It was the habit of American presidents to take their breakfast at the Willard Hotel back in the 1930s, just a block from the White House. The lobby would always be packed with people who wanted a few moments of their time to raise all sorts of issues – and thus lobbyists were born.
One of the heirs of those original lobbyists today is Greek-American Mike Manatos, who has worked at the family firm in Washington for the past 32 years, continuing a tradition started by his grandfather and namesake 85 years ago and carried on by his father Andy.
We need to demonstrate how it would be to America’s benefit to end the illegal occupation of Cyprus...I am certain that they want something important to happen before their term ends.
Mike Manatos, Sr worked with presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, “and was the first Greek American to work in the White House,” he tells Kathimerini during a recent visit to Athens.
When Andy Manatos, who served as assistant secretary of commerce in the administration of Jimmy Carter, started working in the Senate, he sat just a corridor away from the present American president, Joe Biden. “I grew up with his son,” says Mike Manatos. “Our name is our reputation.”
What does a lobbyist do?
If you have, or want to prevent, a problem in Washington, you hire a lobbyist. They understand how the government works and who you need to speak to. Good lobbyists, like us, have relationships of trust with these people and speak the “Washington language,” which is essential to a politician understanding why something would benefit the people they represent, the country and themselves.
How have Greek-American relations changed in the past 32 years?
They are better now than they ever were. There has been a significant change in the past five years with the signing of the Greek-US defense cooperation agreement and with the present prime minister, who exceeded all expectations with his speech in Congress. Then there’s the American president. This is the first time that we have had an American president who not only knows the region but has spent his entire career promoting Greece, Hellenism and Orthodoxy. His top foreign policy advisers have a history of powerful support for Greece too. Moreover, the American ambassador to Greece is a Greek American for the first time.
Do you think Joe Biden will be re-elected? And if not, how would Donald Trump being re-elected affect these ties?
President Biden says that he plans to run again, but many wonder whether this will actually happen. I would really like it to, but he is getting older – as we all are – and I do not know if he wants to subject himself to another election campaign and another four years in office. I think that whoever the Democratic candidate ends up being, they will have a very tough mission lying ahead because there’s a 99% chance they’ll be up against Trump. As far as Greece is concerned, some great things happened with Republican [Mike] Pompeo as secretary of state, so a lot depends on who will be secretary of state, national security adviser, etc.
Whatever the next administration, isn’t it in America’s interest to be on Greece’s side more than Turkey’s?
‘This is the first time that we have had an American president who not only knows the region but has spent his entire career promoting Greece, Hellenism and Orthodoxy’
The US is much closer to Greece in terms of overall philosophy, priorities and basic principles than it is to Turkey. Turkey is useful; Greece is helpful. When our foreign policy makers wake up in the morning wondering which will be the biggest trouble – Russia, Syria or Libya – Turkey is directly involved in all these places. It does the wrong thing in most places, like in Syria, or does not help as much as it should, as in Ukraine, but it is a player. They are not thinking about Greece when they wake up in the morning. On the other hand, Greece has done what America has asked for years, and even more. It is a remarkably reliable ally. One of the most important things that emerged from the prime minister’s recent visit was not just recognition of Greece’s support in the American-led effort against Russia in Ukraine, but also the courage Greece has shown by making this decision, the sacrifices.
But does Greece have the United States’ unwavering support in return?
That is the big question and part of our biggest effort in Washington. Greece always does the right thing, Turkey almost always does the wrong thing, but when Turkey behaves in a provocative manner, our bureaucracy treats the two countries the same. This has gotten better under the current administration and the language used about these provocations has started to become stronger.
Is Turkey simply more important to the US than Greece?
I would not use the word “important,” but I do think that Turkey is more essential to the US when they look at it from the prism of some of the most troubled areas of the world – it is a geographical fact.
To what degree would you say that Turkey poses a real threat to Greece right now?
That’s what I’m trying to ascertain during this visit to Athens. I have heard all sorts of different views – from Turkish troops landing on some island to more interventions. The good news, in terms of the American reaction, is that the current administration staff is more energetic. They are already creating a game plan of what the reaction would be and what they could do to help more.
So, they are preparing for the possibility of a military confrontation?
Yes, whereas in the past the reaction would be, “What a headache; let’s hope it doesn’t happen.” Let’s hope that, thanks to this preparation, their response will be helpful. It’s not that they are conducting official drills, but that they are having important discussions that would not be held otherwise because Greek-American relations are so good and [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is so unstable and unpredictable. Erdogan today is even more unpredictable and dangerous than Erdogan in 2020 and Greece needs all the help it can get in protecting itself against Turkey.
How do you see the war in Ukraine ending?
I talk to people in the American government, and many say, “I honestly don’t know.” I think that President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy is so fired up that there is no question of surrender.
And what about Cyprus? Has the United States forgotten it?
No, and mainly because there is a very active Cypriot-American community that is keeping the issue alive, and we have also been lobbying for Cyprus for decades. We need to demonstrate how it would be to America’s benefit to end the illegal occupation of Cyprus. Biden, [National Security Adviser Jake] Sullivan and [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken all know the subject well. I am certain that they want something important to happen before their term ends.