US president George H.W. Bush, who passed away last Saturday, left a rather positive mark on America’s relations with Greece, thanks to the way he approached the major issues that concern this country.
There was, of course, the somewhat negative taste left by the presidential elections of 1988, when Bush’s campaign went all out against his Democratic rival, Greek American Michael Dukakis, with mudslinging and false accusations. From images of an ostensibly polluted Boston Harbor to those of convicted rapist and murderer Willie Horton leaving prison on furlough – when he committed new crimes – Bush’s political ads marred the image of his rival, who was indeed a moral politician and a successful governor, shifted the tide of public opinion, and put the presidency out of Dukakis’s reach. Just two months before the elections, Dukakis had a 17-point lead over his Republican opponent but ended up losing by a difference of eight percent.
The apology made to Dukakis by the man behind Bush’s dirty campaign, Lee Atwater, shortly before the latter died of cancer, may have granted him some moral satisfaction, but it did not reverse the damage.
Nevertheless, besides the bitterness generated as a result of this campaign, as president, George H.W. Bush showed a great deal of interest in issues related to Greece. He developed a close personal relationship with the then prime minister of Greece, Constantine Mitsotakis, and also with Archbishop of North and South America Iakovos, who kept the lines of communication open with Bush thanks to his decision to appear and pray at the Republican convention that nominated the late president.
Bush visited Greece, supported the country’s sovereign rights in the Aegean, pushed for a solution to the Cyprus issue and refused to recognize Skopje as the “Republic of Macedonia.”
On the Cyprus issue, he took advantage of the presence of Mitsotakis and Giorgos Vassileiou at the helm of Greece and Cyprus to pressure Ankara for a solution, but the effort fell apart after the then Turkish prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, did not prove up to the task.
On the issue of FYROM, the personal relationship between Mitskotakis and Iakovos with the American president was successfully mobilized in December 1992 during the transition to the Bill Clinton administration to stop recognition of Skopje by the US.
All in all, in terms of dealing with the issues that were, and still are, important to Greece, George H.W. Bush’s approach can be characterized as rather positive.