If anyone had predicted, a mere 10 years ago when Alexis Tsipras was rising to the leadership of a small leftist party barely making it to the Parliament, that not only would he become Prime Minister of Greece one day, but that he would also meet with two sitting US Presidents, nobody would have believed him. In fact, part of the criticism addressed to the Greek PM, when he met with President Trump this week, was based on precisely this previous implausibility: that an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-american politician, who had been protesting against neo-liberalism and in the Genova Anti-globalisation riots, would one day sheepishly shake the hands of the US leader.
The irony became much more biting, considering that the sitting POTUS is himself a living embodiment of American capitalism (yet he shares one thing with the Greek PMs former protest-prone self: a dislike for globalisation, or at least for the binding international treaties that go with it). By now, nobody should be surprised; Alexis Tsipras rose to power with a fierce anti-austerity message, only to become the most obedient prime minister of the Crisis, putting into force the harshest pack of austerity measures Greece has ever seen. So, why wouldn’t he also make a U-turn on the anti-NATO, anti-capitalist ideas of his youth and go to the White House as a PM of a country thirsty for foreign investment?
Alexis Tsipras went to Washington bearing the same badge of honour that every single one of the Greek Prime Ministers who have met a US President (all ten of them, since WWII) bore: that of Greece being a strategic ally of the US in the southeast Mediterranean and the Balkans. The country’s geostrategic positioning has been the only leverage that Greek leaders have used in such meetings and Tsipras did not deviate, when he met the man who became President emphasising his ability to make deals. And Donald Trump did make a deal. He managed to get the Greek PM to pledge to upgrade Greece’s fleet of F-16 fighter planes, an investment estimated at $2.4 billion – although the Greek government was quick to emphasise that the actual cost would be around €1.1billion, over 10 to 15 years.
“We have great confidence in Greece as a nation”, said an evidently pleased Donald Trump, adding: “We have great confidence in what they’re doing relative to their military.”
President Trump mentioned the deal no less than four times, during the Greek PM’s visit to Washington, each time adding to the furore that erupted in debt-ridden Greece, where government critics pointed out that the country is in no position to spend on 85 new warplanes. But what did Alexis Tsipras get in return for this favor to the American war industry? Little more than words of sympathy and encouragement. President Trump was reserved about making any promises and kept expectations low, saying that Washington is helping Greece get back on its feet after the economic crisis. Speaking from the White House’s Rose Garden, with Alexis Tsipras at his side, Donald Trump said the American people “stand with the Greek people as they recover from the economic crisis … I have encouraged the prime minister in his continued implementation of reform and reform programs and I have totally reaffirmed our support for a responsible debt-relief plan.”
Despite being vague on its own, this suggestion was shot down by the German government, on Wednesday, which stated that there is nothing new to convey regarding Berlin’s stance vis-a-vis the issue of Greek debt relief; the German government spokesperson made clear that this stance reflects the Eurogroup’s position.