Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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Media Watch 1940-1998

01 November 1995
Source: Odyssey
Author: Christopher Hitchens
Comment: The following article appeared in Odyssey magazine of Athens in November 1995 (Vol 3 No2 Nov/Dec 1995)
Dead End

While Lobby for Cyprus does not necessarily agree with all the points made, it does highlight the need for the existence of an organisation such as Lobby.
When Greece finds itself embroiled in an international dispute-with Turkey, usually, or over Macedonia, most recently-much is heard about the impact of the "Greek Lobby" in America. But, in fact, there is not much of a lobby to speak of. What exists is a fractious patchwork of supposed public-relations pros and political wannabes. Over the years, their successes have been severely limited and their failures have served to sap Greece of the influence it needs in Washington. Christopher Hitchens reports on how the lobby and Greece are viewed inside the Beltway and on why their efforts have fallen so short.

Try the word-association test for the term "Greek Lobby" and see what you get. Try it first on non-Greeks.

"Ethnic politics at its worst." (A senior Congressional staffer.)

"A myth in which only the Turkish lobby believes." (A high official at the State Department.)

"A welfare system for a few low profiles." (An editor at the Washington Post.)

Then try it on a few Greeks. A hard-working press officer at a Greek embassy put down his knife and fork and laughed for almost a full minute. "What lobby?" inquired another. In Athens, officials at the foreign ministry spoke bitterly about the existence of a "Greek lobby" which was used by Washington to lobby Greece.

The most thoughtful off-the-record comment I (over) heard came from George Stephanopoulos. "The Greek cause has managed to seize the moral low ground in Washington," he said. "Anyone taking a pro-Greek or pro-Cypriot position is assumed by the political community to be doing so from cynical motives. It is actually thought that you display more integrity and independence by being pro-Turkish."

Glory Days
How has a cause, in the justice of which many non-Greeks continue to believe, been permitted to sink so low? In order to investigate this question, one has to bear in mind both the social and political history of Greek Americans, and the evolution of ethnic and military politics in the United States. One has to be able to recall a time when the terms "Greek lobby" and "Greek community" were used as compliments and taken seriously. Contrary to the self-pity that is so often evinced by Greek and Greek-American spokesmen, there is no rooted prejudice against Greece or Greeks in the United States.

The conflation of the Greek idea with the ideals of democracy and civilization was an advantage that no other immigrant minority could claim, and still has a large subliminal effect. When AHEPA (the American Hellenic Educational and Progressive Association) was founded in 1922 in Georgia, by George Vournas and others, it existed to combat the Ku Klux Klan and other Know-Nothing nativist bigots, and thus was a natural ally of other democratic forces on the domestic front.

The epiphany of the Greek-American community in 1940, when it rallied overwhelmingly to Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins after the Greek defeat of Mussolini, made the same point in a different way by identifying Greece and the Greeks with the highest international aspirations.

In 1974 and 1975, the Congressional decision to impose an embargo on Turkey was not the outcome of activism by a few legislators with Attic name-endings. It was a coalition of many forces which had had enough of dictatorship and aggression, and which sought to uphold the rule of law and principle in foreign policy. Many of the leaders of the embargo fight had names like Rosenthal and Eagleton. It was Henry Kissinger who started deploying the term "Greek lobby" in a scornful tone of voice, seeking to classify as narrowly "ethnic" what was in fact a stand on the Charter of the United Nations. (Kissinger and his allies had of course never scrupled to lobby Greek Americans as an "ethnic" fashion when they were recruiting political support for the junta through the agency of men like Spiro Agnew and Thomas Pappas.)

Let us just say, as a practical point as much as a moral or ethical one, that the Greek cause has done best when-as it should-it is identified with law and justice.

