Cover image for The Colonels’ Coup and the American Embassy: A Diplomat’s View of the Breakdown of Democracy in Cold War Greece  By Robert V. Keeley and Prologue by John  O. Iatrides

The Colonels’ Coup and the American Embassy

A Diplomat’s View of the Breakdown of Democracy in Cold War Greece

Robert V. Keeley, and Prologue by John O. Iatrides

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ISBN: 978-0-271-03758-5

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304 pages
6" × 9"
2011

ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series

The Colonels’ Coup and the American Embassy

A Diplomat’s View of the Breakdown of Democracy in Cold War Greece

Robert V. Keeley, and Prologue by John O. Iatrides

“[The Colonels’ Coup and the American Embassy] is an excellent description of the embassy’s knowledge of the events leading to the coup and the inner workngs of the embassy. . . . [Keeley] is an excellent writer.”

 

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Robert Keeley was a Foreign Service officer stationed in Greece during one of the most tumultuous events in the country’s history, the so-called Colonels’ coup of April 21, 1967. This is his insider’s account of how U.S. policy was formulated, debated, and implemented from 1966 to 1969, the critical years directly before and after the coup.

A major event in the history of the Cold War, the coup ushered in a seven-year period of military rule in Greece. In its wake, some eight thousand people affiliated with the Communist Party were rounded up, and Greece became yet another country where the fear of Communism led the United States into alliance with a repressive right-wing authoritarian regime. In military coups in some other countries, it is known that the CIA and other agencies of the U.S. government played an active role in encouraging and facilitating the takeover. The Colonels’ coup, however, came as a surprise to the United States (which was expecting a Generals’ coup instead). Yet the U.S. government accepted it after the fact, despite internal disputes within policymaking circles about the wisdom of accommodating the upstart Papadopoulos regime. Keeley was among those dissenters.

“[The Colonels’ Coup and the American Embassy] is an excellent description of the embassy’s knowledge of the events leading to the coup and the inner workngs of the embassy. . . . [Keeley] is an excellent writer.”

Robert V. Keeley was a U.S. Foreign Service officer from 1956 to 1989. His last assignment was as the U.S. ambassador in Athens from 1985 to 1989. From 1990 to 1995, he was president of the Middle East Institute in Washington. Since 2005, he has been chairman of the Council for the National Interest Foundation, working for peace in the Middle East.

Contents

Preface

Prologue by John O. Iatrides

1. Introduction with Dramatis Personae

2. Setting the Scene

First Impressions

The Political Situation

The Phenomenon of Andreas Papandreou

The Monarchy

Trials and Negotiations

An Alternative: U.S. Intervention?

3. The Author Gets Involved

Andreas’s March 1 Speech

A Policy Assessment

Preparing for Elections

4. The Days Before the Coup

Presentiments and Alarums

Washington Weighs In

5. The Coup

The Coup of April 21, 1967

Assessing the Coup

Coup Vignettes

6. Reacting to the Coup

“Our Present Dilemma”

Other Reactions

Mac Thompson’s Attempt

A Draft Telegram

Mac and I Try Again

7. Dealing with the New Government

A Call on Kollias

A Postmortem

A Visit by Nixon

Shift of Focus

8. Andreas Papandreou and Prospects for Democracy

Andreas in Danger

Bits and Pieces

Meeting Margaret

Speculations

9. The Countercoup

Planning the King’s Coup

Crisis in Cyprus

Checkmate of Constantine

Aftermath of Failure

10. Assessing the Colonels’ Regime

The FDR Fiasco

Andreas Released

“Dear Charley”

Harassment Continues

The Meaning of Fascism

11. Friction at the Embassy

Kay Leaves, I Continue

Go Along to Get Along

Parallels with Pakistan

12. Looking to the Future of Greece

Assessment of Andreas

The Papandreou Funeral

Was Greece Ever a Democracy?

Don’t Make Waves

13. Final Thoughts

Postscript

All’s Well That Ends Well?

