Christos Kassimeris, Greece and the American Embrace: Greek Foreign Policy Towards Turkey, the US, and the Western Alliance. London and New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers. 2010. Pp. ix + 285. Hardback $162.
Zenovia Lialoute. (Ζηνοβία Λιαλούτη). Ο Αντιαμερικανισμός στην Ελλάδα 1947-1989 (Anti-Americanism in Greece 1947-1989). Athens: Ekdoseis Asini. 2016. Pp. 532. Paperback €18.
In January 2020, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis made his first official visit to the United States to meet with President Donald Trump. During and after that visit, Greek politics bristled with debate regarding whether Mitsotakis had succeeded or failed in securing U.S. mediation between Greece and neighboring Turkey amid rising tensions between the two countries. Despite the many twists and turns of world politics between the onset of the Cold War and the present day, the recent debate bears a striking resemblance with certain peculiarities defining Greek-U.S. relations during that bygone era. Indeed, since the mid-1950s, the question of whether the United States has “fulfilled” or “betrayed” expectations in acting as a buffer between Greece and Turkey has continually affected U.S.-Greek relations, contributing significantly to the way the United States has been perceived in Greece.
To fully comprehend U.S.-Greek relations, and particularly Greek anti-Americanism, one must appreciate the legacy of direct U.S. economic, political and military intervention during and after the Greek Civil War as well as the more indirect facets of that intervention based on Greek expectations and perceptions of the United States. However, such a task appears to exceed the capacity of any single study, making parallel and comparative approaches essential. The two books under review here, when taken together, shed light on key features of this vital relationship.
Zenovia Lialioute’s Ο Aντιαμερικανισμός στην Ελλάδα 1947-1989 (Anti-Americanism in Greece 1947-1989) explores Greek/American relations through the attitudes and beliefs of the Greek public. Lialioute’s work shows that such attitudes are not mere passive reflections of the impact of this relationship on Greece, but rather have had an overwhelming effect in actively shaping that relationship. This is especially true in the post-1974 period, when growing anti-Americanism in Greece directly affected the conduct of Greek foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States, when widespread anti-American sentiment narrowed the ability of pro-American, right-wing governments to maneuver.
Lialioute offers a meticulous and systematic study of political discourse in Greece through the analysis of Greek parliamentary debates as well as the Greek press, the latter with carefully selected examples to represent the entire political spectrum for the period under study (1947-1989). Since only a few relevant studies exist, Lialioute’s book is quite original in its scope and analysis. One prominent exception is the work of Stefanidis (2007), which offers valuable insight into anti-Americanism in Greece during the mid-1960s, and which Lialioute cites throughout her study in support of her findings.
Lialioute situates Greek anti-Americanism in the wider international literature, arguing against the “uniqueness” of the Greek example by comparing it with West-European prejudice against the United States in the postwar period (59). The book is arranged chronologically, beginning at the start of the Greek Civil War and the Truman Doctrine, and continuing through the end of the 1980s. By evaluating the balance of attitudes ranging from admiration to hatred for the United States, the author presents five consecutive phases of Greek anti-Americanism: emergence (1947-54), development (1954-65), and radicalization (1965-74), followed by a period of generalized anti-Americanism (1974-85) and finally its transformation to “latent” anti-Americanism after 1985.
The book deftly details the two dominant images of the United States as Greece’s worst enemy, or its most valuable friend, tracing their evolution and adoption by opposing political camps in Greece both during and after the Greek Civil War. The author shows that the––initially––sharp division between the anti-Americanism of the Greek Left and the “Americanism” of the Greek Right was alleviated after the mid-1950s, when discontent with U.S. regional policy became a common denominator for the entire political spectrum in Greece. As Greek and Turkish nationalisms clashed over the fate of colonial Cyprus, igniting a protracted conflict, both countries expected the United States to intervene on their behalf. However, as the United States did not support Greece’s vision for Cyprus during the 1950s and 1960s, a majority of Greeks saw this as U.S. failure, thereby sustaining and intensifying the country’s negative image of America. In this way, while the United States was perceived as an archenemy by the Greek Left during the postwar period, it also began to be viewed as a “failing friend” in the Greek Right’s discourse, with the liberal center oscillating between the two positions until the 1967 dictatorship.
