The cost of national isolationism

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The decision by newly elected US President Barack Obama to snub Greece and pay an official visit only to Turkey is not the end of the world. However, it is the first time that this has happened and the question is, why now?

Some have argued that Turkey is a regional power and can play a mediating role in key issues such as Iran and the Middle East problem. This is quite true, but it's nothing new. Turkey did not become a regional power overnight. When Bill Clinton visited the region in 1999, Turkey enjoyed more or less the same status. And although there were concerns (which were eventually confirmed) that a visit might spark riots in Greece, Clinton did travel to Athens, he offered an apology for US involvement in the Greek military coup, and then set off for Ankara.

Now things have changed on two levels: Turkey has increased its diplomatic activity in the region, while Greece has begun to withdraw. Greece's involvement in EU institutions goes as far as our national interests, if at all. Even Greek involvement in the Balkans, once viewed as the country's backyard, has started to fade.

Greece is no longer a regional player. The government has been reduced to a passive, perhaps fearful, spectator. The previous dogma of an active presence in political forums and conferences has been replaced by the dogma of an apathetic Greece devoid of ambition.

Nor too is the country's systematic absence from EU developments the end of the world - even if it is the reason why US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also skipped Athens in her regional tour.

Nevertheless, diplomacy - like politics - is one small thing after the other. There are no spectacular results, nor are successes built overnight or in one visit. But the logic of national isolationism is taking a diplomatic toll that will hurt us badly in the future.

KATHIMERINI English Edition, 13/03/2009