Athens rocked by Biden’s nomination of political operative

After an prolonged interval of uncertainty over who could be tapped, on October eight US President Joe Biden introduced his intention to appoint influential Democratic fundraiser George Tsunis to be his envoy to Greece. 

The Tsunis case is controversial for a number of causes and has triggered an intense response within the Washington international coverage group the place the dispatch of a non-career Foreign Service Officer to a possible hotspot in a strategic location for NATO and the EU might change into a significant Biden Administration blunder, coming at a time when the Afghanistan fiasco is contemporary in everybody’s minds. 

Politics over diplomacy?

What makes the case much more attention-grabbing is that Mr. Tsunis had a earlier ambassadorial nomination disintegrate in a very public venue throughout the Obama Administration. He was nominated by President Obama as his envoy to Norway in 2013 however throughout his disastrous 2014 affirmation listening to he incorrectly referred to Norway’s chief as “president” as an alternative of “prime minister,” together with referring to a parliamentary coalition get together as a “fringe group,” errors which American proponents of sending profession diplomats to ambassadorial posts will always remember and is now so deeply linked with Tsunis’ political profession that it might be the only real truth most observers presently keep in mind concerning the candidate.   

After that fiasco, the Norwegian American community-based in Minnesota was notably energetic in demanding his nomination be cancelled, finally inflicting Tsunis to withdraw.

Tsunis is the son of Greek immigrants and is claimed to talk fluent Greek, however that exact heritage doesn’t assure his acceptance amongst key parts of Greek society. This is as a result of a component of sophistication discrimination lingers in opposition to these people from the decrease lessons who left the nation in troublesome occasions, and sometimes these Greeks of the Diaspora have little understanding of day-to-day life in Greece.

This can be the case in lots of European international locations the place difficult diaspora politics may fill a number of books, however the core problem is easy – the kids of poor immigrants who one way or the other discovered success overseas aren’t seen as certified to advise right now’s elected leaders about present Greek political life and international relations, which is what American ambassadors are routinely accused of in any occasion. 

Career diplomats wanted in Athens

Tsunis could be arriving because the alternative for profession Foreign Service Officer Geoffrey Pyatt, lengthy overdue for switch since he arrived in Athens in late 2016. The State Department had truly designated a alternative for Pyatt by late 2019, an acceptable time for rotation, however we’ve got no clear info as to why that exact profession diplomat’s identify didn’t move ahead to a proper nomination throughout the Trump administration. 

Many within the Washington international coverage group proceed to argue that Greece continues to be too delicate a posting for one more political appointee, based mostly on the monitor document of the earlier project of that sort, which was seen by many as a catastrophe. 

Ambassador Michael Sotirhos was the primary Greek American ambassadorial nominee to Greece in US historical past, serving below President George H.W. Bush in Athens from 1989-93. A lifelong Republican and expert get together operative, Sotirhos had the misfortune of being in place when the previous Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia dissolved into constituent items, with ensuing intense strain on US-Greece relations over Greek ties with Serbia and the Macedonia identify dispute. 

Although very dynamic in his approach to Greece and the Greeks, Sotirhos additionally suffered an inner scandal at his Athens embassy when an American communications technician was caught sharing categorised info with Greek intelligence, motivated partially by friction over the collapse of the previous Yugoslavia and US coverage.

Only a number of former US diplomats have commented on the document to this point concerning the Tsunis nomination, with two former US Ambassadors and a former US Senator issuing extremely detrimental opinions about Tsunis competence, in addition to his preparation for the ambassadorial hearings he botched in 2014. Reuters quoted Chas Freeman, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia as stating, “our embassy in Athens should not be treated as a sinecure to be purchased in return for campaign contributions or as a training ground for novice diplomats, still less incompetent amateurs.”

Senatorial assist mentioned to be the important thing 

Tsunis poor efficiency in 2014 leaves the impression that he didn’t deserve a second probability to dabble in diplomacy. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been reported to be Tsunis’ main supporter for the nomination, together with Senate majority chief Chuck Schumer of New York. Tsunis has reportedly donated vital quantities to each and coordinated a lot bigger fundraising campaigns that benefited the get together. With the Senate below such tenuous democratic management, a profitable affirmation vote for Tsunis might be disrupted by a minimal variety of vote-switchers who is perhaps swayed by the rising refrain of international coverage specialists arguing the case for a profession diplomat in Athens. 

Ankara is watching each move

Ultimately the query comes down to some easy information factors. Will American’s opponents within the area in addition to Greece’s pure antagonist, Turkey, see within the Tsunis nomination that Washington is one way or the other downgrading its relationship with Greece? 

Many in Athens really feel that is clearly the underlying message and are concluding that with Tsunis’ arrival that the US Embassy will merely change into a most popular assembly level for Greek American guests in addition to key Democratic congresspeople, however not the point of interest the Greek authorities can reach out to in a disaster interval, as it’s when managed by a senior profession diplomat. There can be concern {that a} profession diplomat’s expertise in working with the US navy and its intricate chain of command, a ability which almost all senior diplomats have honed all through their careers, is important for an efficient posting in Athens with the Greek-Turkish Aegean dispute almost all the time on “low boil.”  And though Tsunis comes from a enterprise background, he’ll actually be omitted within the chilly on the subject of the advanced nexus of power diplomacy swirling round Greece. 

None will likely be extra targeted on the Tsunis affirmation hearings than the Turkish Embassy in Washington, in search of any indicators that Tsunis’ data of Greece is lower than marketed and likewise hoping to discern whether or not this New Yorker would truly be allowed by his superiors in Washington to manage a possible disaster within the Aegean akin to a brand new Imia/Kardak disaster or within the wider area. Ankara ought to the truth is be trying to find potential new bridges of cooperation, not probing for indicators of weak spot, however that is what the Biden administration is proposing. 


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