The Cyprus crisis reached its peak in 1974, triggering the fall of the dictatorship, and gravely affecting perceptions of the United States in Greece. Lialioute argues that after 1974 and the return of democracy, left-wing versions of anti-Americanism dominated despite the Greek Right’s victory in two consecutive elections. While the discourse of the left successfully denounced the alleged U.S. role in instigating the 1967 coup d’état (an argument that has widely gone uncontested in Greek public discourse despite evidence to the contrary), it also condemned U.S. failure to prevent the 1974 Turkish invasion and the subsequent division of Cyprus. Accordingly, Lialioute classifies Greek anti-Americanism as the “sovereign/nationalist” type (according to Katzenstein and Keohane’s  typology), but with a distinct left-wing flavor. This, the author argues, makes the Greek case different from similar European “sovereign/nationalist” anti-American sentiments, which were mainly the purview of the right and the extreme right, as in Germany or France (146).
The dominance of this type of anti-Americanism in Greece boosted Andreas Papandreou’s nationalist populism, leading to what Lialioute calls “governmental anti-Americanism,” which emerged after PASOK’s victory in the 1981 elections. Indeed, she argues that 1974-1985 was a period when “anti-Americanism appeared as a legitimized constant in Greek political culture, where its consequences had to be taken seriously by the entire political sphere irrespective of their adherence or defiance to the tenets of anti-American discourse” (433).1
Throughout the book Lialioute maintains that anti-Americanism is “a phenomenon that perhaps reveals more of the characteristics of the (Greek) society that produces it than the (American) society it represents (44). Thus, she intentionally refrains from fact-checking or rationalizing anti-American narratives (376). The cost of this decision, however, is that this otherwise meticulous work confines itself to providing a descriptive account of Greek anti-Americanism, engaging more with its typology and its effects than with the factors that brought it into existence or the validity of its narratives.
It is this connection between the emergence and growth of anti-Americanism and the empirical reality that Christos Kassimeris’s Greece and the American Embrace promises to explore by engaging directly with allegations of foreign intervention into Greece’s domestic and foreign policy.
While Kassimeris focuses primarily on the first Metapolitefsi period (1974-1981), a significant portion of the book is devoted to examining the role of the United States in Greek domestic politics during the post-Civil War period (1947-1974). Following a theoretical introduction that contextualizes Greece’s position as a small power in the international system, and the aforementioned chapter on the post-Civil War years, Kassimeris devotes the remaining four chapters of his monograph to evaluating the degree of independence Greece managed to realize in designing and implementing its foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States. He approaches this task by taking the Cyprus issue and the Greek-Turkish conflict between 1974-1981 as his main case studies, while also examining Greek relations with other important actors in the international system (NATO, EEC, UN, the Soviet Union).
An overarching argument of the book is that, despite the Greek government’s efforts to minimize its dependence on U.S. foreign policy (mainly by investing in Greece’s EEC accession), the United States remained the only real power that could “influence the Greek-Turkish rivalry, but also the only power that could guarantee their territorial integrity and national sovereignty” (167). Therefore, most of the expectations for satisfying Greece’s interests were laid upon the United States during the 1974-1981 period. According to Kassimeris, this expectation led to the Greek public’s fixation on “foreign intervention” (usually meaning U.S. intervention). As he argues, it was this notion of foreign intervention that “widely encouraged inappropriate conspiracy theories and the condemnation of all but the Greeks—for any national tragedy” (6).
Given his emphasis on the connection between notions of conspiracy and the concept of “foreign intervention,” one of Kassimeris’s declared aims is to test such conspiracy theories against the evidentiary record surrounding U.S. interference in Greek politics. His study offers two counterarguments to those conspiracy theories. As part of his first argument, the author presents the multiple and often contradictory voices of various U.S. institutions in the making of U.S. foreign policy. In doing so, Kassimeris challenges the main component of global anti-Americanism, which construes the United States as a rigid and evil imperial power with a single aim—that of satisfying its own interests at the expense of all others. This point, which is actually one of the book’s strongest, sheds light on the “competition between the executive and legislative branches” of the U.S. government—a competition that was “intense and highlighted the dynamics of the federal government, revealing the paradox of American foreign policy as much as the realism and idealism that dictated its guiding principles” (133). This argument is supported by other studies that offer a broader, more substantive analysis of the conflicts surrounding U.S. policy towards Greece between the U.S. legislative and executive branches, as well as within the executive branch between the diplomatic force, intelligence agencies, and the presidency (see Karakatsanis and Swarts , Miller  for the 1947-74 period, and Antonopoulos  for the 1974-81 period).
