Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) have jointly written a compelling case to end the travel ban for all Americans desiring to go to Cuba.
In fact, their piece, titled "Lift the Ban -- Let Americans Visit Cuba" really calls for ending travel restrictions on Americans going anywhere since Cuba is the only place in the world where America's democratic government restricts the travel freedom of its citizens.
It is a remarkable but true fact that the US government cannot stop regular Americans from traveling to North Korea, Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Congo, or any other complicated place in the world -- except the one spot where the Cold War still freezes time -- Cuba.
The Lugar-Berman piece reflects a sensible bipartisan realism about the fact that five decades of an embargo have dramatically hurt US interests and have only perpetuated a dysfunctional status quo in US-Cuba relations.
President Obama constantly calls for serious bipartisanship in national security matters -- and he can pluck this Lugar-Berman prize off the tree easily if he has the will (and time on his overcrowded calendar). The House bill to end the travel ban to Cuba has been led by Congressman Bill Delahunt (D-MA) on the Dem side and Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who often says that it's supposed to be Communist governments, not Democratic ones, that impose restrictions on their citizen's choices to travel. The House Bill now has 180 cosponsors comprised of both Republicans and Democrats.
The companion Senate bill has 34 Senate cosponsors. Informal whip counts put the House bill at 205 votes -- within striking distance of the 218 needed, and between 61-64 in the Senate.
But thus far Barack Obama's team continues to condition any further openings to Cuba with a requirement that Cuba begin to demonstrate key political reforms on top of the fact that Obama's presidency has done the ironic thing of opening up travel for a "class" of Americans (those with Cuban relatives) while excluding all other Americans from that legal privilege -- I would actually say, "legal right". This exclusion of some but not all is something Obama should not want too long on his legacy sheet.
Lugar and Berman open:
U.S. law lets American citizens travel to any country on earth, friend or foe -- with one exception: Cuba. It's time for us to scrap this anachronistic ban, imposed during one of the chilliest periods of the Cold War.
Legislation to abolish restrictions on travel to Cuba has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. And on Thursday the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing examining the rationale for the travel ban.
This ban has prevented contact between Cubans and ordinary Americans, who serve as ambassadors for the democratic values we hold dear. Such contact would help break Havana's chokehold on information about the outside world. And it would contribute to improving the image of the United States, particularly in Latin America, where the U.S. embargo on Cuba remains a centerpiece of anti-Washington grievances.
While opponents argue that repealing the travel ban would indicate approval of the Cuban human rights record, many human rights organizations -- among them Freedom House and Human Rights Watch -- have called for abolishing travel restrictions.
They go on to make the same point, namely " "isolation from outside visitors only strengthens the Castro regime," that former AEI neoconservative staffer and current Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw "Radek" Sikorski made in his own 2005 essay on Cuba in National Review. Bush Institute for Public Policy Director and former G.W. Bush administration Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy James Glassman has also argued that the travel ban and embargo undermine American interests.
It is through people to people exchange that both Cubans and Americans will become exposed to each other's worlds and political realities. They argue that more financial flow inside Cuba will strengthen the underground economy, a source of independence and potential liberalism inside Cuba.
Berman and Lugar state flat out with regard to the notion that restricting US travel to Cuba generates any leverage at all after five decades of failure on this track: "Conditionality is not leverage in this case."
The White House National Security Council staff reading this really should articulate a believable counter-point to Senator Lugar's and Chairman Berman's compelling argument if it is going to continue to 'cling to conditionality' before making further moves. What is the empirical basis for believing that putting Cuban responses before American interests will have any impact or makes sense?
Others who Barack Obama respects -- including former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Secretary of State and Treasury George P. Shultz -- have said that both the travel ban and the embargo make no sense as foreign policy. Shultz has called the travel ban "lunacy".
There are not many occasions when there is such a large squad of Democrats and Republicans in the same space.
Howard Berman is on board. Richard Lugar is on board. Many others are as well. Call John Kerry -- and I bet he's on board too.
It's the only course that ultimately makes sense. As David Rothkopf said at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting just before this past year's Summit of the Americas, US-Cuba relations are the "Edsel of US foreign policy."
It's time for Barack Obama to wake up on this and realize that he and his team are the outliers in a hefty and healthy bipartisan move in the Latin America portfolio.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
Recently, Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went at it during a session when 187 Members of the United Nations were about to vote against the United States and two allies on the issue of the US embargo against Cuba.
