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Reining in the Ethnic Lobbies

Sen. Clinton, you should have consulted your husband on how your photograph would be used once former NH Democratic official Chris Spirou returned home to Greece. Americans have short memories.
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I deliberately left out one key chapter when I wrote my book on realistic U.S. diplomacy. Watching members of Congress truckle to some ethnic lobby with money or votes in their district makes young Foreign Service officers too cynical too soon. Vigorous competition among interest groups is a basic check and balance of the U.S. democratic system. Often it results in good policies. Meanwhile, why should our elected representatives have to pay a personal political price for the sins of U.S. foreign policy in the eyes of their constituents?

But we should keep our dirty laundry hidden in our own back yard. I vividly remember my anger when a New Jersey congressman threw my ambassador out of a meeting with the president of Armenia so they could discuss lobbying strategy. Part of his reward was to stuff the cargo space of an official USG aircraft with old Armenian rugs bought at a deep Congressional discount. But the message left behind was that U.S. policy (in this case a balanced and humane, if not courageous one) could be overturned for a very modest investment by Armenian-Americans in their Congressional friends.

Now a private citizen watching events from Greece, I am free to complain when some American brags to foreigners that U.S. foreign policy is his to sell. Due to New Hampshire's bizarre role in U.S. politics, such people left unchallenged become as powerful as they claim to be. On December 19, 2007 I faxed the following letter to Senator Clinton's Washington office:

Dear Senator Clinton:

I am writing to express my dismay on learning the news of your presence at the 65th birthday party/fundraiser of former New Hampshire Democratic official Chris Spirou in Manchester at the beginning of November. You should have consulted your husband on how your photograph would be used once Mr. Spirou returned home to Greece.

Americans have short memories. Spirou once owned a construction company. The link between contractors and local politics is not unusual. But bankruptcy, a federal tax lien, a brush with illegal gambling, and other tribulations were only minor factors encouraging Spirou's removal to Athens in the early 1990s.

In happier times when public diplomacy seemed unnecessary, the U.S. government had divested itself of the Hellenic-American Union in Athens. Spirou recognized HAU as a gold mine thanks to its right to sell the English-language competency certificates Greeks need for a government job. Armed with photographs autographed by Bill Clinton, Spirou had himself appointed to the board of HAU. He engineered a takeover, ousted board members alert enough to question his management practices, and presided over HAU's transformation into a personal fiefdom.

Later, Spirou used the same photographs to persuade the late Slobodan Milosevic, the despot of Serbia, to appoint him his personal advisor at the Dayton talks. Back in Athens, he wrote articles in Greek newspapers sharply attacking America's Balkan policy from a Greek/Serbian nationalist perspective. Now, in an interview to leading Athens newspaper To Vima, (VMen, 12/9/07) Spirou's picture with you in Manchester is next to a picture of current President Bush with puppet strings added. Spirou claims personal credit for having "tied down" Presidential candidate Clinton on the Macedonian name issue in 1992. Is this true? Is it loyal?

Spirou is fundraising now to persuade Congress to demand the restoration of St. Sophia in Istanbul ("Constantinople") for use as an Orthodox church. His real dream is to finance a lobbying organization to rival AIPAC in its ability to portray you to gullible donors as its pliant puppet. Unrebutted, these claims harm both your candidacy and the national interest.

You can safely ignore Greek-Americans who return to Greece to lord it over the rubes. As a result of disastrous Bush Administration policies, a much more attractive version of the American dream has turned to ashes for tens of thousands of Greeks who returned to their home village after a lifetime of hard work in the United States. Their pension checks in U.S. dollars now barely cover the cost of food. Greek-Americans with any trace of human feeling for their relatives do not need Chris Spirou to tell them how to vote.

Sincerely,

J.B. Kiesling

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