The second counterargument offered by Kassimeris leads to one of the major points in his book: in the period after 1974, Greece did not maintain its patron-client relationship with the United States due to pressure from the latter. Instead, the relationship was maintained out of necessity due to its own weakness/failures on the international stage. This condition was coupled with the Greek government’s inability to secure alternative allies to the United States. It was this failure, argues Kassimeris, that prevented Greece from reaching a desired level of foreign-policy independence, leading the author to examine a set of alternative pathways that could have allowed for greater independence.
Both of these arguments convincingly counter the exaggerated theories about post-1960s U.S. intervention in Greek politics. However, the alternative strategies Kassimeris proposes that would have consolidated an independent foreign policy appear quite superficial. In most cases, his policy recommendations regarding what Greece should or could have done to ameliorate its own position in relation to the United States take the form of hypothetical scenarios (118–19, 123, 124, 134, 203), rather than a set of carefully worked hypotheses. For instance, the author suggests that “Athens should have been more proactive” with regard to Cyprus: it should have threatened to leave NATO altogether, instead of only its military wing, and joined the Warsaw pact. It should have threatened to close the U.S. bases or to engage the Soviet Union in its disputes with Turkey (203). Such suggestions, however, are not tested to ascertain their possible consequences. Instead, the author contradicts his own policy suggestions by arguing that these moves might have proven insufficient or been unattainable in the Cold War context. Moreover, since the possibility of a direct Greek-Turkish military confrontation was present, such post facto recommendations for a more radical approach to foreign policy do not address the security dilemmas that both countries were facing at the time.
In addition, the wider argument put forward by the author regarding an overly passive and dependent Greek foreign policy is not sufficiently supported. The examination of newly declassified U.S. records focusing on U.S.-Greek relations during this period (1974-1979) has led Athanasios Antonopoulos (2017) to directly challenge Kassimeris’s main arguments regarding the Greek government’s passivity vis-à-vis the United States. Antonopoulos argues that, on the contrary, the Greek government resorted to many tactics behind-the-scene (sometimes cooperating with and other times challenging U.S. administrations). Indeed, in his study Antonopoulos reveals a more proactive Greek government policy vis-à-vis its more influential and stronger ally (14).
As a whole, Greece and the American Embrace is interesting and offers some thought-provoking arguments, but lacks a systematic approach to sources. As a result, it does not provide solid evidence for reassessing U.S.-Greek relations during the period it covers. Often, it is difficult to identify sources for views that are attributed to important U.S. ambassadors in Greece, U.S. statespersons, as well as Greek politicians (40–42, 122, 176, 205). It is equally difficult to identify the sources for some of the CIA and Greek intelligence (KYP) service reports that are cited in the book (42–43, 95–96). This shortage of supporting references is also reflected in the small number of endnotes as well as the small number of entries found in the book’s bibliography (only 178 endnotes, in contrast to 2,185 in Lialioute’s albeit larger book).
Despite the qualitative differences between the two books, when read together they offer an effective cross-fertilization of ideas and stimulate questions for future research. In addition, their parallel, combined reading, also points toward a new area of research—the comparison of Greek and Turkish anti-Americanism––which is missing in both books as well as in the rest of the bibliography. Taking the centrality of Greek-Turkish relations in Greece’s relationship with the United States into account, the inclusion of such a comparative perspective would have been, for different reasons, beneficial to both of the works under review.
Lialioute’s introductory chapter, which aims to situate Greek anti-Americanism within the wider context of international anti-Americanism, would have benefitted greatly from a detailed comparison with that of Turkey, which also appears to be of a “sovereign/nationalist” type initially emerging out of left-wing discourse (Grigoriadis 2010, 51). Kassimeris’s work would have benefited as well. Throughout his book, Kassimeris suggests that the United States systematically treated Turkey favorably vis-à-vis Greece by responding positively to Turkish demands and largely ignoring Greek ones. The inclusion of a juxtaposition between the growth of negative sentiments against the United States in both Greece and Turkey would make this rather underdeveloped argument about the United States’ preferential treatment of Turkey more balanced. Why is it the case, for instance, that a very similar, resentful nationalist anti-Americanism was also nurtured in Turkey during the same periods as in Greece, if such a preferential treatment was so obvious? (For the paradox, see Kirtsoglou and Theodossopoulos 2010, 115).