Appendix A: Seferis and the Clinton Speech

Appendix B: Internal Embassy Memoranda, March–June 1968

Notes

Index

In the fall of 1944, as the war in Europe entered its final phase, the liberation of Greece from Nazi occupation appeared imminent. Lincoln MacVeagh, the American ambassador to Greece (1933–1941, 1943–47), prepared to fly from Cairo to Athens and to the post he had occupied since 1933. While eager to return, he was worried that the country he had once called “his life’s passion” was heading toward powerful social and political upheaval, whose impact was likely to cause more pain and suffering to a war-devastated nation and poison relations among the Allies. He had urged his friend, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and State Department officials to take a closer look at the dangerous situation he had been following with increasing concern and defuse it before it was too late. In Greece, as elsewhere in the Balkans, the war and brutal foreign occupation had unleashed radical new forces which were determined to block the restoration of the prewar order and carry out sweeping revolutionary changes. Britain’s high-handed handling of Greek affairs, ostensibly in the name of the Allies, and particularly its rigid support of the monarchy and the government in exile, had exacerbated the situation, making civil violence increasingly likely. Equally important, British-Russian rivalry in the Balkans was moving toward a dangerous confrontation, with broader international implications. In one of his “Dear Franklin” letters, MacVeagh reiterated his warning that “eventually what goes on in the Balkans and the Near East generally will have to be recognized as of prime importance to us despite the fact that the countries involved are small and remote.”1 To prevent the collapse of social order in the region and open conflict between the Allies, he urged the president to assume in southeastern Europe the role of the universally respected honest broker. Aware of the pressing priorities dictated by the war, he suggested that the naming of an American general to oversee postliberation developments in the region would go a long way toward ameliorating the situation.

In Washington, MacVeagh’s Cassandra-like warnings fell on deaf ears. The global war effort, the myriad of plans and preparations for the postwar international order, and America’s traditional official indifference toward Eastern Europe’s politics allowed no room for Balkan issues. The ambassador’s hope that the United States might avert a clash between Britain and Russia in the region was dashed at the very top. For the president, the prospect of Anglo-Russian friction over postwar Eastern Europe was the main reason he was determined to avoid any American involvement in that faraway area: “It isn’t so bad now,” Roosevelt told MacVeagh in August 1944, “but may become worse, and I don’t want our men to be involved.”2

MacVeagh’s failure to draw Washington’s attention to his concerns is best illustrated by his inability to have his embassy staffed properly. As he prepared to be flown to Athens by the U.S. military (he refused to sail with the Greek government in exile and its British diplomatic and troop escort), the three Foreign Service officers and two of the four auxiliary staff who had been attached to him in Cairo were given new assignments. Feeling ignored and abandoned by his superiors, he poured out his frustration in a letter of resignation, which, in the end, he did not mail

I cannot but feel that the post I now occupy is of small importance to the Department, and since, in addition, when I saw the President for ten minutes in Washington recently and asked him what instructions he wished to give me for my future guidance here, he replied none, except that I should bear in mind that the United States is not going to be involved in Balkan affairs, I see no other course open to me than to offer my resignation. . . . I am sure that it will not be difficult to find someone else willing to accept the rank and emoluments of an Ambassador in return for the discharge of the unimportant and diminishing duties now devolving on this Mission.3

In the end, during the first months in postliberation Athens, several diplomats and a number of military and OSS men, including William H. McNeill, the future distinguished historian, and Thomas Karamessines, the future top CIA official, were attached temporarily to the Embassy, and a small Greek staff performed important support services. Virtually all communications to Washington were reports on the deteriorating local situation, often repeating what had been learned from British officials in the capital. MacVeagh’s frequent and lengthy dispatches, which he wrote with the greatest of care, were widely circulated in the Department, where they were much admired for their eloquence and wit. But he received no instructions or comments of any consequence.

In December 1944, when fighting broke out in Athens between the British-backed government and the Communists, who had refused to demobilize their resistance army, MacVeagh wrote to the president that “at bottom, the handling of this fanatically freedom-loving country . . . as if it were composed of natives under the British Raj, is what is the trouble.” His recommendation that an international commission with American, British, and Russian participation be created to bring political stability and reconstruction to Greece received little attention and no support in Washington.4

As had been decided at the Yalta conference, an allied mission, which included a large contingent of Americans (the Russians refused to participate), was sent to observe the Greek elections of March 1946, the first in ten years. Among them, James Hugh Keeley, a Foreign Service officer with previous experience in Greece and the Near East, served as special assistant to the chief of the observers’ mission and then stayed on as counselor of embassy under MacVeagh. In April the U.S. battleship Missouri paid a purely ceremonial visit to the port of Piraeus, giving Greek officialdom cause to celebrate and raising hopes for more substantial American interest. In December 1946, following discussions in the UN Security Council of the escalating political violence in Greece, the Council sent a commission to investigate charges of Soviet Bloc involvement in the emerging Greek civil war. The commission brought to the region a number of American representatives, led by Mark Ethridge, a respected newspaper publisher. Although the Embassy’s workload increased, its basic function as a remote diplomatic outpost did not appear to change, and its regular personnel remained small. Until the end of 1946, as the fighting intensified, Washington policy makers gave no indication that they were paying any special attention to events in Greece. But appearances were deceptive.