Bidding Wars
Now shift the scene a little. Before me is a clipping from the Greek-American daily Ethnikos Kyrix (The National Herald) of New York. It is dated August 30, 1994, and reports the visit of Philip Christopher to the annual gathering of PSEKA, the Pan-Cypriot community organization, in Nicosia. Mr. Christopher, whose community and lobbying efforts in New York and Washington are well known, told his audience-which included President Glafcos Clerides, Foreign Minister Alekos Michaelides, and Archbishop Chrysostomos-that if Cyprus would give $50 million annually to the lobbying cause, then "our national question will be solved in three years." Pro rata, that’s only $150 million to clean up the Cyprus dispute. Not bad!

But what is wrong with this statement? The least one can say is that it might be indiscreet to make such an observation in public. Turkey, which has no comparably sized community in America, would nonetheless experience little difficulty in finding the "matching funds" required to combat such a donation. It is an auction that Greece would be unlikely to win. And meanwhile, the only victors would be the high-priced lobbying and public-relations firms which, it often seems, have appropriated the "Greek" issues anyway.

One might also mention that the price tag for this kind of activity seems to have shot up rather sharply since The Wall Street Journal leaked a memo on January 10, 1990. Signed by Andrew Athens but drafted by Andrew Manatos, it was addressed to President Glafcos Clerides’s predecessor George Vassiliou. "As one businessman to another," wrote Athens from his Chicago office, "let me lay out for you what resources are necessary to properly mobilize our network of people and bring to closure a successful result of all our efforts for Cyprus." This letter asked for a five-year commitment of $200,000 per annum-a mere million. The release of the letter, which the Journal acidly described as "a bottom line appeal from a US citizen to the head of a foreign state to gain influence in Congress over US foreign policy" was mysterious. Its chief outcome was an inquest on the source of the leak.

Look at the record. The Cyprus issue has slipped so far down the Washington agenda as to be sometimes practically invisible. The State and Defense Departments speak openly of there being a "north Cyprus" and a "south Cyprus" or sometimes a "Greek" and a "Turkish" one. Only on the most formal and protocol occasions do they remember that the United States recognizes only one republic on the island. Partition has, in the official mind, been ratified.

The Greek position on Skopje is probably the most widely ridiculed stand taken by any American ally, and the campaign to alter the perception of it is regarded by experts as the most incompetent ever to be undertaken by a serious country. Not one intelligent article or believable newspaper advertisement was generated by the entire campaign, which generally speaking rested on bizarre and sometimes hysterical invocations of exclusive "Greekness," while a perfectly good argument about the destabilizing and surreptitious effects of Kiro Gligorov’s diplomacy went by the board. (It was a sight to see Greek lobbyists rushing around town, in the first flush of the post-Cold War, denouncing the Skopje nationalist-conservative regime as a tool of Communism.) Meanwhile, there has been a perceptible American "tilt" towards Albania and a studied neutrality (to put it no higher) on the Aegean question.

With the military base agreement reconfirmed and with full Greek recognition of Israel-the two key American demands on Athens; both of them pressed for by reverse lobbying through the Greek-American leadership-it is felt in Washington that Greece can be taken for granted. And since nobody can claim to represent a "Greek vote," either in the electorate or in the halls of Congress, this seems like a fairly safe bet for any Administration to make. (Greek Americans voted for Michael Dukakis in exactly the same proportion as did other Americans, and voter registration in Astoria is not one iota higher than it is anywhere else.)

Why Aren’t We Like the Jews?
At Greek-American meetings, public and private, one always hears the same refrain: "If only we could be like the Israeli lobby." All lobbies of course have a certain penis-envy for the Israelis, but here are a few brief and suggestive reasons why this comparison is, and always will be, an absurd one:

1. Israel is a country which is prepared, in different circumstances, either to subordinate itself totally to the United States or to quarrel with it openly. Greece has repeatedly shown that it will not do the latter, and few would or should advocate that it do the former. Moreover, Israel possesses this latitude because of a strategic importance to the United States that Greece cannot rival (but which, sad to relate, Turkey can).