In addition to enhancing particular arguments in the two books under review, a comparison between Greek and Turkish anti-Americanism can actually provide further supportive evidence, or even some novel answers, to a core question that both books raise: why did anti-Americanism and the conspiracy theories to which it gave birth trigger such passions in Greece? The evidence from Turkey offers interesting similarities that are worth further exploration: Anti-Americanism in Turkey was mostly directed towards an “internal struggle” or, at least, “developed in that direction” (Güney 2008, 475). Thus, when anti-Americanism reached a peak in Turkey during the violent late-1960s and 1970s, Americans never really became a target of Turkish violence. Instead, anti-Americanism became part of a vicious ideological war that was fought between segments of Turkish society. This phenomenon resonates with a most interesting secondary hypothesis proposed by Lialioute (232): the Greek critique of U.S. policies developed as a reaction to the severe anti-communism that was nurtured in Greece in the aftermath of the Greek Civil War as well as the severe suppression of democracy which followed. Thus, in Greece public expressions against the United States took the form of massive and often violent protests, becoming the means by which Greek youth expressed resentment against the police state as well as a demand for the democratization of Greek politics.
In this respect, while trying to explain (as in Lialioute’s book) or refute (as in Kassimeris’s) the various Greek conspiracy theories depicting the United States as the bogeyman of international politics, we need to consider that anti-Americanism may have served as an ideological tool of strategic essentialization for domestic political purposes. In both Greece and Turkey, anti-Americanism can be seen as part of the process of finding a language and consciousness from where the suppressed democratic left could speak and be heard. In both countries, anti-Americanism in the 1960s and 1970s was part of the struggle for a more democratic and independent future. This, despite the distortions that such notions of “independence” brought about when infused with nationalism in subsequent decades.
1. All translations from Lialioute’s book are my own.
Antonopoulos, Athanasios. 2017. “Redefining an Alliance : Greek-US Relations, 1974-1980.” PhD diss. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh.
Grigoriadis, Ioannis. 2010. “Friends No More?: The Rise of Anti-American Nationalism in Turkey.” Middle East Journal 64 (1): 51–66.
Güney, Aylin. 2008. “Anti-Americanism in Turkey: Past and Present.” Middle Eastern Studies 44 (3): 471–487.
Karakatsanis, Neovi M. and Jonathan Swarts. 2018. American Foreign Policy Towards the Colonels' Greece: Uncertain Allies and the 1967 Coup D'état. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Katzenstein, Peter J. and Robert O. Keohane. 2007. “Varieties of Anti-Americanism: a Framework for Analysis,” in Anti-Americanisms in World Politics, edited by P. J. Katzenstein and R. O. Keohane, 9–38. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Kirtsoglou, Elisabeth and Dimitrios Theodossopoulos. 2010. “The Poetics of Anti-Americanism in Greece: Rhetoric, Agency, and Local Meaning.” Social Analysis 54 (1): 106–124.
Miller, James Edward. 2009. The United States and the Making of Modern Greece: History and Power, 1950-1974. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Stefanidis, Ioannis D. 2007. Stirring the Greek Nation: Political Culture, Irredentism and Anti-Americanism in Post-War Greece, 1945-1967. London: Routledge.
Leonidas Karakatsanis holds a PhD in Ideology and Discourse Analysis from the University of Essex. He has published on the politics of identity and reconciliation, minority rights, civil society and social movements, with a specific focus on Turkey and Greece. He is the author of the monograph Turkish-Greek Relations: Rapprochement, Civil Society and the Politics of Friendship (Routledge 2014) and co-editor (with Nikolaos Papadogiannis) of The Politics of Culture in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus: Performing the Left since the Sixties (Routledge 2017). His latest contribution, “International Solidarity Perplexed: From the Certainties of Gezi Park to Post-Coup Complexities,” appeared in the edited volume, Erdoğan’s “New” Turkey: Attempted Coup d’État and the Acceleration of Political Crisis (edited by Nikos Chirstofis, Routledge 2019). Leonidas has taught at universities in the UK and Turkey and was the Assistant Director of the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA) between 2015-2019.