On August 6, the Greek Government took a fateful step in the field of symbolism. In a surprise move (which was not all that of a surprise to those who follow the affairs of the Ministry of Defense) it retired the chief of the Armed Forces, Gen. Dimitrios Grapsas, and replaced him with Gen. Ioannis Yaghos, the chief of the Air Force General Staff.

The midsummer announcement of General Grapsas's (not so) abrupt departure immediately stirred intense political speculation. Some in the press claimed that the general was unceremoniously retired because he had become "too much of an irritation" to the Government with his allegedly "uncompromising" stance toward Turkey, a fact that was corroborated, journalists said, by a report, conveniently leaked to a weekly newspaper, that General Grapsas had approved the dispatch of commandos to bolster the defense of Greek island territories in the Aegean. In plain English, these reports claimed that General Grapsas was too much of a fighter for the tastes of a political leadership committed to not "provoking" Turkey by strengthening Greek defenses in light of the recent steep escalation of Turkish belligerence in the Aegean!

This interpretation has been of course strenuously denied by the Government. Let us though accept it, for a moment, as a working hypothesis; there is indeed enough undeniable precedent to suggest that this and previous governments are hardly proactive in shaping a national strategy based on true "deterrent punch" rather than furtive, almost phobic, diplomacy, not to mention the hollow and toothless recycling of "arguments" praising international law as Greece's greatest guarantee of not having to fight a shooting war with Turkey.

In any conflict, perceptions of strength and weakness of the opponent play a critical role in shaping one's strategy. The aim of manipulating threats of force in the pre-shooting stage of any confrontation is to encourage an adversary to adopt a concessions posture. Turkey, by constantly reminding Greece that coercive action is indeed likely if Turkish demands are not met satisfactorily, executes a classic maneuver based on exploiting the expressed aversion of the Greek adversary, re-confirmed almost daily, to even the notion of a resort to arms. This asymmetry defining the "no war, no peace" state of affairs between the two countries, even junior students of strategy will tell you, offers Turkey a robust advantage over what looks increasingly like a fearful and indecisive Greece.

If indeed we accept that this is the "operational environment" of the Turkish challenge to Greece, any Greek gesture that might appear the result of a conscious effort not to get the Turks "angry" is a disastrous step in the direction of a total concessions posture -- an alternative future Greek politicians swear they are working hard to avoid.

The implications of letting a man of General Grapsas's reported reputation go, in the middle of a major Turkish surge in the Aegean, shouldn't be too difficult to understand. To use an analogy from competitive team sports, this is an elementary point no professional coach dares ignore: you don't pull your fighters from the field when "aggressive defense" may be the only play called for under the developing circumstances of the game. Any such action would communicate to your opponent the unmistakable message that you have made your peace with the expectation of defeat.

"Stuff happens" as Donald Rumsfeld once memorably said. The Greek Government should keep these two words well in mind, along with the implicit warning they carry, when it apparently heeds the righteous indignation of Turkish mass media at the news that Greek commandos allegedly are sailing to protect Greek sovereign territories in the Aegean and, coincidentally, dismisses its chief of the joint chiefs of staff at the same time! Last we checked, such a reaction could be construed by even well meaning parties as the Greek Government's tacit acceptance of Turkey's license to dictate how Greek defenses are manned and when.

Greek politicians need to urgently return to the books to study Clausewitz's "grammar of war" in addition of course to the works of Thucydides. Since this is not a credible scenario, however, they should at least begin to absorb some of the more recent lessons of history. They should, for example, leaf through the chronicle of our own military campaign into Asia Minor in 1919-1922 and re-read the chapters on how cashiering able field commanders because of political motives accelerated the road to the gravest disaster of modern Hellenism.

There is always a wrong time for everything. The past is replete with the bleached bones of those who took the wrong turn, gave the wrong impressions, or persisted in ignoring very clear signals that their "measured" behavior had the exact opposite influence on potential foe bent on bringing harm to them. Gestures like what has just transpired at the top echelon of the Greek armed forces can profoundly undermine one's security narrative, with no credible hope of recovery. This is no time for dangerous experiments or dilettante performances for the benefit of one's own personal political aggrandizement or cultivating one's foreign "friends." Hopefully those at the helm realize this, although, sometimes, we seriously doubt it.


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