In February 1947 MacVeagh, increasingly preoccupied with the threat of Communism in Greece, joined Ethridge in advising Washington that the economic situation in the country was so bad that it “must soon cause revolution on a nationwide scale.”5 A few days later, Paul Porter, the head of a small economic mission investigating conditions in Greece, reported from Athens that, to the Soviets, Greece was a “ripe plum ready to fall into their hands.”6 Echoing Porter’s warning, MacVeagh concluded, “If Greece falls to communism the whole Near East and part of North Africa as well are certain to pass under Soviet influence.”7 In Washington, Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson used MacVeagh’s reasoning to emphasize the Soviet factor in the Greek crisis. He advised Secretary of State George Marshall on February 21 that “the capitulation of Greece to Soviet domination through lack of adequate support from the U.S. and Great Britain might eventually result in the loss of the whole Near and Middle East and northern Africa.”8 On the same day, the British embassy in Washington informed the State Department that, for economic reasons, the British government had decided to terminate its assistance to Greece and Turkey as of March 31. In a matter of weeks, as the transformation of American foreign policy got underway, MacVeagh’s small and remote diplomatic outpost became a beehive of activity and the Athens embassy would never be the same again.

Having decided to “contain” further Soviet expansionism in Europe and the Middle East, the Truman administration adopted the arguments of its representatives in Athens and perceived the Greek civil war as Moscow’s way of testing the resolve of the West to defend its perimeter. In the hyperbolic words of a senior American diplomat, Greece had become “the test tube which the peoples of the world are watching in order to ascertain whether the determination of the Western powers to resist aggression equals that of international Communism to acquire new territory and new bases for further expansion.”9 East-Central Europe was already under Soviet control, and strong pressures on Turkey were interpreted as another indication of Stalin’s aggressive schemes. As a result, the Truman Doctrine, announced on March 12, 1947, elevated Greece and Turkey to the status of America’s front-line allies in the emerging Cold War and paved the way for their eventual membership in the Atlantic alliance.

American officials of every kind were now suddenly needed in Athens and Ankara, and in virtually every corner of the two countries. The inclusion of Greece in the European Recovery Program (the Marshall Plan) also necessitated the rapid buildup of the American presence in that country. By the end of 1947, scores of Foreign Service officers, civilian administrators, and military attachés and an assortment of experts and advisers had joined the cadre at the unpretentious embassy on Queen Sophia Avenue, around the corner from the royal residence. In addition, large economic, military, and cultural missions, initially housed in and around the large Metohikon Tameion building on University Avenue, just off Constitution Square, sprang into existence. Their operations expanded rapidly as the United States intensified its commitment to help the Greek government crush the Communist insurgency and put the country on the road to recovery. A large CIA station, nominally part of the Embassy, soon followed, destined to become a major intelligence-gathering outpost directed at the Soviet Bloc. In 1961 the Embassy and its principal agencies were moved to an imposing and more secure complex of buildings in a less congested part of the capital.

Under the bilateral agreements covering the various assistance programs, American officials were given authority to supervise virtually every function of the Greek state, especially if it involved the use of American funds. Because of the country’s enormous needs, the weak and ineffective coalition governments, the glaring inadequacies of the state bureaucracy, and the determination of the Americans to achieve results quickly, foreign advice and oversight amounted to direct and often high-handed intervention. Although institutionalized American interference in Greece’s domestic matters effectively ended in the early 1950s, its poisonous legacy persisted for decades. To be sure, the vast majority of Greeks appreciated the magnitude and importance of American assistance. One Greek diplomat called it the “life preserver and the only hope that Greece would not only survive as a country according to our liberal traditions, but would be assured of its economic well-being.”10

However, over time, the corrosive effects of the “asymmetrical relationship” between a superpower and a small and weak state intensified. They were aggravated by frustrations over the Cyprus controversy, in which the Greeks demanded self-determination for the island (confident that it would eventually lead to union with the “motherland”), a development opposed by Britain and Turkey and, tacitly, by the United States. Thanks in part to the inflammatory rhetoric of an irresponsible Greek press, the Greek-Turkish rivalry generated in Greece a virulent brand of anti-Americanism that lingers to this day. In time, American officials were no longer welcomed or even safe. On the opposite side of the relationship, Washington’s barely concealed impatience and irritation with the troubling situation in Greece were bluntly and undiplomatically expressed by President Truman, who, in July 1947, scribbled on a memo: “Greeks and Jews suffer from an inferiority complex as well as a persecution complex. I’ve tried to help both and so far they’ve only given me a pain in the neck.”11

