Obama or Romney: Does it make a Difference?
By Nick Larigakis, President, American Hellenic Institute
October 22, 2012
Well, here we are again. Another four years have passed and the entire nation is gearing up for another presidential election.
Ultimately, does it make a difference to the Greek American community who wins?
As American citizens with the right to vote, we have a responsibility to review and analyze the candidates’ policies on domestic and foreign issues to understand how they may impact the national interests of the United States. To this degree, the Greek American community is no different than any other civically-engaged community. After all, issues of the economy, healthcare, taxes, national security, among others, affect us all.
However, I also believe the Greek American community should have a vested interest in understanding where the candidates stand when it comes to advocating for a strong U.S. relationship with Greece and Cyprus because this too serves the national interests of the United States. But just where do the 2012 presidential candidates stand on this topic?
We have a track record for President Barack Obama because he is an incumbent seeking reelection. In October 2008, the Obama campaign issued a favorable statement to the Greek American community (see addendum to this op-ed). However, despite repeated attempts by the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), including phone calls and emails to campaign staff, and I’m sure outreach by other Greek American organizations, the 2012 Obama campaign has yet to issue a campaign statement to the community. This is disappointing.
Nonetheless, an examination of the 2008 Obama campaign statement compared to where our issues are today will reveal that:
After 38 years, Cyprus continues to be illegally occupied by more than 40,000 Turkish troops;
Turkish military aircrafts continue to violate Greek national airspace, provoking tensions in the Aegean, and Turkey continues to threaten Greece with war (casus belli) and promotes claims that are unfounded and devoid of any legal basis as it relates to the Aegean Sea;
The Halki Patriarchal School of Theology remains closed and the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s rights, freedoms, and security continue to be threatened; and
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) continues its intransigent and provocative actions against Greece refusing to negotiate in good faith to resolve the name issue.
Therefore, one cannot point to any significant advances on any of our core policy issues.
However, the Obama Administration has been better than the Bush Administration with rhetoric. For example, the Obama Administration publically supported Greece as Greece has endured its unprecedented economic crisis. In addition, several high-level administration visits to Greece have occurred, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Gordon. Secretary Clinton and Assistant Secretary Gordon also visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the latter toured Halki Seminary.
And where does Governor Mitt Romney stand on our core Greek American issues?
The simple truth is that we just don’t know. I have written to Governor Romney on behalf of AHI asking him to issue a statement to the Greek American community. So far, there has been no response. Governor Romney has made a number of off-the-cuff comments about Greece. For example in the second debate he said, “If the president were re-elected, we’d go to almost $20 trillion of national debt. This puts us on the road to Greece.” For the record, Greece’s national debt is approximately 330 billion Euros ($432 billion).
Searching for additional clues will find that the 2012 Republican Platform did include a reference to Cyprus in its foreign policy section. To compare, the Democratic Platform did not mention any Greek American community issues.
One striking difference between Republican and Democratic presidential candidates through recent history is the noted absence of a Republican presidential candidate’s statement. The last campaign statement issued by a Republican presidential candidate came from President George H.W. Bush on July 7, 1988. To the best of my knowledge, no other Republican candidate has issued a public statement to the Greek American community since 1988. To compare, the Democrats have been more consistent with issuing statements as demonstrated by the Clinton-Gore campaigns of 1992 and 1996 and the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign.
I’ve included as an addendum to this op-ed excerpts from previous Democratic and Republican presidential campaign statements that AHI has on file for your review to provide a sense of what is absent today.
From all of this we can draw the sad conclusion that it makes no difference which political party occupies the White House when it comes to advancing policies that will resolve the outstanding core issues of the Greek American community. Their campaign statements are used primarily for fundraising purposes and for getting votes. Once in office, they are forgotten at the presidential level and instead relegated to third tier bureaucrats and lost in the bowels of the State Department.
Ultimately, the onus lies squarely on the shoulders of the Greek American community to become involved with our elected policymakers in the executive and legislative branches of government. It is crucial to engage them on the issues. If we work together toward the same goals, we can realize positive developments with the next president and the new Congress going forward.
If we continue to be disinterested, I can simply re-issue this op-ed again in four years without changing a word.
