By Nick Larigakis
If you are like me, I am sure you must be pleased to finally have the election behind us. The past twenty months have given us nothing but non-stop around the clock reporting beginning with the long primary season, the down to the wire race in the Democratic primary and the relentless final two months leading up to the election on November 4. Election fatigue was evident all around us. Not to mention the endless requests of political fundraising.
And how did the Greek American community weather the storm? Well…Iʼm sure that all depends on who you ask. I do feel compelled, however, to set the record straight as to the role of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), as it relates to the multiple erroneous and presumed comments that I was subjected too during this election period.
First, let me begin by saying that I truly believe that Americans of Hellenic descent do not automatically vote and or support candidates based solely on the Greek American foreign policy core issues, such as Cyprus, FYROM, the Aegean, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Like other Americans we too care, as we should, about such issues as the economy, employment, taxes, national security, affordable education, affordable healthcare, crime, and how the world views the United States.
Having said this, organizations like AHI, and I might add, a number of leading Greek and Cypriot Americans, do have as core objectives the promotion and strengthening of U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus. AHI, however, does not endorse political candidates running for office, be they running for President or the Congress. Our charter, as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization, does not permit endorsing candidates or parties. Further, we believe that our issues are bi-partisan and that the success of advancing our core issues hinges on garnering support from both sides of the aisle.
AHIʼs leadership counts among its ranks both Democrats and Republicans. We are not a “Republican” oriented organization, as many out there would believe. Itʼs no secret that AHIʼs founder and president, Gene Rossides, identifies strongly in Republican circles. I on the other hand am a Democrat. But has anyone been more critical of the Republicans over the years than Gene Rossides? Does the name Henry Kissinger ring a bell? Or of his criticism of our current president, George Bush, on issues affecting Greece and Cyprus? And Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were not immune to AHIʼs criticism when warranted. And it was…on more than one occasion.
We have had tremendous support on our issues throughout the years in Congress from both sides of the aisle, such as Republicans: Rep. Ben Gilman, Sen. Larry Pressler, Rep. Ed Derwinski, Rep. John Porter, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Rep. William Broomfield, etc., and from Democrats like: Rep. Frank Pallone, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Rep. Rob Andrews, Sen. Tim Johnson, Sen. Bob Menendez, Sen. Joe Biden, and Sen. Barack Obama, etc.. I have not listed the Greek American Members of Congress that we are all familiar with.
Regarding fundraising, once again, here too AHI cannot get involved in the business of raising money for specific candidates. Individually however, I can tell you that AHI leaders, in their personal capacity, routinely give to candidates from both sides of the aisle who they feel will best facilitate issues with Greece and Cyprus as in the best interest of the United States.
Another role that AHI serves during election years is to seek statements from candidates on the Greek American issues. To this effect, we wrote to both presidential candidates again this year. Whenever anything was issued we would distribute the message to our members, supporters and friends, and list on our web page.
While it was disappointing that Senator McCain did not issue a statement, albeit he did send a letter to President Bush regarding support for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we should not necessarily take great satisfaction in the statement that President-elect Obama issued either. We should never be satisfied simply because a candidate issues a statement. Shouldnʼt we have graduated past this development stage by now? Whatʼs important is what action is taken. After all, would any of us be only satisfied with our favorite NFL team simply reaching the playoffs or the Super Bowl? Donʼt we also want to win once weʼre there?
None the less, AHI was pleased that a statement was issued and there were positive comments included in the statement. For example, the use of the term “occupation” in describing the Turkish military presence on Cyprus. However, we do feel that there are other areas where the statement was weak and fell short on explaining what action an Obama Biden administration will seek in order to pursue successfully these issues. And certain core issues were not mentioned at all, such as the Aegean and Visa Waiver.
Due to the lateness of when the statement was issued, AHI decided not to issue an analysis of the Obama Biden statement, but rather wait until after the election and address our concerns directly with Mr. Obama, if in fact he was the eventual winner. We will be soon writing to President-elect Obama.
Incredibly, however, when I casually brought up our intentions with a number of individuals that AHI had contemplated issuing a statement prior to the election, the responses were rather mixed. Some felt that we should be satisfied that it was overall very good and that we canʼt expect to “have it all.” Really? Why not? Where should we compromise? Would the Jewish American community react the same way regarding Israeli issues? Would they say “weʼre satisfied overall…heck, we canʼt expect to have everything, after all?” I donʼt think so. Donʼt we feel secure enough in our arguments and frustrated in all the broken promises and successive failures of U.S. foreign policy on our issues over the past 3 plus decades to want to have more than just and “overall good” statement?
Frankly, the responsibility of AHI is to do just this! Statements issued by leading public figures on our issues need to be analyzed pointing out any comments that are helpful and obviously, where comments fall short. Frankly, it would have been nice to have seen all the Greek American newspapers have an editorial on the statement. Not one did. Especially since all these newspapers on a weekly basis have their pages filled with stories regarding the Greek American core foreign policy issues.
This is all behind us now. The task ahead is still daunting. And the entire Greek America community needs to be united now on the issues that are of concern to us as a community.
Last week, AHI sent letters congratulating President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden. The letters in part said:
“…As you begin to formulate and advance your foreign policy agenda, we look forward to working with you and your administration in continuing to strengthen the historic bonds of friendship between two long-time allies, the United States and Greece and to strengthen the good relations between the United States and Cyprus.
Your statements on matters of concern to the Greek American community were well received by the community. We will plan to write to you separately in more detail regarding the main core issues that are of concern to the community as we seek to broaden the relationship between the United States with Greece and Cyprus to the mutual benefit of all.
We wish you every success as you embark on leading our nation during this historic time. And we look forward to working with you in the promotion of U.S. interests, the rule of law and the fundamental principles of democracy as they relate to Greece and Cyprus.”
The real work begins now. In addition to a new president, there were 49 new Members in the House of Representatives elected: 20 Republicans and 29 Democrats; and 8 new Senators: 2 Republicans and 6 Democrats.
There is an entire generation of politicians and policy makers that we need to reach out to and educate and inform as to our issues.
We need to hit the ground running immediately. Because if we donʼt, let all of us heed the words of former House Majority Leader, Jim Wright, who writes in his book, You and Your Congressman “If you are wondering whether or not it is really worthwhile to communicate your views to your Senators and Representatives, consider this fact, others who disagree with you are doing so constantly.”
And to set the record straight. This also means being critical when itʼs warranted.
**** Nick Larigakis is Executive Director American Hellenic Institute