Although in theory the ambassador remained the top American official in Greece, in practice the military mission and the CIA station quickly evolved into autonomous agencies whose heads, with Washington’s tacit consent, could operate virtually on their own. MacVeagh, a classical scholar and a patrician gentleman of the old school, was temperamentally unsuited for bureaucratic infighting. His only political asset, direct access to the president, was lost with Roosevelt’s death. Despite his efforts, he could not maintain his embassy’s authority over other American agencies in the country. He was also upset that the openly interventionist practices of American officials were damaging the image of Greece as a sovereign state. His principal nemesis, Dwight Griswold, a Republican ex-governor of Nebraska and head of the U.S. economic mission with the rank of ambassador, missed no opportunity to undermine MacVeagh’s standing and took pleasure in being labeled in the press “the Most Powerful Man in Greece.”12 The Department’s halfhearted and inept attempts to delineate authority between its two ambassadors in Athens merely prolonged an unsatisfactory situation. In the new era of “shirtsleeve diplomacy” openly assertive tactics were the order of the day. In the end, an ailing and recently widowed MacVeagh was recalled and given another ambassadorial assignment. One of his last important tasks in Athens (in August 1947) was to ask Prime Minister Constantine Tsaldaris to step down in favor of the opposition leader, Themistocles Sofoulis, in a coalition government that Griswold, with Washington’s backing, had demanded. A confused and tearful Tsaldaris (who stayed on as deputy prime minister and foreign minister) muttered to MacVeagh: “Does this mean you declare war on us?”13

Dignified and reserved to the bitter end, MacVeagh summed up his personal feelings in a letter to his brother:

The facts are that I tried to carry out the Department’s policy in Greece, which was to try and unite the political factions without siding with any, and so far as our aid to Greece was concerned, to make it effective through the cooperation of the Greeks, and not have to wave the big stick and thus both endanger that cooperation and give support to the Communist charge that our “imperialism” is making slaves of the local inhabitants. . . . It isn’t every smart operator in this country who is able to handle foreign affairs successfully. . . . If we subordinate our experts all around Europe to the interruption and interference and dictation of politically ambitious amateurs, we certainly are heading for disaster.14

While sacrificing MacVeagh to Washington’s partisan politics, the Department successfully resisted Republican efforts to have Griswold named ambassador to Greece. To clarify and strengthen the chain of command in Athens, the new ambassador, Henry Grady (1948–50), originally head of the American mission to observe the Greek elections and, more recently, ambassador to India, was named also chief of the military mission and special representative of the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) in Greece. Although the ECA’s Greek program continued under its own mandate, it functioned under the overall supervision of the Department and, in the field, of the ambassador. Similarly, the large military mission carried out its normal responsibilities under the direct authority of the Department of Defense, while its senior officials, as well as the military attachés and the head of the CIA station, were ex officio members of the Embassy’s “country team,” the ambassador’s inner circle of advisers. This arrangement, which allowed the military and particularly the CIA virtual autonomy, did not openly challenge the ambassador’s role as the top American official in Greece. After 1952, the curtailment of economic assistance programs and the channeling of infrastructure and military aid through NATO’s command structure also helped restore the political authority and prestige of the Embassy and its head.

Grady, a good administrator with a genial personality, sought to smooth over the impact of the American presence in Greece and to observe more strictly diplomatic niceties. On the other hand, without fanfare, he did not hesitate to make it clear that despite the obvious failings of the coalition government and the dangers of the continuing civil war, he opposed a “strongman solution” that the palace and certain Greek and American circles were promoting. His successor, John Peurifoy (1950–53), a senior Department administrator without previous diplomatic experience, was more openly blunt in his dealings with the powerful in the world of Greek politics, and especially the palace and its supporters. In January 1952 he let it be known that the country’s problems called for a stronger government, which could be achieved if the upcoming national elections were held under a simple majority system. Such elections, it was generally believed, would result in a sweeping victory by the conservative Greek Rally Party, which the recently retired Marshall Alexandros Papagos had formed. Dismissing Peurifoy’s advice, King Paul reportedly retorted that if the Americans wanted to have a new government in Athens, “they could kick the present one out themselves.”15 Undaunted, Peurifoy announced that unless the elections were conducted under a simple majority system, American assistance might be drastically reduced.

The elections of November 1952, conducted in fact under a simple majority system, produced a clear victory for Papagos’s Rally Party and ushered in a new era of stability and economic development under a staunchly pro-West government. It continued under the leadership of Papagos’s successor, Constantine Karamanlis, a strong-willed and dynamic politician, staunchly anticommunist and an admirer of Western culture and of America’s political institutions. Washington’s powerful influence in Greece could now be exerted through more traditional diplomacy and fewer intrusive tactics. Moreover, with NATO emerging as an effective mechanism of coordination, planning, and support among its members, and given American officials’ growing preoccupation with Cold War issues outside Europe, they became increasingly passive regarding internal developments in Greece. The ambassador remained the most powerful foreign official in Athens, whose counsel and support were sought by most politicians of the Right and Center, and his relations with the leaders of the ruling party and with the royal family were often quite cordial. On occasion the ambassador’s political bias was hardly a secret: in his 1961 Christmas letter to the American community, Ambassador Ellis O. Briggs (1959–62) cheerfully exclaimed: “Aren’t we all glad that Karamanlis won the elections!”16 Briggs refused to communicate directly with leaders of the opposition, assigning that function to his staff, and would rarely invite them to embassy functions. His successors, Henry Labouisse (1962–65) and Phillips Talbot (1965–69), were also clearly pleased to see Karamanlis and the conservatives remain in power but avoided making their preferences public and were accessible to the leaders of all parties except the Left.