Rodriguez said "President Obama has a historical opportunity to lead a change of policy toward Cuba and the lifting of the blockade", but also said "the blockade is an uncultured act of arrogance," "an act of genocide", and that the embargo was "ethically unacceptable".
I would have encouraged Cuba's foreign minister to say instead that the embargo was an anachronism of the Cold War, has not achieved the goals the US had for it, harmed both Cuban and US interests, and that the countries should realize its the 21st century and find a way to move forward.
But given the pitch of things that day at the UN, Ambassador Susan Rice threw some tough words back at Foreign Minister Rodriguez calling his remarks "straight out of the Cold War era" and "hostile."
She went on to underscore the more substantively important point that President Obama and the US were prepared to engage Cuba on a number of issues of mutual interest and concern. That at least is good news and really the only statement that mattered.
But theatrics and rhetoric aside, what is astonishingly absent from America's autopilot driven position on the Embargo is that with the end of the Cold War, Cuba is not exporting arms and revolutionaries -- Cuba is exporting doctors.
There are more than 51,000 Cuban doctors and health care professionals working around the world today, primarily in developing nations. Many of these are working collaboratively with US and European NGOs actually in third countries -- particularly in Africa in dealing with AIDS/HIV, river blindness, malaria, and a number of health maladies.
America and Cuba both maintain too much a habit of Cold War era rhetoric, but the facts on the ground are that Cuba is not a threat to the United States or its allies in any fundamental ways that justify the kind of barriers we have erected between Americans and Cubans -- at the government to government as well as at the people to people levels.
The other thing that US diplomats could do to constructively redirect a history of escalating, toxic public exchanges is to commend Bruno Rodriguez for his chapter in Cuba's "soft power" history.
In the Obama administration's roster of foreign policy practitioners today, people like Anne-Marie Slaughter, James Steinberg, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Richard Holbrooke and others have done roll up their sleeves work in developing nations -- but I think all of them would admire the year of humanitarian service Bruno Rodriguez did on the Pakistan/Kashmir border.
To make a long and very fascinating story short, Fidel Castro organized a team of 1,500 doctors into the "Henry Reeves Brigade" and offered them to the US to provide support for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Predictably, the US declined the gesture. Shortly after, a major earthquake hit the heavily Islamic fundamentalist region along the border of Pakistan and Kashmir.
Castro sent the brigade to Pakistan to help earthquake survivors and those suffering long-term shock and other problems related to the earthquake in the months after.
The current Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez -- who was then a deputy foreign minister -- was dispatched along with the Reeves Brigade to oversee the medical operations in the mountainous, difficultly accessed earthquake zone.
Americans and Europeans also sent medical teams -- one major base camp each that stayed about a month each. The Cubans sent seven major base camps and thirty field hospitals, remaining for a year.
Reportedly, the Cubans, American and European medical personnel coordinated well in the field and worked together without incident. In one case, a Cuban doctor had to dress in a full hijab as a female doctor in order to deliver the baby of a local woman -- who would have been subjected to harsh punishment if known that a male doctor did this. But the Cubans did send many female doctors and health professionals as well.
At the time this all occurred, Pakistan and Cuba did not have diplomatic relations -- and today they do. And their are Cuban doctors doing work in Pakistan today -- and Pakistani students studying at the Latin American School of Medicine.
The Henry Reeves Brigade has, since Pakistan, been deployed to help in the great Sichuan Earthquake in China and also to do disaster relief in Latin America. The Brigade now has more than 3,000 health care professionals who are experts in disaster-related medical support.
This is a case of soft power with hard results, a story that anyone can commend despite all of the other warts and problems in a relationship. Americans and Cubans worked together to help others -- and nation to nation opportunities for Cuba and Pakistan grew out of that engagement.
It would be useful to see some of this kind of material make it into our diplomatic posturing as we work to get past the past.
The Cold War should be over, and once we begin to find narratives that can fill up the pages of the present and the future, that were not written as the result of inertia and being on auto-pilot, we can move to the next, more constructive phase in US-Cuba relations.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
Some diplomacy data points I have picked up during my trip to Havana in the last couple of days:
~ There are 65% more non-immigrant visas processed by the US State Department for Cubans wanting to travel into the United States this year than last year.