2. Israel is largely financed by the United States and by the American-Jewish community, but the American-Jewish community does its own lobbying without any subvention from Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Greece is not financed by either America or Greek Americans, but it does provide support for its own "national" lobby. When former Prime Minister Evangelos Averof asked Greek Americans to raise the funds for two warships after 1974, the result was...disappointing.

3. Even though Jewish Americans vote heavily Democratic, their vote is not taken for granted and their activities as political activists and donors, on behalf of themselves and others, are highly prized and respected by all parties and causes.

4. Anti-Semitic stereotypes notwithstanding, Jewish organizations do not mix business with lobbying as a general rule.

5. There is a variety, politically and organizationally, among American-Jewish groups. But their differences do not inhibit an impressive unity and discipline whenever there is a "national question" to be decided. Only recently, and reflecting an immense difference within Israeli domestic politics, has there been any open discussion on policy, or between government and "lobby."

A swift review of the above points (which could be extended) ought to be enough to illustrate the general point I am making.

A Hint of Light
There have been occasional successes for Hellenic causes in Washington. One might instance the efforts of Elias P. Demetracopoulos on the Cyprus question and on the embargo in the mid-1970s, and on the isolation of the junta before that. But it would have to be added that he was usually working in spite of, or even against, the general run of Greek-American leadership.

Nicholas Gage’s Epirote committee, to cite another example, did sterling work highlighting the frame-up of Greek-Albanian defendants in Tirana (the "Omonia" trial). But if you cut with the grain of human rights, and if you are a determined and well-connected individual, you ought to be able to make some headway in Washington whether you chance to be a Hellene or not. It is hard indeed to attribute these successes to anything that might be called "the lobby."

Sometimes sheer incompetence or naiveté are enough to make one weep and clutch the brow.

In the 1980s, with Greece’s position extremely parlous in Washington, the government of Andreas Papandreou hired the public relations firm of David Fenton Associates. I like David Fenton, and I wish more PR men were like him. But he was at the time the publicist for the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, with which the Reagan-Bush administration was in a state of undeclared war. His calls stood a small chance of getting returned. When this regrettable downside was pointed out to Papandreou, there could either have been a stand on principle or a climb-down. There was a climb-down. A new firm was hired. The firm was Edelman and Company, until then best-known for its highly efficient publicity effort on behalf of the Turkish military government. This is the sort of thing that feeds Washington cynicism, a disorder that Greece can ill-afford to contract.

Then there is the occasional humiliation of what is known in the trade as "the full-page folly." It costs up to $56,000 to take a whole page of The New York Times as an advertisement. Every now and then, the baffled reader of that newspaper is flipping through and sees an old photograph of a refugee camp in Cyprus, say, or a coin minted by Philip of Macedon. Underneath is some text, usually about half of it in grammatical English, stating an inalienable Greek claim. There might be the name of some indecipherable organization, or an exhortation to write to the President of the United States and tell him all about how you feel.

And that’s it. No follow-through; no education; no "enlightenment." This really upsets the hard-working Hellenic press officer I cited earlier, whose whole annual budget is a fraction of the above figure and who can hardly take an honest reporter for a souvlaki. "There are commissions on those full-page ads. That’s where the money goes. It’s everybody taking their cut. It’s a rousfeti." I feel his pain.

The money spent on these vain displays is probably counter-productive. It might as well have been cast into the mouth of a passing whale.

The Other Side of the Coin
Is this too harsh? In years of making speeches about Cyprus and Macedonia, I have got to know the "other side" quite well. I made a few calls to the celebrated Washington firm of Hill and Knowlton, which for a decade represented the Turkish government, and I got some interesting quotes on condition of anonymity.

"The Greeks are very good at mobilizing their own congregation," said one veteran. "We could never match Andy Manatos at that. The Turkish ambassador once asked how we could beat him and I said: ‘Your Excellency, it’s simple. Just get a million Turks to emigrate to the United States in 1900.’ He laughed, rather mirthlessly."