As long as Karamanlis remained in office, relations between Washington and Athens appeared to be close and harmonious. In May 1957 the Greek government endorsed the Eisenhower Doctrine. Two years later President Eisenhower visited Athens and praised Greece as an important ally and called its prime minister a valued friend of America. In April 1960 Secretary of State Christian Herter traveled to the Greek capital to reiterate Washington’s commitment to protect Greece against Soviet aggression. The following year Karamanlis was honored by President John F. Kennedy in the White House and addressed the House of Representatives, where he received a standing ovation. But beneath the facade of cordiality and harmonious cooperation the two allies were drifting apart. Already in November 1957 the Embassy was warning Washington’s decision makers: “We can no longer be as certain as we have been in the past that we shall have Greece’s support in foreign policy matters that are crucial to us.”17

Despite the Embassy’s persistent efforts to alert its superiors to changes in the political climate in Greece, policy makers in the Department, the National Security Council, and the White House had failed to appreciate the extent to which domestic developments and frustrations, including growing anti-American sentiment across the political spectrum, had undermined Karamanlis’s standing. Although the Communist Party remained outlawed, a strong leftist movement, spearheaded by the Communist-controlled Union of the Democratic Left (EDA), had briefly emerged as the main opposition party and continued to attack the government on every issue. The refusal of the Eisenhower administration to support the Greek demand for self-determination in Cyprus and to satisfy demands for additional military and economic assistance had damaged Karamanlis’s prestige in the country and even within his own party. Washington officials handling Greek affairs remained confident that the prime minister’s ability to govern was intact. In their view, any increased support was not only unnecessary but might tie the United States too strongly to one particular politician and add fuel to perennial complaints in Greece that Washington was playing favorites and using its influence to keep Karamanlis in power. In August 1961, in anticipation of new elections, Ambassador Briggs warned that the Karamanlis government “would suffer in forthcoming electoral contest . . . if it did not produce additional American aid” for psychological reasons.18 The following month, in the wake of a new Cold War crisis over Berlin, Briggs reported that the prime minister wanted “a simple US statement to effect we are on Greece’s side and have no intention letting Greece go down Soviet drainpipe.”19 The Department remained unmoved.

During the 1961 electoral campaign both Karamanlis’s ERE and George Papandreou’s Center Union parties received contributions from the CIA’s secret funds. Afterward, Briggs expressed satisfaction over ERE’s victory and commented favorably on Karamanlis’s new government. He labeled “irresponsible” George Papandreou’s charge that ERE’s victory was an “electoral coup” to be undone through a “relentless struggle” against the government. In February 1963 the CIA station chief, Jack Maury, a frequent guest of the royal family, reported that Queen Frederika found Karamanlis “increasingly hard to get along with” and that “the time may be approaching when elections and a new government are in order.” Maury concluded that “all her political judgments are based on the assumption that what is good for the Monarchy is good for Greece.”20

In addition to reporting on the troubling views of the royal couple, the Embassy also kept the Department informed about the suspected machinations of another major player on the Greek political scene: the military. Since the 1950s there had been rumors about army officers’ cliques threatening to take action to prevent politicians with any “leftist tinge” from coming to power. Increasingly the Greek military establishment, a favorite client of Washington’s Pentagon, viewed Papandreou’s Center Union with suspicion and hostility. In early April 1963 Ambassador Labouisse warned Secretary of State Dean Rusk of a possible “overthrow in Greece sometime in the coming months.” A recently retired army chief, General Vassilis Kardamakis, had told the Embassy’s military attaché that a coup was “no longer a question of whether, but when.” One of the conspirators named was a certain Lieutenant Colonel Georgios Papadopoulos, whom the Embassy professed not to know (despite his CIA contacts). On his own authority, but along the lines of established policy, the ambassador had sent word to Kardamakis “in emphatic terms” warning that a coup would damage Greece’s international standing as well as its economy.21

In its prompt response, the Department applauded Labouisse’s action and, uncharacteristically, reiterated in fairly explicit terms its basic policy on Greece for the foreseeable future: “In view of our long involvement and large investment in Greece, we could not stand by and witness the creation of a Latin American type of totalitarian government in Greece, nor do we want a return to the Metaxas kind of tyranny. We are therefore unalterably opposed to such a ‘solution.’ . . . Greece with a totalitarian government in the Balkans would be a staggering blow to the cause of democracy in the area.” The ambassador was instructed to warn Kardamakis, and through him the Greek military, that “the use of United States equipment to achieve such a ‘solution’ would be regarded with grave misgiving and disappointment by the United States” and might lead to the reduction of military assistance to Greece. The Kennedy administration was prepared to work with another Greek government, “should it come to power through constitutional means” and not include Communists. “In the meantime we would not wish to do anything to compromise the effectiveness of Karamanlis’ Government as it still has considerable time to serve in office.”22