~ The average non-immigrant visa profile is someone in their 70s going over to see relatives in the US
~ The backlog for non-immigrant visas in the US Interests Section (Embassy-lite) used to be more than 2 years, the longest in the world. The new head of the US Interests Section, Jonathan Farrar, worked with the Cubans who help staff a significant portion of his operation, and they added a "second shift" to process more visas each day. But now the demand is so large that even with the second shift, the backlog for visa interviews is two years and three months
~ The US Interests Section in Havana is restricted in the bilateral agreements between Cuba and the US to 51 employees. The representative of the US Department of State employs about 300 Cuban citizens to help in its consular work -- and these staff are managed and hired by Cuban government authorities.
~ If the travel ban on Americans traveling to Cuba is lifted, there will have to be a structural adjustment in the number of American diplomats permitted into Cuba. Some have suggested moving the number to 60 staff would work -- but given the broad opportunities for social, cultural, political and economic engagement, this writer thinks that an upward adjusted staff target should be about 75 US personnel.
~ Spouses of American diplomats assigned to Cuba can work at the Interests Section and not count against the personnel head count. The same is true of the Cuban Interests Section staff and spouses in Washington, DC.
~ Senior officials at the US Interests Section in Havana report to TWN that there is a marked, highly noticeable change in the attitude and "posture" of the Cuban government towards US State Department and other US officials assigned to the embassy-lite operation in Havana. They state that the Cuban authorities are constructively engaging with US government personnel -- and this just didn't happen before, according to them.
~ American officials were told by the Cuban government, however, that they could not attend an environmental summit in which several leading members of the Environmental Defense Fund from Washington attended. In contrast, there was a major agricultural products/economic fair this week which US government officials stationed at the Interests Section were permitted to attend. According the State Department, this is a welcome change in the climate which is less and less constrained.
~ US officials have also been permitted recently to begin visiting various Cuban-Americans held in Cuban prisons and to visit them as part of the consular duties of the Interests Section. This used to be off the list of what was permitted, but the Cuban government has become supportive of US contact with ten or so prisoners who have dual nationality.
~ The US government has had constructive meetings with Cuban government officials on migration (the first meeting hosted by the New School in New York City) and on direct mail service. Cuban government officials have informed TWN that there are a number of other key areas of "common interest" -- such as narcotics interdiction, alien smuggling, air traffic control, weather analysis and reporting, environmental policy that could be on the agenda as well -- but the Cubans report that the US has not yet responded.
~ On the subject of bilateral discussions on narcotics and drug smuggling, US government officials tell TWN that the US is actually quite interested and is still waiting for the Cuban government's proposal. (i.e., the ball is in Havana's court -- but I'm not sure Havana sees it that way)
For those who have the sense that things are not moving in the atmospherics of US-Cuba relations, that impression is wrong. Things have not stalled, at least from my perspective.
After discussions with both senior Cuban government officials and US officials, there is quite a bit of new opportunity, relaxed posturing, proposals, micro progress on a number of fronts that is not designed to be in the public eye or the media -- that is consistent with two parties who have long not trusted one another trying to construct a different kind of relationship that needs confidence-building steps and healthier interaction than has historically been the case.
There is much that could still take US-Cuba relations back off the rails again, as one diplomat said, but right now there is much that appears promising.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
Former Reagan Administration Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of State George Shultz thinks that the US embargo against Cuba should "simply be lifted."
I have long felt and have said publicly on a number of occasions that, with the cold war behind us, we should simply remove the embargo on Cuba.
I'm glad to hear that you are making headway on a bill that would repeal the travel ban for all Americans. This is a step in the right direction. I am glad to be on record, and you may quote me as supporting this effort.
Shultz echoes sentiments offered by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft who has stated that the US-Cuba embargo makes no sense in foreign policy terms.
Shultz's views are not exactly new as he said that American sanctions against Cuba were "ridiculous" on the Charlie Rose Show in April 2008. His comments were not as widely reported as they should have been at that time, however.
I think our policy of sanctions against Cuba is ridiculous.
During the cold war it made sense because it was a Russian base. They used it for flying spying missions, and so on, but that's over. And all we do by our sanctions is allow Castro, and now maybe his brother, to blame the problems of Cuba on us.
And at the same time I think particularly now that there's some transitioning of some kind probably coming about, we're much more likely to get a constructive outcome if there's a lot of interaction. And to try to prevent interaction under these circumstances, I don't think is sensible.
