t know whether he believed they would cross the line and I don’t know whether he was fine with that. But I do know that he didn’t seem to care.

Do you think Trump has been tainted forever?

Donald Trump will be remembered for two things: that he is the first president to be impeached twice and that he willingly and willfully sought to override an election that he lost including fomenting the storming of the Capitol.