Washington’s professed confidence in Karamanlis was expressed again, on June 6, 1963, by Secretary Rusk, who told a visiting member of the Greek cabinet that the prime minister “is less sure and confident about his relationship with the United States than he should be. . . . The United States realizes that the Prime Minister has problems, like all political leaders, but [Rusk] hopes he realizes that Greece is regarded as a special, more mature friend which, unlike others, does not require periodic indications of reassurance.”23

Rusk’s vacuous comments obscured either his ignorance or his indifference to the real situation in Athens. In May 1963 the murder of a leftist deputy in Salonika by right-wing thugs with ties to senior police officials embarrassed the Karamanlis government and emboldened its critics. A few days later Karamanlis became embroiled in a feud with the palace, ostensibly over the royal couple’s determination to go on a state visit to Britain against the advice of the prime minister, who feared violent demonstrations by Communist sympathizers. A man of authoritarian temperament and highly sensitive to personal attacks, Karamanlis resigned (on June 11, 1963) and left for Zurich. He returned briefly to take part in the fall elections, which he lost to Papandreou, and left again, eventually settling in Paris. He remained abroad until July 24, 1974, when, following the collapse of the military dictatorship (1967–74), he returned to lead a government of national unity that prepared the country for elections and the restoration of democracy.

Unfazed by the fall of its most dependable ally in Greece, the Department remained sanguine about the situation in Athens. When President Kennedy asked whether there was anything Washington “could or should do about . . . possible renewed instability in Greek politics,” the Department predicted that Karamanlis would return to power and added reassuringly: “Since any United States actions which could be construed as interference in Greek domestic politics would almost certainly reduce rather than enhance this probability [of Karamanlis’s return] and would be welcomed by both the palace and the opposition elements as grounds for attack against Karamanlis, the U.S. should refrain from such steps.” The Department advised the president that “we must constantly bear in mind that Greeks are in general suspicious and resentful of real or imagined foreign intervention in their domestic political affairs. Greek public opinion is particularly alert to the operation of the so-called ‘American Factor.’” Besides, if, contrary to expectations, Karamanlis did not make a comeback, “there is no reason to fear that a Center Union government or a coalition government excluding EDA would, at least in the foreseeable future, represent a threat to Greece’s pro-Western foreign policy.”24

As the Department had predicted, the fall of Karamanlis and the emergence of Papandreou’s Center Union as the ruling party did not at first affect U.S.-Greek relations. In November 1963, when Foreign Minister Sophocles Venizelos sought to assure Secretary Rusk that the new Greek cabinet consisted of “great friends of the United States,” the secretary responded that he foresaw “no difficulty in continuing our cooperation with Greece through one party or another.”25 At the same time, Rusk made it very clear to his visitor that the Johnson administration had no intention of becoming involved in efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus problem. This position proved easier to declare than to uphold. In the spring of 1964, as intercommunal violence in Cyprus escalated and Turkey appeared ready to send troops to the island, President Johnson, in a statement characterized by an American official as “the diplomatic equivalent of an atomic bomb,” bluntly cautioned Ankara not to invade Cyprus.26 While the warning had the desired effect, it paved the way for Washington’s direct involvement in the Greek-Turkish feud, in which it provided hands-on mediation in the hope of averting war between two NATO allies. Johnson and his top advisers suggested several formulas that, they believed, met the basic objective of the Greek side: union of most of the island with Greece, while also satisfying Turkish demands for partition by ceding to the Turkish Cypriots a small part of its territory. However, neither Athens nor Ankara would accept the “Acheson plan” (actually three different plans were presented), and several American clandestine schemes to precipitate a solution also had to be abandoned. Washington officials blamed the setback on George Papandreou’s failure to rein in Makarios, the unpredictable and independent-minded Greek Cypriot leader and president of the Cyprus Republic, and concluded that both men were pursuing unrealistic and dangerous policies.