-- former Secretary of State George Shultz interviewed by Charlie Rose, 4/24/08
President Barack Obama invited George Shultz two weeks ago to join him along with Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn to observe Obama chairing a Security Council Meeting at the United Nations on the subject of nuclear non-proliferation and arms control.
I watched President Obama greet Shultz and the other world leaders and special guests -- and it was obvious to me sitting in that chamber that President Obama connected with George Shultz and valued his presence that day.
The Obama national security team should take stock of George Shultz's views on the only part of the Cold War that managed to get colder during the Bush administration and do much more to thaw the ice in this hemisphere.
The US-Cuba embargo undermines America's position in the world. Everyone knows this. Barack Obama knows this.
There will be a vote in a couple of weeks in the United Nations that has practically become ritual. About 185 nations will vote against the US, Israel, and one or two of our island protectorates on the US embargo of Cuba.
It's time to end America's isolation on this anachronistic stand that mattered perhaps in the 1960s, if then, but definitely is "ridiculous" today.
-- Steve Clemons
President Obama has missed yet another chance to pressure Congress to end the self-inflicted damage of a "unilateral embargo" against Cuba and to take American foreign policy writ large in a new, more constructive direction.
Today, the President officially extended the trade embargo against Cuba for another year -- putting the US at odds again with roughly 183 nations that vote against the embargo each year in the United Nations.
The President's global mystique has been based on a perception that he would shift the Bush era gravitational forces in more constructive directions -- that he would support engagement and exchange as tools of American foreign policy in order to try and get better outcomes in international affairs.
But by continuing an embargo that undermines American interests and even US national security, he chooses the continuity of failure over the opportunity for change and over his own principles.
By arguing that "he will not lift the embargo until Cuba undertakes democratic and economic reforms", Obama is perpetuating a fallacy that conditionality produces results in Cuba's domestic internal affairs. That approach has failed for decades -- and needs to be dropped.
The President has made some progress on Cuba -- but its mostly progress that the most hawkish, right wing elements of the Cuban-American community desired, not progress that was based on the interests of the nation as a whole.
Obama needs to fix his course on Cuba, or despite the modest creep forward recently -- helping a single class of ethnic Americans access Cuba but keeping up prohibitions on other American citizens, he will be added to a long roster of Presidents who maintained a Cold War in the America's backyard that is, as David Rothkopf called it, "the edsel" of US foreign policy.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
The Obama administration today lightened travel and remittance restrictions for US-based relatives of Cuban citizens residing in Cuba.
The limit on relatives is noted at "second cousins."
Hooray! -- not.
OK -- it's some progress. But this is progress that the Cuban-American right wing wanted.
What I and other sensible national security strategists wanted was for President Obama to stand by his moral and ethical fiber that engagement is good, that people to people exchange makes sense, that the Cold War is over, and show some understanding today that Cuba is exporting not revolution and arms today -- but doctors.
I remember very well during the height of the Cold War how my father -- who was a US Air Force service man -- used to comment on all the things that the Soviet Union would do to constrain and control the lives of its citizens.
I remember well how he said everyone was required to carry "their papers" and how they couldn't travel without government permission.
It is outrageous and simply unacceptable that Barack Obama, the first ethnic mix of any sort who wonderfully defies categorization residing in the White House, is creating a class of opportunity and privilege for one class of ethnic Americans and perpetuating an anti-American, anti-human rights restriction by the US government on the movement of non-qualified US citizens.
The travel restrictions on Americans have always been wrong -- and have been more consistent with a totalitarian, Communist government than they have been with a traditional American democracy.
Obama and his team should find a way to step back and realize that while they have made progress on Cuba -- this is embarrassing progress, ridiculous progress -- that is anti-American in spirit and at its core.
-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
Anyone who knows New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson knows he can be a handful, can be complicated, and can too often want the story about him more than others. Those are characteristics of most who aspire to the presidency.
However, this week during his trip to Cuba allegedly for agricultural trade promotion reasons, Governor Richardson demonstrated why he is such a vital national asset in America's diplomatic game.
Richardson has a knack for dealing with the harder challenges in international affairs -- often extracting American captives from totalitarian regimes but also understanding that in some cases what the game is about is not getting some journalist or innocent released from a gulag but rather using that engagement to create "possibilities" in America's engagement with that nation that did not exist before.
My devout Republican friend Phil Peters writes at his blog, The Cuban Triangle, about RIchardson's recent diplomatic foray to Havana very positively.
1. Governor Richardson concludes his visit by saying he will report to President Obama and by offering to set up a dialogue between the Cuban government and Cuban Americans.
