John Sitilides: Greece has a decision to make in the post 9-11 era - 2003-09-10

John Sitilides, Executive Director of the Washington-based Western Policy Center, discussed the state of the world on the second anniversary of September 11, in an interview with George Bistis on the Voice of America. A Greek version of the interview was also released to VOA affiliate radio stations in Greece, Cyprus and major Hellenic communities in Canada and Australia.

Following is a transcript of the interview with Mr. Sitilides.

Mr. Bistis: On September 11, 2001 the United States experienced the deadliest assault on its soil by a group of terrorists who killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians in Washington and New York. Since that day, the world hasn’t been the same and it seems that everything that we do, in the United States and around the globe, is greatly affected by the events of September 11. How do you see the world in the post 9/11 era? Mr. Sitilides: American security policy has been utterly transformed by the September 11th terrorists attacks and by the realization that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are planning future acts of catastrophic terrorism and mass murder against the US and its allies and collective western interests throughout the world.

So, to confront this existential threat, the US will seek to promote and to sustain liberal civil society as broadly as possible. This is designed to transform the Middle East, which really is producing the latest generation of the world deadliest terrorists and to create an orderly world. I mean a world of political stability, of individual liberty, of economic freedom and respect for private property and representative government, that is the underpinnings of liberal democracy, as we know it in the west. US security policy as we speak, is being implemented with a network of thousands of operations and in about 170 countries. As the State Department continues to direct foreign policy including issues as globalization, human rights, commerce and foreign aid, it’s the Pentagon that’s stirring security policy for the US for the foreseeable future.

I believe that the US has no option but to use its military power in this dangerous era, to spread liberal democracy throughout the world. There really is no alternative in a world such as ours, certainly not one where the world is dominated by the United Nations, or some type of international body along those lines, that cannot impose its will on rogue regimes. And a French, German , Russian axis, which opposed the US in the run up to the Iraq war , will not be accepted in Washington. These also cannot protect liberal democracy from militant, islamist theocrats seeking to destroy western civilization, as we know it.

Mr. Bistis: Mr. Sitilides, the Western Policy Center, which you head here in Washington, is a prestigious think-tank organization that deals with many important global issues. However, you are an American of Greek descent, who maintains close contact with many distinguished political and academic figures in both the dynamic Greek-American community and in Greece itself. How do you view the reaction of these two groups to the events of 9/11?

Mr. Sitilides: I can tell you, based on my recollections of the days and the weeks following the terrorist attacks, the sheer horror which Greek-Americans experienced, not just because of their Greek heritage but, simply, because they are American citizens. In many ways they are Americans first, profoundly and deeply proud of their Greek heritage but, like everyone else in the United States of every background, every race, religion and creed, they were horrified at the devastation of innocent lives on September 11. So, there was unanimity that the US must act and act decisively against this terrorist threat, which the US would be experiencing for years to come. Now, since then Greek-Americans again like Americans of every type of background have entered into a philosophical and political debate about the best way to deal with this long-term threat and a lot of this is pretty much differentiated along Republican and Democratic lines. So, there really is less uniting Greek-Americans from a heritage perspective than simply what would be the normal patterns of discourse and philosophical principles that effect the decision making of any American citizen.

As it pertains to the Greek nation, I think it is very difficult to ascertain to what extent is a single, short of consensus, perspective in Greece. Like people around the world, especially civilized people around the world, the people of Greece, as we saw it in the United States were equally horrified by the devastation and the murder of innocents on September 11. Unfortunately, there were some pockets of extremism in support of what Al Qaeda did or simply laughing at what took place on September 11. That was then magnified by the press first in Greece, then in Europe and then throughout the United States. In many ways, it protrayed the Greeks as unsympathetic to the devastation of September 11. But I think that is something that maybe was played more by the people of the media than can be substantiated by any quantifiable measure. The Greek government, from day one, made clear its full and unqualified support for US policy in destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and we have seen that type of support on the part of the Greek government for US security policy in this post-September 11 era. What is interesting is that it is marked by an equal reluctance on the part of the Greek government to publically engage in a debate with the nation, in the Greek media, with the Greek decision-making elite about its larger support, perhaps through NATO, perhaps in its bilateral relations with the US, for this larger anti-terrorism campaign around the world. The thinking in Washington is that much of that is because certain Greek government officials may feel constrained by the anti-american sentiment in Greece, and a pronounced left-wing base, that tends to be dogmatically opposed to what-ever the US is engaged in. So, even though the policies of the Greek government have been warmly embraced and welcomed by the State Department, by the Defense Department and by the White House in Washington, there is concern by those who follow Greece professionally, that the Greek political elite are unable to operate as flexibly and openly as they would like, because of the manner of which the Greek media would respond, and therefore the Greek public.

Mr. Bistis: Does this mean that there is room for improvement in the overall Greek response to the events of September 11?

Mr. Sitilides—I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of overall improvement. Those who know Greece, especially in the US government, again through official channels, are fully aware of the positive role that Greece has played in fighting global terrorism after September 11. But outside of official circles, and I would say within the very prestigious and influential think-tanks in Washington, I would say there is not full awareness of Greece’s role. That is largely because Greece has been absent from the foreign policy debate in Washington. We’ve had a number of the most prominent Greek government officials come to Washington for official business, from the prime minister down, and did not engage in any public addresses to explain Greek policies to Washington and to the foreign press corps in Washington and to the American people. And so, many other countries, such as Spain and Italy, who provided support in the run-up to the Iraq war and the global anti-terror campaign, have gained considerable political leverage in their positions. The Greek government, in fact, had to ask the USG not to publicly thank it for the very important role that Greece played in the Iraq war, such as providing unfettered access to Souda Bay, which of course was a Greek treaty obligation to the US, but Souda Bay was absolutely essential to the success of the US campaign in Iraq. And the fact that Greece willingly allowed for air space access for US fighters and bombers to Iraq, was also very important to the overall success of the US military campaign in Iraq, and when the White House sought to thank Greece publicly, among many other countries that worked with the US, who supported the US efforts against Saddam Hussein and his regime, the USG did not do so, because it might generate a tremendous anti-government reaction within the Greek public. That’s the kind of activity that I think sets Greece at a severe disadvantage in Washington.

As I mentioned earlier, US security and foreign policies are being transformed by the events of Sept. 11. This is a 24-month old period that we are in. We are at the beginning of a new global era in many ways and I think it would be very much in Greece’s interest to be as active a participant in the decision making process, whether it is bilaterally, whether it is through its important position in NATO, or whether it is as a key geographical player in the region of southeastern Europe, that in many ways, will be the front line for a collective western security response to this arc of disorder and this belt of terrorism, emanating from North Africa and Somalia, through the middle East, across Syria, Iran and all the way to Pakistan. Greece, whether it wants to be or not, is at the heart of the front line between western civilization and terrorist anarchy. And Greece has a decision to make: to either be a full-fledged partner in that collective western security framework, or to be a marginal player, and have larger powers decide Greece’s fate. And I think the option, the choice is a clear one. The question is will Greece move in that direction.

Mr. Bistis: Mr. Sitilides, as always it has been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much for taking the time to be with us on this sad anniversary.

Mr. Sitilides: Thank you for having me Mr. Bistis.