During 1964–65 the Cyprus problem was a major factor in the political turmoil that engulfed the Greek capital and led to the collapse of the Papandreou government in July 1965. As a result of Washington’s direct efforts to mediate in the Cyprus crisis, the Athens embassy became a key conduit of messages and analysis concerning the ongoing negotiations. At the same time, the Embassy continued to perform its basic function of monitoring the unfolding Greek political drama. Following Ambassador Labouisse’s transfer in May 1965, and until the arrival in October of his successor, Phillips Talbot, (1965–69), the Embassy was headed by Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) Norbert Anschuetz. Although a career diplomat with many years of service in Greece, Anschuetz did not, at least in the eyes of Greeks, carry the weight of a fully accredited ambassador. By the same token, the six-month delay in the arrival of the new ambassador, and the Department’s failure to provide the Embassy with clear guidance on current Greek issues, suggested that, having given up hope that it could mediate between Greece and Turkey to solve the Cyprus problem, the Johnson administration was too preoccupied elsewhere to pay sufficient attention to the unraveling situation in Athens.

In June 1965 Anschuetz reported that the government was afflicted by a “new phase of malaise.” Papandreou had come under attack from factions of his own party, and there was widespread speculation that prominent members of the cabinet planned to defect. The army leadership was upset by the government’s ongoing investigation of the so-called Pericles Plan, made public by Papandreou in February 1965 as the plot to secure Karamanlis’s reelection in 1961 through electoral fraud carried out by the armed forces. To add to the prime minister’s troubles, in May 1965 George Grivas, the right-wing veteran of the Cypriots’ armed struggle and political maverick whom Papandreou had appointed commander of the Greek troops in Cyprus, charged that a conspiracy of junior Greek officers stationed in Cyprus, code named ASPIDA, plotted to bring the army under the influence of the Left. Their leader was alleged to be the prime minister’s son, Andreas. The young Papandreou had left Greece in 1939, at the age of twenty, and, following a distinguished academic career in the United States, returned in 1959 at the invitation of Prime Minister Karamanlis to establish a center of economic research.

An expert on economic development with influential friends in America, Andreas had entered politics and, following his election to parliament, emerged as a senior cabinet member and his father’s principal adviser and confidant. Brilliant, arrogant, and combative, by 1965 Andreas had become the lightning rod attracting the hostility of the conservatives, the military and the palace, as well as of key members of the Center Union party. In Anschuetz’s words, Andreas was his father’s “most vulnerable point.”27

The growing suspicion and animosity with which Andreas was regarded in Athens gradually spread to official Washington. An April 1966 internal memorandum written by the head of the Department’s Greek Desk characterized the younger Papandreou as “politically naïve, unscrupulous, unstable (with paranoiac tendencies), venal, and above all [with] such an overweening ambition that he would resort to almost any means to achieve his goals.” He was suspected of conspiring with Communists, and it was said that, given the opportunity, he “would try to move Greece toward a non-aligned, neutralist stance.”28 Washington’s alarmist views on Andreas were becoming a major factor in American attitudes toward internal developments in Greece.

Despite the brewing “perfect storm” in Greek politics, the Embassy continued to believe that Papandreou was likely to survive at least through the summer of 1965. However, when Papandreou forced Defense Minister Petros Garoufalias to resign over the investigation of ASPIDA and the filling of top army posts, Anschuetz advised the Department that a showdown between Papandreou and King Constantine was a “distinct possibility.” The DCM observed that such a clash would harm Greece as well as American interests but refrained from passing judgment on the merits of the dispute.29 On the other hand, embassy reports to the Department became increasingly critical of Andreas for his anti-American rhetoric but primarily for his efforts to bring the armed forces and the Greek CIA (KYP) under the effective control of his father’s government.

On June 30, without prodding from the Department, Anschuetz visited George Papandreou to discuss the impasse over the appointment of a new army chief and its political ramifications. He stressed that his only motive in raising the issue was his desire to assist in preserving political stability in Athens and ensure the continuation of American military assistance. While conceding that the army should be kept out of politics, he reminded the prime minister that the Greek king had “over [a] period of time acquired a generally recognized interest in [the] armed forces,” and appealed to Papandreou to adopt a more conciliatory stand toward the palace. Not surprisingly, the old man of Greek politics did not appreciate the American diplomat’s advice. As Anschuetz reported, Papandreou “was in a very serious mood and showed a degree of stubbornness to my prodding.”30 Undeterred, in additional talks with ERE leaders and palace officials, the DCM offered the opinion that the deadlock over the naming of a new minister of defense and army chief was undermining the monarchy and was “a tragedy for Greece from which only the Communists would profit.” Once again, however, he was forced to concede to his superiors that “this position has naturally been received with lack of enthusiasm by those elements on both sides who hoped to win the unqualified support of the U.S.”31

Anschuetz knew that he was offering platitudes and innocuous advice to Greeks who wanted to hear instead that, in the brewing crisis, the Embassy would side with them against their rivals. He was obviously anxious to assure the Department that he was careful not to exceed his authority or depart from established policy. On July 23 he reported, “Situation has not developed to point where US attitude might be decisive. Consequently we are endeavoring to maintain greatest possible discretion. . . . Given incredibly sensitive political acoustics in Athens and virtuosity of Greek talent for misrepresentation and distortion, Embassy position is constant subject for local exploitation. . . . This spectrum of commentary suggests that although our attempt not to become involved may not prove to be completely successful, the effort is at least a valiant one.” In its prompt and peremptory response, the Department agreed that “discretion needed to avoid untimely involvement of American factor,” at least while there was no U.S. ambassador in Athens.32

