Concordia’s June 6-7 inaugural Europe Summit in Athens covered a wide array of issues from the ongoing refugee crisis, Eurozone disputes, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and of course the highly-stressed web of transatlantic relations. History will probably record former Vice President Joe Biden’s June 7 keynote remarks – his first overseas speech since leaving office – as having the deepest and most historically significant impact.
In inviting Joe Biden to Athens, Concordia’s organizers followed a time-honored strategy for American organizations launching programs in Greece, that is to start with the highest profile “pro-Greece” former American politician available. Hosting Joe Biden worked brilliantly for Concordia as he is seen about as positively as possible both in Greece and especially in the Hellenic-American community. In fact, he was introduced at Concordia by well-known Washington lobbyist Mike Manatos as having the nickname “Joe Bidenopoulos.”
Vice President Biden’s remarks were clearly intended to calm European fears of precipitous American disengagement from the world under the Trump Administration, as well as to address some specifics of the U.S.-Greece relationship, both recurring themes of the Concordia European Summit:
–A strong Greece is essential to U.S. security. The same rationale President Harry Truman used in 1947 when requesting aid for Greece and Turkey applies today. Quoting Truman: “The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.”
–President Truman did not refer to charity or moral superiority when he asked Congress to allocate aid to Greece, it was a case of self-interest to protect the welfare of the United States over the long haul, and it worked.
–Biden said the U.S. needs Greece back on its feet, and on a sustainable footing which will allow for job creation. “That requires debt forgiveness, in my view.” (No further elaboration)
–On challenges in the region: Biden believed a Cyprus solution is tantalizingly close.
–(challenges) We still face the problem of “poor governance” in the Balkans.
–(challenges) We must deal with Russian actions in the Ukraine.
–(challenges) We must face up to recent Russian meddling in both the U.S. and European elections.
–(challenges) The Russians have found numerous methods to “weaponize corruption.”
–(challenges) Europe’s substantial dependence on Russian energy supplies makes it an easy lever for Russian exploitation.
–Europe is facing the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II, and Greece deserves thanks for shouldering the burden.
–Referring to a recent New York Times article on declining expectations for economic prosperity in western countries (citing a fresh Pew Research Center survey in 32 countries), Biden said the West must stand together to defend the liberal international order.
–Biden said, “If we don’t fight for ourselves and our values collectively, no one else will.”
–There was a strong bipartisan consensus in Congress that European security was essential to American security, and in that context President Truman’s declaration in 1947 was still completely relevant, the defense of Europe was still in America’s critical interest.
–The Trump Administration, despite occasional remarks to the contrary, would not be able to change this. “History has proven that the defense of free nations in Europe has always, always, always, been in America’s best interests and is America’s fight.”
–In that regard, Biden promised to work to keep the transatlantic alliance strong.
–Greece remained a vital linchpin of the western alliance.
–For the U.S, Greece was a special case, where (strategic) convenience and conscience crossed paths.
— Showing his mastery of U.S. ethnic politics, Biden said it wasn’t just that Greece had special significance to the United States because of history and shared interests, but that the Greek people also had the unique ability to charm Americans. “Once you Greeks get into someone’s heart, it’s all over.”
–Biden revealed that the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had briefed him on the increasing threats posed by global warming upon taking office in 2009. They had already identified it, and its political-military consequences, as the major threat to U.S. security and global stability in the long term.
–In that context, the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement was a huge problem, but it would not stop U.S. governors and mayors from working with the UN and others to preserve the momentum towards cooperation established under President Obama.
–The current President notwithstanding, Biden believed the U.S. remained the country best positioned for global leadership and pledged to use the newly-established Penn-Biden center and its large staff complement to support positive US engagement wherever possible.