By Gene Rossides
It is not too much to say that the future of the Greek American community is at risk. Today we are not fully engaged on the issues involving U.S. relations with Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.
We have been marginalized by the pro-Turkish forces in the government, in the think tanks, in the media and Turkey’s paid lobbyists, registered with the Department of Justice as foreign agents, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
They take the position that Turkey is more important to U.S. interests than Greece; that Turkey is more important to Israel than Greece, and many of them take the position that what is best for Israel in best for the U.S.
The challenge for the Greek American community is to become an integral part of the foreign policy process in the interests of the U.S.
What do I mean by “integral part” of the foreign policy process? I mean that the Greek American community as a whole should be consulted on issues and matters concerning U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus before decisions are made by the Administration and Congress. It means the opportunity to be heard, to discuss the options and to have an input on the choices facing our government in those relationships.
It does not mean that our views will necessarily be accepted. But it does mean a good faith discussion of the issues with the only test being: What is in the best interests of the United States?
How do we get to be an integral part of the foreign policy process as the Jewish American community, the African American community and others have done? There is no magic involved. It does require work and brain power. The challenge is to become part of the process by being active on a daily basis with the four primary enters of power in the development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy, namely:
1. the Congress;
2. the Executive Branch (the White House and National Security Council (NSC) and the Departments of State, Defense and Treasury);
3. the media; and
4. the academic community and think tanks.
In general, the development of foreign policy in the U.S. comes from the interplay of these four centers of power.
The first power center to concentrate on is the Congress. Increasing effectiveness with the Congress has a direct impact on the other three centers of power, is more lasting and involves a wider spectrum of the community. The Congress is also where the Greek American community can make its biggest impact. I will deal with the other centers of power in future articles.
The formulation of foreign policy in the U.S. is more complex than in other democracies and reflects the fundamental differences between our constitutional system in which Congress is an equal partner with the Executive as compared to the parliamentary democracies of Europe where parliament is fundamentally subordinate to the executive.
Our constitution established a federal government based on a separation of powers, or checks and balances, among the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial branches of government to prevent arbitrary use of power by the Executive Branch.
By making the Congress independent of the Executive and giving it the power to legislate, to pass all laws, including the power to tax and the power to spend, the founding fathers created a mechanism to harness the power of the Executive.
Our system forces the Executive Branch and Congress to negotiate and arrive at a mutually acceptable compromise on major matters.
The challenge for the Greek American community is to develop an effective grass roots lobbying effort in each of the 435 congressional districts and with the 100 senators in the fifty states.
Under our constitutional system of separation of powers, Congress has a full partnership role in foreign policy formulation. Congress, by passage of laws sets foreign policy which the Executive Branch is responsible to carry out.
A second key aspect of Congress’ authority in making foreign policy is that only Congress can authorize and appropriate the money necessary to carry out foreign policy decisions and operations.
Thirdly, Congress has oversight responsibility on Executive Branch operations.
The uniqueness of the American system, and a major reason for its greatness, rests in the Congress as an institution, not in the Presidency. Every country has a chief executive. No major democracy has a legislature with the power of our Congress.
Congress is the reason that each of us – you and I – have a far greater opportunity to influence policy in our nation through our Representatives and Senators than citizens in any other industrial democracy. Because of the independent power of each and every Representative and Senator, the average American citizen has a vehicle, a mechanism, to have his views not only heard, but considered.
In 1974 we demonstrated what we could do working with the Congress in support of the rule of law. It was an historic effort. The Congress passed the rule of law arms embargo on Turkey. Our challenge today is to become as effective with the Congress as we were in 1974. To do this requires a substantial grass roots effort.
To reverse the anti-rule of law and pro-Turkish policies of State, Defense, and the NSC and to achieve our goal of full involvement in the foreign policy development process, we need a cadre of leaders involved with each of the power centers.
A successfully lobbying effort with the Congress requires:
1. A grass roots effort; and
2. A Washington effort.
You cannot influence foreign policy in this nation on a continuing basis with one person or the handful of persons in our community who have access to political power on an ad hoc basis. I cannot emphasize enough that such ad hoc access is not adequate to move our community into the mainstream of foreign policy development on a continuing basis.
To develop a grass roots effort we should follow the example of the Jewish American community. In 1950 the Jewish American community made a decision to achieve full influence with the Congress. They decided to identify and assign up to 5 Jewish Americans to each representative and each senator. They reasoned that if they achieved such influence with the Congress that their foreign policy positions would prevail no matter who was in the White House. And if the White House agreed with their foreign policy positions all the better.
At the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) we have a program to develop Congressional Contact Leadership Teams of 3 Greek Americans for each of the 435 members of the House and the 100 members of the Senate. That means we need 1605 leaders throughout the U.S.; grass roots leaders in every state and congressional district.
The AHI is a non-profit, tax-exempt national membership organization. With members in practically every state, AHI provides information to the many Greek American organizations throughout the country. AHI members are all volunteers.
AHI’s affiliated lobby organization registered with the U.S. Congress has developed some 400 Congressional Contact Leaders. We need 805 more if we are to achieve our goal of becoming an integral part of the foreign policy development process.
We look to the grass roots to coordinate a specific program for their region regarding the Congress. We ask the grass roots to seek personal meetings with their elected representatives when they are in the district to discuss with them the current issues in U.S. relations with Greece and Cyprus.
Is lobbying your representative or senator a difficult task? The answer is NO. It does require a knowledge of the issues, patience and determination. It means building a relationship with the representative and his/her staff. It means helping in election campaigns. It is interesting work and important to the interests of the U.S.
AHI works closely with Greek American organizations throughout the country and we seek from them Congressional Contact Leaders. We provide each member of the Congressional Contact Leadership Team (CCLT) with our annual Greek American Policy Statements, endorsed by the Order of AHEPA, the Hellenic American National Council, the Cyprus Federation of America, the Pan Macedonian Association and other membership organizations, a fact sheet on his/her representative and senators and a memorandum on How to Lobby.
AHI and its affiliates (1) work with each member of the team; and (2) lobby the members of Congress and their staff in Washington, D.C.
As American citizens we have a responsibility to be involved in the public issues of our time. As Americans of Greek descent we have a particular responsibility to be involved in United States relations with Greece and Cyprus.
As Pericles said in his famous funeral oration in 431 B.C “We alone regard a man who takes no interest in public affairs not as harmless, but as a useless character.”
All organizations can inform and educate their members. Each member is authorized as an individual to lobby his or her elected officials.
A special effort needs to be made to increase the involvement of women and youth and to recruit young adults for leadership roles.
To influence the policy of our government is a massive undertaking which requires lay leaders in each of the 435 congressional districts in every state.
It can be done. It must be done in the interests of the U.S. in strengthening relations between the U.S. and Greece and the U.S. and Cyprus, and to help preserve our Hellenic heritage in America.
AHI does not require a person to become a member in order to be part of the Congressional Contact Leadership Team.
I stress to each reader that being a member of AHI’s CCLT provides interesting work — work that is important to the interests of the U.S. and for the future of our community and Hellenism in the U.S.
Unless we build a public policy base in each congressional district and with the 100 senators, we will not become an integral part of the foreign policy process in our own country.
How does one sign up to become a Congressional Contact Leader. Simply contact AHI by letter (1220 16th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20036), by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), by telephone (202-785-8430) or fax (202-785-5178) and give us your particulars: name, address, phone, e-mail, your congressional district and representative if you know them, and a brief bio.
Act today and get involved in the interests of the U.S.
Gene Rossides is President of the American Hellenic Institute and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.