The embassy’s “valiant effort” to avoid becoming involved in the escalating political crisis was less than “completely successful.” While various Greek factions intensified their efforts to secure Washington’s endorsement of their particular position, Anschuetz became increasingly concerned that, in challenging the palace and arousing the fears of the military and the opposition, Papandreou was pushing the country toward political collapse and chaos. Yet there is no evidence that the resignation of prominent Center Union deputies and cabinet members, which forced Papandreou to resign on July 15, was encouraged by the Embassy’s diplomatic personnel. On the other hand, on August 10 Anschuetz informed the Department that King Constantine had sent word that he would appreciate the Embassy’s support for a new cabinet under Stephanos Stephanopoulos, a respected conservative politician and former foreign minister. The same message was received from several among the leading “defectors” from the Center Union party, including Constantine Mitsotakis, Elias Tsirimokos, and John Tsouderos, the last saying that “a word of encouragement from Embassy at this point could be extremely important.” Reporting these developments to the Department the DCM expressed the opinion that if the proposed Stephanopoulos “solution” failed, “other possible solutions are certainly not very attractive.” He concluded: “Under these circumstances . . . Embassy should not withhold word of encouragement which might just possibly provoke necessary impetus to break current impasse and provide interim political solution. Situation had developed to point where issue apparently hung in balance and where cautious effort on our part justified.” Therefore, “within limitations of resources available, Embassy has provided maximum support” to Stephanopoulos “consistent with discretion which we have been endeavoring maintain.” He hoped that the Department would endorse the action already taken and approve a plan for further clandestine activity in support of the anti-Papandreou forces.33

The Department’s prompt reaction was to rebuke Anschuetz for his decision to lend support to a particular solution in the political stalemate: “Appreciate intense nature of pressure employed to force American involvement in crisis. However, believe response to any further approaches . . . should be reiteration that ultimate solution will be healthier politically and more permanent if Greeks work it out without interference.”34 As for further clandestine efforts to prevent the Papandreous’ return to office, the DCM’s proposal was referred to the president’s national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, who promptly rejected it.35 When in mid-September the king again solicited the Embassy’s support for the Stephanopoulos “solution,” Anschuetz remained carefully noncommittal.

The proposed Stephanopoulos “solution” prompted Papandreou to launch once again his “relentless struggle” against his opponents and to agitate for new elections, which it was generally believed he would win. Requests from various political quarters that the Embassy play a catalytic role also continued. Through the spring and early summer of 1966, Ambassador Talbot and his embassy divided their time between the intensified diplomatic activity regarding the Cyprus problem and the unfolding Greek political drama.

In August 1966, twenty years after James H. Keeley assumed his duties as counselor of embassy in Athens, his son, Robert V. Keeley, also a career Foreign Service officer with a fair knowledge of Greek and pleasant memories of his childhood days in that small corner of the Balkans, arrived to take up his post as a political analyst. He was to return in 1985 as the U.S. ambassador to Greece (1985–89). His baptism in the ways of American diplomacy and of Greek politics is recounted in this remarkably candid and historically valuable memoir. Keeley takes the reader inside the Embassy and paints a revealing picture of the complex, fractious, and often frustrating process through which the ambassador and his senior staff were involved in the formulation and execution of American policy during a particularly delicate period in U.S.-Greek relations. Among the many important facets of this process are the inner workings of the Embassy, in which senior staff members are shown to be anything but receptive to the differing views of their junior colleagues toward the relationship between the Embassy and the main protagonists of the Greek political crisis of 1966–67 and toward the exchanges between the Embassy and the Department before and after the Colonels’ coup of April 21, 1967. Students of that period will be especially interested in Keeley’s portrayal of Andreas Papandreou, which is far more nuanced and less alarmist than that of his superiors, who played a decisive role in establishing Washington’s policy on Greece. Equally valuable is his account of the reaction of American officials to the coup, and to the dictatorship that followed. As the reader will discover, Washington’s passive acquiescence to the new regime caused the young diplomat much frustration and disappointment, and may be presumed to be a primary motive behind his decision, many years later, to publish this memoir. The fact that his own interpretation of the Greek crisis in 1966–67, and subsequent recommendations for a more assertive American response, were largely ignored does not in the least diminish their importance for historians. On the contrary, they give us a much clearer understanding of American decision making and of both sides in the troubled relationship between the United States and Greece, whose reverberations were destined to prove lasting.