EUROPE, GREECE & AMERICA AT A CROSSROAD: WE NEED A BROADER VISION!
It is hard to read the daily press coverage of the Greek financial crisis and the increasingly ugly public bickering between officials of the leftist regime in Athens and the conservative guardians of fiscal responsibility at the European Union without wondering how they can all keep a straight face while pretending that money is all that counts. This is not the space and this blogger not the man for a close and expert examination of the financial arguments put forward by the debtor and creditor. Leaving that to The Economist (April 25) and others, let us take a look at the political game being played on all sides and the very serious consequences of failure to reach a deal that (a) subjects neither Greece nor its current leadership to shame and poverty, that (b) saves face as well for national leaders in Germany, France and elsewhere, that (c) preserves full membership in the Eurogroup as currently constituted, that (d) enhances the position of the EU itself as a major actor on the world stage, and that (e) offers no gifts to either Russia or Turkey. The United States stands to gain from such a result and lose considerably from failure.
There is no question but that Greece has experienced a long run of domestic political turmoil responsible in large part for the economic hole in which it finds itself today, beginning a half-century ago with the military coup d’état of April 21, 1967. It must be added at once, however, that acquiescence followed by more active support in Washington back then and over the succeeding seven years was a welcome gift to those seeking to deal a death blow to democracy in its birthplace. As it had been since the end of WWII, the US was the major source of foreign influence in NATO member Greece, but President Lyndon Johnson slapped the new “government” of colonels on the wrist with a mild reduction in military aid and turned the other way, and successor Richard Nixon, advised by Henry Kissinger, was more than comfortable having a military dictatorship as an ally for another four years. In 1974, however, those colonels, with no apparent objection from their American fans, tried to incorporate independent Cyprus into the Hellenic homeland. Reacting swiftly, the Turks invaded and left more than 30,000 Turkish troops in place, still in place today as a more enlightened US administration works hard to forge agreement among Turkey and the two ethnic Cypriot communities on an independent, non-occupied bi-zonal federation.
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen makes a strong argument for a reasonable compromise between unreasonable senior financial negotiators from Greece, the stressed but combative debtor nation, and other EU and Eurozone nations seemingly bent on punishing a noisy leftist government unable to repay excessive loans. Cohen wrote on April 24: “Despite a brutal fiscal adjustment, the fact remains that Greece’s debt is not repayable …. At some point there must be debt forgiveness; the cost of stupid loans has to be recognized. Or there may be a Greek default. The worst outcome for Europe would be a Greek exit from the euro. Joining the shared currency, for all the nations in it, was an ‘irrevocable’ decision. Once one country goes, the whole edifice wobbles. Markets are not sentimental about probing weakness. The constant question will be, ‘Who’s next?’ “
It is crystal clear that the question of overriding concern in Cohen’s view is the future of Europe rather than the angry, spiteful bickering over who’s to blame mentioned at the start. As he convincingly puts it, Europe today is “a borderless market of more than half a billion people between whom war has become impossible …. a continent where entitlements including universal health care are seen not as socialist indulgence but basic humanity …. it (Europe) has delivered peace above all, prosperity however frayed, and freedom to former inmates of the Soviet imperium. It has also created an awareness of European identity that falls short of European patriotism but is nonetheless a counterweight to the primal nationalism that stained the continent with so much blood”.
Whether it is Greece, the Eurozone, the EU itself or the US that stands to benefit most from a halt in the warfare that has driven the negotiations underground, there is a new light at the end of the tunnel: the recent news from Athens that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has reorganized his team so as to remove Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis from the negotiating table without relieving him of his policy responsibilities. It is to be hoped that tempers will no longer override diplomacy at the table and threaten all parties with a result that serves nobody. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
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