But the Turks have made their sense of ethnic and cultural self-pity work for them. "We could never match the Greeks in Congress," I was told, "but we could usually out-argue them in the State and Defense departments. And, after all, on the main issues we did prevail."

A few days before we spoke, in a five a.m. vote on a foreign aid bill, Turkey had suffered a large cut. On the motion of Congressman John Porter of Illinois, the appropriation for Turkey had been ambushed when nobody was looking. Congressman Porter’s wife, who is not Greek, has been very much affected by the Cypriot "Woman’s Walk Home" Movement. She and her husband do this for love. Hill and Knowlton took them to Turkey, introduced them to Rauf Denktash, gave them the best time they knew how. But to no avail. Andy Manatos has spent a lot of time keeping the Porters informed. Still, the thing that has really mobilized them has been direct, authentic, personal engagement of the sort that lobbying and "pressure" can never buy. Is there a lesson here somewhere?

"Don’t forget," said another Hill and Knowlton veteran, "that though the Greeks have been disappointed over Cyprus and though they screwed up the Macedonia question, they did uphold the 7:10 ratio." One hears this claim made quite frequently. I never know how much of a victory this really is. The 7:10 solution is actually the outcome, as people tend to forget, of a defeat. Sensing that the Congressional arms embargo was about to be overturned, and anxious for the future of Greek-American relations, Constantine Karamanlis took the 7:10 deal as a rapid substitute and, by so doing, doomed the embargo as something that not even Greeks cared about anymore. The Cypriots, for example, were not consulted about the deal. And, though it gives Greece more aid per capita than it does Turkey, the ratio has two unintended consequences. It feeds resentment at the egotism of the "Greek lobby," a resentment that emerges at other opportunities within the American establishment. And it "locks in" both Turkish primacy and Greek dependence, giving an American seal of complicity to a relationship of forces which some might choose to define as part of the problem to begin with.

Breaking Out
Detached as it has become from any broader or deeper political alliances, the pro-Greek "lobby" is currently unable to break out, either of its national community or of the purely Washington and "Beltway" context.

Andrew Athens’s United Hellenic American Congress is distinctly Chicagoan in flavor and relies on rewarding Congressmen who vote the right way, at a time when such activity is already exorbitant enough and viewed with some public distaste in America. Eugene Rossides and his American Hellenic Institute are thought of as energetic but too conservative politically, and too much meshed with private interests and with a nationalistic and even pro-junta past. Some Greek tycoons involve themselves sporadically (they have been doing so ever since Karamanlis recommended this course of action to them as a means of post-junta penance and rehabilitation in 1974) but the effect has been slight and there are sometimes jealousies about the turf and about who gets credit for what. The Archdiocese, soon to enter its post-Iakovos phase, has also suffered in the past from its involvement in disputes with Athens.

The arena of action, in short, is and has been contracting. Thus one gets rival groups of Greeks competing more and more about less and less-in one recent case about who should get credit for a transitory photo-op with Bill Clinton! (The wisest political maxim in Washington is that many things can be done as long as nobody cares who gets the credit.) Meanwhile, professional diplomats and even envoys from Greece and Cyprus often feel themselves short-circuited by the activities of a lobby that has become an end in itself. Many talented people have "dropped out," and many potentially useful and willing consultants have sworn not to get involved again, or at all.

I realize that, as a non-Greek and a philhellene, I want to say that this upsets and offends my sense of proportion-that most essential of Greek virtues. Greece is spoken of behind its back as if it were behaving like an arrogant superpower, while the reality is that it is a poor and vulnerable country. Trusting citizens in Greece and Cyprus are asked to rake over enormous sums of money, for "patriotic" reasons, with no assurance that it is well spent. Political questions are confined to a small circle, dominated by the unwholesome and deceptive Washington discourse of "access" and "clout."

For the past few years, there has been no serious crisis to put all this to the test. There ought to be a discussion of priorities soon, or we may be holding another post-mortem. "