2. Richardson urges Cuba to act, "especially in the humanitarian area," and wants both Washington and Havana to ease travel restrictions. "Normalizing relations is going to take time, it is a complicated thing and there are a lot of issues to address...It will take time, but we have to do it," he said.
3. Richardson said that the United States has suggested that the two governments drop restrictions on their diplomats' movements, and he urged Cuban officials to agree to the idea.
If its reporting is correct, Mexico's La Jornada stated that Richardson offered a "plan of reciprocal actions to normalize relations with Cuban authorities."
Let's call this "The Richardson Plan."
From the Cuban Triangle report on what we are now calling "The Richardson Plan":
The plan would defer larger and more contentious issues and start with the two sides taking humanitarian steps.
The United States would put into effect the announced Obama policy ending restrictions on family travel and remittances; allow greater sports, cultural, scientific, academic, and business exchanges; and allow Americans in general to travel to the island.
Cuba would end "bureaucratic restrictions and high fees" that make family visits more costly, accept a U.S. proposal to end the restrictions that limit both sides' diplomats to the Havana and Washington capital areas, and start an "informal dialogue" with Cuban Americans.
Regarding his own role:
Richardson also said that he sees no need for a U.S. special envoy and doesn't think he will have a role in U.S. diplomacy toward Cuba.
A couple of quick reactions from TWN's corner.
First of all, Bill Richardson is the right guy to upend the institutional inertia at the Department of State and the House Foreign Affairs Committee in charting a new, more constructive course in US-Cuba relations. He gets this issue better than any other major player in US politics and made this clear as well during the presidential debates and his campaign for the White House.
His modest statement that America did not need a "special envoy" -- and did not need him -- for this challenge is incorrect.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "promised" Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar a "full policy review" during detailed responses to written questions (pdf) posed by Lugar to the then nominee Clinton.
Nothing at all of consequence has happened with this review. There is no broad re-assessment of opportunities and challenges in the US-Cuba relationship, nor a new assessment of what was achieved or not regionally and internationally from Obama's recent Summit of the Americas outreach to Cuba and his efforts to lighten travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans.
At this point, Secretary of State Clinton has a State Department that is in "non-compliance" with the oversight committee of the US Senate that measures and observes the administration's actions because of the failure to perform this promised "policy review" -- behind which Clinton hid when not responding to a number of important questions.
That is why Bill Richardson is needed.
There are many decades of institutionalized neglect and built in inertia in the US-Cuba relationship that prevent the State Department from not only "seeing what is possible" in a restructured relationship -- but in deploying a strategy that moves us squarely and definitively in a new direction.
Travel for Cuban-Americans is not enough. That is a discriminatory executive order that creates a class of action and opportunities for one class of ethnic Americans and denies equal treatment for other Americans. Obama should know better.
But despite Richardson's own references to Cuban-Americans in his commentary in Cuba, he has frequently endorsed the removal of travel restrictions for all Americans. That is the policy that an American democratic government should embrace.
Communist governments are supposed to be the ones that restrict the travel of their citizens -- not the government of the United States of America where people are supposed to be free. But it is our government -- the United States government -- that is imposing restrictions on American citizens. This is wrong.
Barack Obama should take a step back from the US-Cuba question and realize that changing US-Cuba relations much more than he has remains the lowest hanging fruit among foreign policy possibilities for him. US-Cuba relations has always mattered far beyond the relationship itself and had important "echo" impacts on broader world affairs.
It's time that Obama realized that this one is easier than it looks. People to people exchange. Travel. Scientific, cultural and educational exchange. All of these are the pathway to taking the US-Cuba relationship in a new and healthy direction.
Drop the counterproductive, compulsive obsessiveness with "conditionality." It does not work and undermines American interests.
Those who wanted conditionality have achieved nothing the last five decades except freezing the relationship in a Cold War status quo that must be shattered.
And the best way to shatter it is to incrementally pull out the foundations of the "theory of the embargo" and to rebuild some degree of trust between regimes that may not learn to like each other for a long time -- but who nonetheless could demonstrate a practical kind of engagement that few thought possible even a few years ago.
Obama should ask Bill Richardson to be his envoy, sherpa and nudge to drive US-Cuba relations beyond the anachronistic Cold War trap they have been in towards new terms of engagement fit for the 21st century and Obama's eventual foreign policy legacy.
