Geopolitics

Why Greece's Tsipras Could Prove To Be A Wise Choice

Pure necessity could turn Alexis Tsipras Greece's liberal prime minister-elect, into an unexpected reformer willing to go against client politics.

A Victorious Tsipras on Sunday
A Victorious Tsipras on Sunday
Silke Mülherr

-OpEd-

BERLIN — Despite all the warnings from Europe, the Greeks voted for the leader they felt was right. Whether or not Brussels and Berlin like it, the next prime minister of Greece will be Alexis Tsipras, but does his Syriza party victory really seal the downfall of the European West, or at least the Eurozone?

There are a whole series of reasons why, in the end, Tsipras may not be the worst person to put Greece on the right path. Of course, his campaign promises — to reject the austerity program and create debt relief — are dangerous, not just for Greece itself but for the whole currency union. But not even Greek voters believe that Tsipras will antagonize international creditors.

What could turn him into an unexpected reformer is pure necessity. Populist Tsipras is going to have to present some unpleasant truths to voters, too many of whom aren't facing facts. Most importantly, Greece is broke, and if no alternative lenders can be found, Tsipras will have no other choice than to turn to the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund). Athens is faced with bankruptcy, and the Syriza boss knows that. So if common sense doesn't turn him into a pragmatist, the state of the Greek treasury will.

What Tsipras also has going for him is that his people trust him. Unlike the established parties in his country — and very much because of his sniping at Brussels and Berlin — he's not perceived as a puppet of foreign creditors. The 40-year-old promises to put an end to the Brussels diktat and see to it that the Greeks take their fate back into their own hands. That's a key right there because it makes clear what the Greek elections were all about: psychology. The wounded collective soul needed to be soothed. And the charismatic Tsipras stepped in to soothe.

Who but him could get the necessary reforms past all the resistance? The conservative government of Antonis Samaras misused its political capital. Despite all announced intentions, the public sector didn't shrink, and few inroads were made into stemming tax evasion.

Maybe what's needed is a leftist such as Tsipras from whom nobody is expecting a successful new start but who is paradoxically poised to bring one about. In Germany, for example, who would have thought that the Social Democrats under Gerhard Schröder would have rescued the jobs market and social policies with their Hartz IV program?

The Greeks saw no alternative to Syriza, and now they have to live with the consequences. Tsipras made the loudest promises about a new beginning for his country, and voters have officially tapped him to make it happen. In the future, all lamentations and blame formerly directed at Brussels will serve nothing. If Tsipras drags the Greeks down, they will have brought that misfortune on themselves.

Meanwhile, the left alliance now must show whether it dares to break with client politics.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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