US Senator Bob Menendez’s return to the chairmanship of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is very important for America, for our commitment to democracy and human rights and for areas in which he has particular interest, such as Cyprus, Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church. His return is important for a number of reasons. Many consider Menendez to be one of the brightest, if not the brightest, of the 100 US senators. He has a rare understanding of his president and his secretary of state as Joe Biden and Tony Blinken served and worked with him on the Foreign Relations Committee as chairman and staff director, respectively.
His chairmanship is important to a widely divided America. He plans to make his committee operate in a more bipartisan manner and move toward a non-partisan foreign policy. He will strengthen our constitutional system as he shares with our founders the belief that American interests and freedoms are better preserved and benefited through a clear separation of power between the executive and the legislative branches of our government. In recent years, executive branch power has intimidated a majority of the Senate into compliance. As part of this constitutionally strengthening effort, he is also likely to reclaim some of the Congress’ authority that has been ceded to the executive branch over the last 30 years. This congressional reassertion of power will also benefit policy toward the aforementioned countries of the chairman’s special concern. For decades, congressional policies toward these countries have been far closer to his views than the policies of the executive branch.
For Cyprus and Greece, Menendez’s chairmanship will be a brilliant star in the once-in-a-millennia alignment of the stars for American policy toward Greece, Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Never before have the four centers of US foreign policymaking – Joe Biden’s White House, Tony Blinken’s State Department, Bob Menendez’s Senate and Nancy Pelosi’s House of Representatives – had some of Washington’s greatest-ever philhellenes in the top positions of power and control. Another important element of this great alignment are Greece’s and Cyprus’ relationships with America and Israel, the best in modern history. As well, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent anti-American conduct has dramatically reduced his support in Washington.
Menendez’s impressive ability to help with issues related to Cyprus, Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate can be seen in the major steps he has taken on them even without the power of his chairmanship. For instance, through legislation, he institutionalized the Eastern Mediterranean Partnership, a title that some of us had been trying to establish for some time. This now common language reinforces the perception of Cyprus and Greece as important allies of America and Israel. His legislation gave focus and strong impetus to a bureaucracy not known for easily taking steps forward for Cyprus and Greece.
Menendez’s chairmanship carries with it a great deal of power. Traditionally, if an administration wants a chairman’s committee to move its legislation, it is important that they too move issues of the chairman’s concern. As well, State Department officials are sensitive to the wishes of the chairman realizing that he plays an important role in their careers moving forward. Our Constitution requires Senate “consent” regarding any high-level State Department appointment the secretary may want to make. The chairman carries the greatest weight in assessing the worthiness of the nominees and the 79 senators who do not serve on that committee vote for or against the nominees based primarily on the committee’s recommendation.
Menendez’s chairmanship is also important because of Plato’s description of government as the Ship of State. The difficulty in changing the direction of a large ship is similar to the difficulty in changing the direction of our government’s bureaucracy. The kind of inertia that weighs down directional changes in our executive branch does not hamper the nimble Foreign Relations Committee’s chairman or his top-notch staff. Thus, the combination of Menendez’s vast knowledge about Greece, Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate with his ability to adjust quickly to important and critical developments and threats, along with his power to bypass the bureaucracy and access the very tops at the State Department and White House, make Bob Menendez an extremely important and crucial asset in this constellation of positive circumstances for our issues.
Having worked very closely with Senator Menendez through thick and thin for over a quarter of a century, we can say with great confidence that his tenure as chairman will be truly extraordinary for America and for Greece, Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Philip Christopher is president of the International Coordinating Committee – Justice for Cyprus (PSEKA). Andy Manatos is CEO at Manatos & Manatos, of which his son, Mike, is president.