-- Steve Clemons
Extra reading: For those interested, my colleague Patrick Doherty's work on a set of humanitarian protocols tied to hurricane diplomacy with former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson is gaining some real traction.
Doherty made the case that Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other groups concerned with improving the human condition in Cuba actually oppose the United States embargo of Cuba and are as such bedfellows along with a growing coalition of US State governors, travel and agricultural groups -- as well as serious foreign policy strategists -- who think that this embargo significantly undermines American interests. I am glad that HRW and these other NGOs see the perversity of the US embargo and how it has damaged the human rights of Cuban citizens.
Human Rights Watch also made clear that its funding is one hundred percent private.
All that said, there is a tendency on all sides of the US-Cuba debate to fall into a circular, never ending debate about what place the human rights question should have in our debate to end the Embargo. That is not my lens.
I believe that the human rights of Cuban citizens are harmed by the US embargo -- but that has for me less significance than the geopolitical and geostrategic consequences of maintaining a 'failed policy' that has hurt American interests.
I do not believe that we should be focusing on fine-tuning or manipulating the internal dynamics of another government with tools like the embargo. I don't share my colleague Patrick Doherty's practice of nudging Cuba one way or another on its internal dynamics.
I remember when Francis Fukuyama told me when he was taking on Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol and leaving the fold of their brand of neoconservatism, he said that "In the old days with Irving Kristol, we knew that government policy couldn't affect the school test scores and social outcomes in Anacostia -- so certainly, it made no sense to think we could meddle with Iraq's dynamics to do the same. . ." I think the same is true about Cuba.
At this point, we need 'macro jumps' in US-Cuba relations, and we need to move to a different position of interest-driven mutual respect. I believe that increased commerce and people to people exchange will benefit both sides of the US-Cuba relationship, but we should not get lost in debates about how Cuban government officials see human rights NGOs.
Human Rights Watch needs to pursue its agenda, and I respect that -- and various Cuban government officials may be on the defensive and may not want to acknowledge the positives that could come from HRW and other groups opposing the embargo as they know that ultimately, these groups do want to work to transform the internal political conditions of Cuba.
But that is not an efficacious lens through which to frame the opportunities and constraints in changing US-Cuba policy.
I keep reminding people that today Cuba is not exporting guns and arms and revolution; it is exporting doctors.
It is imperative that we stop deluding ourselves to think that the embargo is a leverage point or that the embargo can effect internal change in Cuba. This is a fallacy.
This is an important debate -- and I look forward to engaging Patrick Doherty and others on this subject -- but I felt it important for me to state my views that the way to move Cuba policy forward and to encourage Cuba forward is not to tell it to trade prisons for hotels.
That's an internal decision of Cuba that it should wrestle with when and if broader public exchange and communications take place between Americans and Cuban citizens. There is very little trust or common understanding between the Cuban and American governments -- and fueling a little tit-for-tat escalation of words is distracting and undoes the broader dynamics of finally ending this anachronistic embargo.
That is the imperative.
-- Steve Clemons directs the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
Yesterday, the New America Foundation and the National Security Network delivered the following letter to the White House, signed by some of the most respected former senior officers of the United States Armed Forces.
In the document pasted above and offered in text below, these senior officers urge the President to go beyond his initial statement, issued yesterday, repeal the full travel ban on all Americans and engage the Cuban government in dialogue on key bi-lateral security issues.
General James T. Hill (Ret.)
General Barry R. McCaffrey (Ret.)
General Johnnie E. Wilson (Ret.)
Lieutenant General John G. Castellaw (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Daniel W. Christman (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy (Ret.)
Major General Paul D. Eaton (Ret.)
Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter (Ret.)
Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (Ret.)
Brigadier General John Adams (Ret.)
Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (Ret.)
The Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States
As former senior officers of the United States armed forces, we are writing today to encourage you to support the Congressional initiatives to end the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans.
The current policy of isolating Cuba has failed, patently, to achieve our ends. Cuba ceased to be a military threat decades ago. At the same time, Cuba has intensified its global diplomatic and economic relations with nations as diverse as China, Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, and members of the European Union. It is hard to characterize such global engagement as isolation.
Though economically weak, the Castro government has kept the broad support of its people by responding to economic shocks and providing universal access to health care and education. There will be no counter-revolution any time soon.
