Greek governments in recent years have missed no opportunity to declare how "strong" Greece is and how "respected" she remains among friends and foes alike.
Real facts of course tell a different story. Whether it is the Balkans, the confrontation with Turkey, EU politics, or her "strategic partnership" with the United States, Greece appears limited in her reach and largely ineffectual in achieving outcomes she, herself, has defined as desirable or, even, strategically vital. Greek foreign relations often stumble on basics, miss the target altogether, or are easily flanked by the manipulations of others, some of whom are "minor actors" by every standard in the book.One of the key reasons behind this often pitiful performance is, again, Greece's innate tendency to remain invisible and absent from the playing field while her opponents are running circles around the "issues" by employing professional lobbyists to cajole and cultivate those who make decisions (see also our last week's commentary).
Hiring professionals to keep their eyes peeled in foreign capitals, and nurture targeted "friendships" with local politicians and other influential figures, is nowadays one of the most effective means of reaching parts of a foreign establishment which even the best of traditional diplomacy can hardly access. "Strong" Greece though, perhaps because she is so confident in her government-on-government powers of persuasion, invests precious little in lobbying friendly powers through professional organizations doing lobbying for a living.
No starkest example of Greece's persistence to remain invisible exists than now publicly available figures of Greek lobbying efforts in Washington, the center of decision-making of Greece's main "strategic partner." The Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker, a joint project of ProPublica and the Sunlight Foundation, "... digitizes information that representatives of foreign governments, political parties and government-controlled entities must disclose to the U.S. Justice Department when they seek to influence U.S. policy." A quick look through the Tracker's database, juxtaposing Greece to two of its main current adversaries, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), provide a disappointing picture, to say the least, of Greek lobbying efforts in the American capital, center of so many key decisions with a direct bearing on Greek national interests.
First, the results depicting all of Greece's eight, repeat, eight (8) lobbying contacts with the U.S. Government during 2008 at a cost of roughly $27,000. Seven of these eight contacts were prompted by the continuing saga of Greece trying to join the Visa Waiver Program, an issue of some importance to Greek travelers to the U.S. but, certainly, not one of any strategic significance. The remaining one contact was a routine call to a U.S. Senate staffer in an effort to influence the views on Greece of a senior senator.
While Greece was so busy spreading her word among American policymakers, Turkey, during 2007-2008, logged 1,601, repeat 1,601 contacts at a cost of more than $2 million! The table detailing these contacts is replete with names from both the House of Representatives and the Senate and it also reveals the careful Turkish targeting of specific pieces of legislation apparently deemed by Ankara's planners to have an influence on Turkish interests. This barebones information is enough to suggest that the Turks devote serious time and money to researching the intentions of the U.S. Government and poising themselves strategically to do what it takes to make the Turkish point of view heard and, hopefully, heeded by those who count in Washington.
Even the "republic of Macedonia" -- FYROM to Greece (and a steadily dwindling number of U.N. member states) -- literally a dwarf when compared to Greece, spent more than $150,000, or more than four times what Greece spent during 2008, to send out lobbyists on 121 occasions to talk to American policymakers almost exclusively on the so-called Macedonia "name issue" that continues to bar Skopje from attempting to join the EU and NATO. If anything, this data shows the "Skopjans" acting with much greater urgency than their Greek opposites, who, apparently, are unmoved by the vagaries of international affairs.
After reviewing this information, there is little need to further comment on Greece's stubborn commitment to invisibility. It is important though to note, and again highlight, the almost eerie persistence of Greek leaders to throw out "strong" Greece "sound bites" with Pavlovian consistency when nothing that they and their government ministries do testifies to an honest commitment to spare no effort, no amount of money, and no concrete step to push the national interest into safe territory. And such behavior is only one short step away from actually making this diffuse sense of "strong" Greece unreality the actual guide of "policy making".