The official American presence at the March 1-4 Delphi Economic Forum came close to being overshadowed by the academics, business people, and American political operatives invited to take part in this year’s expanded DEF agenda. Now in its third year, the 2018 Delphi Economic Forum has grown into a true Davos-like venue with a myriad of groups from all over the world vying to use the DEF to broadcast their message.
With this year’s theme focusing on “New Globalization and Growth Challenges” US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt followed a DEF tradition and took part in a 20-minute “in-conversation” discussion with a top Greek journalist on the hot issues of the day. Many senior European leaders and local politicians also take part in similar talks, but no other foreign ambassador was given the same sort of “in-conversation” platform to address the participants.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, all of the participants treat this particular discussion as the primary news event of the day, with Greek-American publications in particular parsing every word on bilateral relations. In view of the current wave of political and regional turbulence in Greece, the focus on Pyatt was higher than ever. The Ambassador was in the hot seat because of a fresh incident on Greece’s border with Turkey involving the detention of two Greek soldiers, with no resolution as to their fate in sight. Pyatt had no simple answers, other than explaining that senior US officials were engaged. Pyatt also said the US was supportive of Cyprus’ right to conduct offshore energy exploration in the face of Turkish threats and emphasised the critical strategic location of Greece and the Souda Bay naval facility for the US, he but made it clear that it was not seen as a potential substitute if US facilities were ever downsised in Turkey.
Turning to the Greece-Macedonia/FYROM name dispute, Pyatt noted that the US was firmly supporting UN Mediator Matthew Nimetz in his work in resolving the issue and highlighted the threat Russia posed to stable democratic development in the Western Balkans.
While the US relationship with Greece was better than it has been in many decades, the Ambassador astutely attributed this to the work of many governments in both countries as well as Greek diaspora groups. Pyatt stressed Greece’s strategic role as an emerging energy hub, with the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) under construction and the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector (IGB) in the planning stages, which also generates commercial opportunities for US firms.
Washington is committed to helping boost US investments in Greece, and the Ambassador stressed his door was continually open to potential investors. After a major deal involving US companies fell through recently, some have expressed skepticism about the Greek investment climate, but Pyatt said the number of Americans who are considering making Greek investments continues to grow. The US Government is putting a major effort into highlighting American products and technology at the 2018 Thessaloniki Trade Fair, thanking Greek PM Alexis Tsipras for designating the United States as the Thessaloniki Trade Fair’s “Honored Country” this year.
Pyatt would not comment on the FBI’s role in uncovering Greek officials who might be involved in the raging Novartis corruption scandal, noting only that the FBI is authorized to pursue violations of US law.
Immediately after Ambassador Pyatt’s conversation, a conference panel on “The US and the New Global Order” provided the attendees with an almost unprecedented display of American domestic political fireworks and disunity under the Trump Administration – the kind of public rancor foreigners should never have to endure. Most of the audience had just moments before listened to Ambassador Pyatt’s well-polished and strongly encouraging remarks about America’s commitment to Greece and the region. By the next session – mostly made up of the same audience – a heated debate between a representative of the Barack Obama Administration who spoke about the United States’ declining role in the world and two hardline operatives of US President Donald J. Trump, who argued that his “America First” policies in trade and diplomacy help serve US interests.
Former US Ambassador to the European Union, Anthony Gardner, an Obama Administration appointee and vocal supporter, described how the US was losing traction in trade policy and on the global diplomatic stage, primarily as a result of Trump’s disdain for American “soft power”, which Gardner noted even the US military recognised as a powerful and effective tool. The US had abandoned the Balkans, Gardner said, but more damaging was Trump’s intent to flagrantly violate World Trade Organisation rules by his unilateral imposition of large tariffs on a number of trade partners earlier that day. Gardner predicted the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was effectively dead, thanks to Trump, and noted that replacing it with a series of bilateral trade agreements with key trade partners that would include the UK is highly unlikely as they have lost interest and moved on.
According to Gardner, the Trump Administration has and continues to completely misunderstand how the European Union functions and declared Trump’s Middle East policy a disaster.
Acting as unofficial Trump Administration representatives, former White House House Scheduling and Advance Director George Gigicos and former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski laid out Trump’s “America First” policy, who appeared to backtrack on some of the strident isolationist rhetoric that characterised the administration’s first months in office and took care to emphasise that “America First” was different from “America alone.”
Lewandowski served as Trump’s campaign manager from January-June 2016 but was fired after an internal power struggle with Paul Manafort. Manafort in now a central figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, due to his close business and personal ties to Kremlin-linked Russian oligarchs and Ukraine’s former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.
Gigicos described how then-candidate Trump was simply the first to stir the pot the right way in the American heartland with his deeply resonating message. “Trump’s message awakened millions” Gigicos said, with his focus on America’s blue-collar workforce and their concerns. After highlighting “America’s resurgence” and new stock market records, Lewandowski glowingly described Trump’s “America First” policy as a considered reversal of the Obama Administration’s globalist approach to foreign policy, and claimed that in trade policy the US sought equal market access and nothing more, and praised Greece for being one of America’s few NATO allies that actually surpassed the agreed 2% of GDP target for defense spending.
Despite incredibly eloquent arguments on Greek-American ties made by Ambassador Pyatt in Delphi, the political disarray in the United States will have long-term consequences globally in terms of a less multilateral foreign policy approach, and even Washington’s staunchest allies will begin reassessing the impact of declining American influence globally.
Over the course of the three-day conference in Delphi, participants got a first-hand sample of the absolute shambles that the US political system finds itself in…Once again, something no foreigner should have to endure.