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ATHENS--After Greece temporarily hosted a pair of U.S. military drones, Greek Defense Minister Panagiotis Kammenos said last fall that, "It's very important for Greece that the United States deploy military assets in Greece on a more permanent base."

Greece just took delivery of some 70 military helicopters that it had purchased from the U.S., and there have been discussions about basing American drones, air tankers and other military aircraft on Greek soil.

COSCO, a state-owned mainland Chinese shipping and logistics services company, has invested more than 3.5 billion euros in renovating the historic Greek port of Piraeus, now the second-largest port in the Mediterranean. The Chinese brag that it will soon become the busiest. The massive renovation is part of Red China's 35-year lease of two of the port's container terminals and the Chinese purchase of a majority stake in Piraeus' port authority.

Despite recent spats, Vladimir Putin's Russia remains a supposed ally of Greece, given historic religious ties and the envisioned completion of a natural-gas pipeline that will supply Russian gas to energy-starved Greece.

Greece has a complicated relationship with its European Union partners after its catastrophic financial meltdown and the often Dickensian terms of reform and repayment demanded by German bankers. Yet Greece appreciates that more European Union money goes into the country than goes out, even if many Greeks resent bitterly high-handed German dictates--and being manipulated as the frontline transit center for hundreds of thousands of migrants swarming into Europe from Africa and the Middle East.

New Greek freeways are less congested and more impressive than California's, despite the fact that Greek GDP is less than one-twelfth that of California.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Greece was more or less anti-Israel (like much of Europe). Not any longer. The two countries are becoming fast friends.

Greece's new multifaceted foreign policy might be best summed up by 19th-century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston's famous dictum: "Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests."

Greece seems to have found lots of semi-permanent interests.

Relatively small and vulnerable but strategically located Greece lives in a tough neighborhood with historic enemies such as Turkey and radical Islamic groups. As a window on the Mediterranean and three continents, Greece sits at the intersection of great-power rivalries between Europe, America, China and Russia.

In the old days, Greece, a member of both NATO and the EU, grumbled that its European and American big brothers took it for granted as either an insignificant subordinate or a whiny nuisance--despite its key location and iconic status as the birthplace of Western civilization.

Now, things have changed, and often to Greek advantage.

Greece has gone from its traditionally defiant (if not insecure) role as an outlier to that of a crafty insider. There are lots of reasons for the new Greek realpolitik besides learning from the vulnerability of its past dependencies.

The rise of a neo-Ottoman Turkey, with a population seven times that of Greece, a territory six times as large and renewed territorial ambitions in the Greek Aegean, has made Greece turn to the U.S. military for protection. America, too, is increasingly wary of the Turkish president.

Doing business with China is dangerous, given Chinese neo-imperial schemes that occasionally have led to blatant Chinese blackmail and bullying of its vulnerable clients. But the Chinese presence has pumped billions of euros into the ailing Greek economy while reminding the EU that Greece has other options when it comes to foreign investment, infrastructure and trade.

Few nations trust the reptilian Putin. But when the Russian president poses as a defender of Orthodox Christianity and as a protector of Eastern Europe and the Balkans from German bullying and Islamic troublemaking, the Greeks may find him useful in supplying energy and in foreign-policy triangulation.

Israel has also been recalibrated as a useful asset for democratic Greece. Like other traditionally persecuted peoples, the Greeks and Israelis share a mistrust of great powers. Israel now plans to build a massive underwater pipeline to link its natural gas supplies with Greece and Cyprus.

Both Greece and Israel have resentments against the European Union. Both have given up on detente with Erdogan's bellicose Turkey. Both count on U.S. military aid. Both no longer are so dependent on unstable Arab countries.

Greece is walking a tightrope. By balancing between rivals and finding new friendly interests, Greece magnifies its own importance. As it does, it also becomes an even greater focal point of big-power rivalries and global commercial jostling.

We should not be too surprised by Greek realpolitik. After all, Greece gave the world Themistocles, the fifth-century B.C. wheeler-dealer politician and general who increased ancient Athenian power by being interested in everyone--and permanently allied to no one.


Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Editorial on 06/06/2019

Print Headline: Greece rising


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  • mozarky2
    June 6, 2019 at 6:15 a.m.

    And to think that the willfully ignorant RBear considers VDH a "right wing hack", without so much as a glimpse of his body of work.
    I don't believe RBear has the brainpower to even comprehend Hanson's writings.

  • WhododueDiligence
    June 6, 2019 at 9:48 a.m.

    Mozarky, Hanson's body of work includes his strong bias in favor of neocon foreign policy in general and his enthusiastic support for the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld war in Iraq in particular. Neocons like Hanson are quick to advocate military force over diplomacy in our foreign policy and they have a romanticized notion of war's ability to solve problems. That's partly because few neocons have ever been anywhere near a war. They've only read about it and there are some significant differences between a book and a war. Typical of neocons, Hanson has repeatedly urged the use of military force to eradicate our enemies, failing to recognize that military invasions also create lasting enemies.
    The Iraq War was a mistake because it was based on flawed intelligence sources regarding weapons of mass destruction, it focused attention away from Afghanistan where the 9-11 terrorists had fled, and because none of the 9-11 terrorists were from Iraq. In addition to the Iraq War's casualties, the outcome was destabilization of the Middle East by weakening the Iraq buffer zone between Iran and Syria. ISIS also emerged from the anarchy in Iraq in 2006--during the Bush-Cheney presidency.
    In the late 1990s neocons had lobbied Bill Clinton for an Iraq war but he resisted because Clinton was more skeptical about the warmongering neocon ideologues than Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld were. Victor Davis Hanson is a neocon and beyond that an extreme partisan. He's now an unrepentant true believer in Donald Trump, just like he was an unrepentant true believer in Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld. When things go wrong militarily--as they always do in ill-advised neocon nation-building misadventures--neocons never learn from their mistakes because they're always too busy defending their ideology and heaping all the blame on somebody else.

  • GeneralMac
    June 6, 2019 at 1:18 p.m.

    If Sadam Hussein had abided by the terms he AGREED after Gulf War I, he would still be alive today and still the ruler of Iraq

    His sons would still be alive , also.

    He signed, then proclaimed......." you can't tell a sovereign nation what to do " he ignored the terms he AGREED to.