Old Think - And Downright Illogical Too


I don’t read The Washington Post any longer because, on a good day, it’s a third-rate newspaper. But sometimes I do read Post articles to which friends refer me.

One such article was an op-ed from some time ago - April 6, 2009 - by Marc A. Thiessen entitled "The Embargo After the Castros". This article typifies the opposition to improving relations with Cuba. It reads like the plaintive cry of a man who, because he can't conjure up any defense against the wave of history that is about to topple him, seeks to have a deus ex machina pluck him from the wave's path at the final moment.

But such gods as Jesse Helms, Thiessen's boss in the long-ago, are dead and though their ghosts may prowl the earth, dei ex machina they aren’t. Besides, Helms and his gang did more damage in their time to U.S. foreign policy than anyone since Senators Joseph McCarthy and William Jenner and their infamous red scare during the early days of the Cold War. But democracy is self-correcting and, largely, the amelioration has set inâ€â€particularly with the election to the presidency of Barack Obama.

But back to Cuba.

In his op-ed, Mr. Thiessen cites a meeting he and Roger Noriega had with Ricardo Alarcón in 1998. Mr. Thiessen revels in what apparently was his and Mr. Noriega's personal epiphany that Mr. Alarcón was no different from any of the leaders in the U.S. Congress. That is to say, he was possessed of personal ambition and he let that ambition at times cloud his perspective of the Cuban peoples' genuine interests.

With respect to Mr. Thiessen’s specific epiphany, Alarcón allegedly provided brilliant insights about the questionable staying power of one Raúl Castro, now at least the titular head of the Cuban leadership. From this seminal meeting, Thiessen concludes: "Raúl Castro's position as Fidel's successor is by no means assured." BFO for Marc and Roger.

Blinding flash of the obvious (BFO) because no almost 80 year-old man's position is assured for long. In fact, it is one of the few verities about the Cuban leadership: Raúl and Fidel will pass from the scene - and sooner, not later. Death happens.

If Raúl (or perhaps Fidel even) dies before the U.S. has begun to change its policies toward Cuba - principally to demonstrate that it is the Cuban people who should handle the transition and not the U.S. or any other outside force - we will have missed a golden opportunity to impact the transition that will then occur. Moreover, and more seriously, we will have missed the chance to affect major and positive change in our relations with the rest of our hemisphere, from Buenos Aires to Ottawa.

But Mr. Thiessen's true stroke of Helms-like genius comes when he attacks those who want to see the embargo on Cuba lifted and relations between the U.S. and the island normalized. Mr. Thiessen writes: "Set aside questions about the embargo's efficacy. Like it or not, it is our only leverage, aside from our military, to affect the transition in Cuba." In one fell swoop, Mr. Thiessen reveals the emptiness of his thinking.

Set aside questions about the embargo's efficacy? Hamlet may as well set aside questions about his father's murder. The embargo is an utter failure at great cost to the people of Cuba and to the people of America.

This is what the present movement to change policy is all about. From this clearly demonstrated fact does the effort to restore sanity to U.S. Cuba policy draw its strength. One cannot set aside questions about the embargo's efficacy because the embargo is U.S. policy. The embargo is an abject failure; ergo, U.S. policy is an abject failure. Normally, this is incentive to change. “Normallyâ€Â apparently doesn’t hold water for Mr. Thiessen.

Couched in Mr. Thiessen's illogic is another absurdity as well: "aside from our military", he writes. Can we imagine any person so foolish as to contemplate the "no options are off the table" version of diplomacy vis a vis Cuba? Using the Armed Forces of the United States against a country whose chief foreign policy today is sending doctors and medical technicians to the world's ghettos?

And there are dozens of ways to affect Cuba's transition; in fact, one could argue that there are millions of ways. Because every American citizen traveling to Cuba is a way to affect Cuba's transition. There is no better emissary for democracy than a free citizen.

Moreover, simply recognizing that it will be up to the Cuban people ultimately to decide what type of government they desire following the departure of the Castros from the scene, will generate a new momentum for change. Imagine, if you will, a hemisphere where the U.S. is respected and admired again rather than disparaged and reviled, where leaders such as Brazil's Lula and Argentina's Kirchner can look forward to working with Washington on real challenges such as trade, climate change, illicit drugs, growing crime and human trafficking, environmental protection, finding and developing new energy sources, managing diminishing water resources, HIV/AIDS, and the many other problems we all increasingly confront.

As President Obama said this year in Turkey: "This much is certain: no one nation can confront [such] challenges alone, and all nations have a stake in overcoming them. That is why we must listen to one another, and seek common ground. That is why we must build on our mutual interests, and rise above our differences. We are stronger when we act together. That is the message that I have carried with me throughout this trip to Europe. That will be the approach of the United States of America going forward."

Jesse Helms, eat your heart out. Your demonic dreams for American global hegemony are being defeated by what you most loathed - the growing understanding that if we don't hang together in this world we are most surely going to hang alone.

-- Lawrence Wilkerson