Previous Democratic Presidential Candidate Statements
October 2008 Obama-Biden Campaign Statement
“[He was] one of 73 Senators who signed a letter to President Bush in 2006 urging him to press Turkey to restore the full rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Christian Church in Istanbul. [And he had sent] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a personal letter on the same matter. [He called on] Turkey to respect the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s rights and freedoms, including its property rights. Turkey should allow the reopening of the Patriarchate’s school of theology on Halki Island and guarantee the right to train clergy of all nationalities, not just Turkish nationals.”
“…A negotiated political settlement on Cyprus would end the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and repair the island’s tragic division while paving the way to prosperity and peace throughout the entire region.”
“…[I] support the UN-led negotiations and believe that there can and should be an agreement between Skopje and Athens on a mutually-acceptable name that leads to greater stability in the Balkans.”
On Aegean Sea Boundary
“…my Administration has suggested that the Imia question could be best decided by the International Court of Justice or some other body, and we stand ready to actively assist in this process. We have also spoken out forcefully against frivolous territorial claims, including an assertion by a Turkish military officer that the island of Gavdos might not be Greek.” – Campaign Statement by President Bill Clinton, Clinton-Gore 1996.
On Greece as NATO Ally
“As an ally in NATO and a key player in the European Union, Greece is helping to shape the future of Europe and the next half-century of our transatlantic partnership. Greek soldiers are also serving with great distinction alongside ours in the NATO-led international force (IFOR) bring peace to Bosnia.” — Campaign Statement by President Bill Clinton, Clinton-Gore 1996.
“The United States and the world community will not accept the permanent division of Cyprus…Such a Cyprus settlement should be consistent with the fundamental principles of human rights and democratic norms and practices. Accordingly, a Cyprus settlement can be just and viable only if it provides for the withdrawal of Turkish occupation forces; satisfactorily accounts for all American and Greek Cypriots missing since 1974; provides for the rights of refugees; ensures the sovereign independence and territorial integrity of the state; and establishes a democratic constitution which respects and guarantees the rights of both communities.” – Clinton-Gore Campaign Statement, October 2, 1992.
On Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Name Dispute
“I support the recent decision by the European Community which agreed to recognize the southernmost Yugoslav Republic as an independent state provided its name does not include “Macedonia.” For many Americans, the question of the use of the name “Macedonia” may seem hard to understand. At the close of World War II, the use of this name for the southern part of Yugoslavia was labeled by our then Secretary of State “as a cloak for aggressive actions against Greece” and could again become a source of instability and conflict.” – Clinton-Gore Campaign Statement, October 2, 1992.
Previous Republican Presidential Candidate Statements
On Aegean Sea Boundary
“As to the disputed territorial claims regarding the Aegean continental shelf, the best course in this situation would be to submit the claims to final and binding arbitration by an international tribunal, as has been done by other nations in similar situations.” – Campaign Statement of Reagan-Bush, September 26, 1980.
On Greece as NATO Ally
“The reintegration of Greece into the NATO military command structure is of vital importance to the security interests of NATO and the United States.” – Campaign Statement of Reagan-Bush, September 26, 1980.
“The present tragic situation in Cyprus is another example of the failure of the Kissinger-Ford foreign policy. President Ford should have taken action to prevent the unlawful use of U.S.-supplied arms by Turkey in Cyprus. I believe in the right of self-determination for the people of Cyprus. My position is that the Turkish invasion troops and colonists should leave Cyprus and all refugees should return to their homes and land. If I am elected president I will uphold the Rule of Law at home and abroad and I will use my office to bring about that result.” – Statement of Presidential Candidate Gov. Ronald Reagan, May 14, 1976, Detroit, Michigan.
“I support the full implementation of unanimously approved United Nations Resolution 3212 of November 1974 which ‘Calls upon all States to respect the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and non-alignment of the Republic of Cyprus and to refrain from all acts and interventions directed against it; Urges speedy withdrawal of all foreign armed forces and foreign military presence and personnel from the Republic of Cyprus, and the cessation of all foreign interference in its affairs.’” – Campaign Statement of Reagan-Bush, September 26, 1980.
“We seek for Cyprus a constitutional democracy based on majority rule, the rule of law, and the protection of minority rights….I want to see a democratic Cyprus free from the threat of war.” Presidential Candidate Vice President George H. W. Bush statement on July 7, 1988 in a speech in Boston.