Instead, the current embargo serves more to prop up the Castro regime and shows no sign of triggering a popular uprising against the communist government it runs. When hard times fall on the Cuban people, inevitably, the Cuban government blames the U.S. Ã¢â‚¬â€¢bloqueoÃ¢â‚¬â€“ for the suffering. And the people, with a strong sense of national sovereignty, rally to their flag.
Even worse, the embargo has inspired a significant diplomatic movement against U.S. policy. As military professionals, we understand that America's interests are best served when the United States is able to attract the support of other nations to our cause. When world leaders overwhelmingly cast their vote in the United Nations against the embargo and visit Havana to denounce American policy, it is time to change the policy, especially after 50 years of failure in attaining our goals.
The congressional initiative to lift the travel ban for all Americans is an important first step toward lifting the embargo, a policy more likely to bring change to Cuba. It begins to move the United States in an unambiguous direction toward the kind of policy--based on principled engagement and proportional and discriminate action that was the hallmark of your presidential campaign. Combined with renewed engagement with Havana on key security issues such as narcotics trafficking, immigration, airspace and Caribbean security, we believe the U.S. will be on a path to rid ourselves of the dysfunctional policy your administration has inherited.
It is a clear cut case. During the Cold War, the U.S. encouraged Americans to travel to the Soviet bloc resulting in more information, more contact, and more freedom for captive peoples, and ultimately the end of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War itself. This idea of engagement underlies our current policies toward Iran, Syria and North Korea all much graver concerns to the United States - where Americans are currently free to travel. By sending our best ambassadors--the American people--to engage their Cuban neighbors, we have a much better chance of influencing the eventual course of Cuban affairs. Broader economic engagement with the island through additional commercial and people-to-people contacts will in time promote a more pluralist and open society. And, by actually striking down an element of the embargo, that signal will be sent to the government in Havana.
Mr. President, around the world, leaders are calling for a real policy shift that delivers on the hope you inspired in your campaign. Cuba offers the lowest-hanging fruit for such a shift and would be a move that would register deeply in the minds of our partners and competitors around the world.
-- Patrick Doherty
Yesterday, President Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs and National Security Council Director for Latin America Dan Restrepo unveiled the administration's pre-Summit of the Americas opening move on US-Cuba relations.
In the package, travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban-Americans are completely waived. Japanese-Americans, Scotch-Irish types, Jewish-Americans, non-Cuban descended African-Americans, non-Cuban descended Latinos, and those from Iceland who have naturalized as US citizens are not covered under the Obama plan -- along with a lot of other Americans.
Nonetheless, opening up travel and engagement for any group is some progress -- just not nearly enough.
Obama also eased humanitarian aid levels and perhaps most interestingly -- in a move that not only allows cell phone options for visiting Cuban Americans to Cuba but also matches a similar electronics liberalization step taken six months ago by Raul Castro -- the administration is allowing US telecommunications firms to work out communications deals and arrangements with Cuban firms. This is important because it will broaden the ability of Cubans themselves to communicate with the outside world and prevents a potential fiberoptic and communications monopoly from going to Venezuela.
Today at 9:00 am in Washington, DC, I will be chairing a morning conference on US-Cuba relations with a great panel of commentators who will be addressing the upcoming Summit of the Americas and US-Cuba relations.
This event will be "taped" by C-Span and air later -- but you can watch live on line here at The Washington Note.
Here is our morning schedule for the program, "Is It Time to End the Cold War in Latin America? America's National Interests, the Summit of the Americas, and a New Look at US-Cuba Relations"
President, New America Foundation
Former Managing Editor, Washington Post
Washington Staff Writer, The New Yorker
What Would an Interest-Driven Relationship Between the U.S. and Latin America Look Like if It Existed? Where do US-Cuba Relations Fit In?
Senior Policy Advisor for Latin America to Senator Richard Lugar
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (USA, Ret)
Former Chief of Staff, Department of State
Chairman, US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative, New America Foundation
Pamela Harriman Visiting Professor, College of William & Mary
Whitehead Senior Fellow, New America Foundation
Author, The American Way of Strategy: US Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life
Former Executive Editor, The National Interest
Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies
and Director of Latin Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Author, Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century
President & CEO, Garten Rothkopf
Visiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Author, Running the World: The Inside Story of the NSC and the Architects of American Power
National Security Blogger, Foreign Policy
Senior Writer & Diplomatic Correspondent, US News & World Report
Former Associate Editor, Foreign Policy
The Hon. William A. Reinsch
President, National Foreign Trade Council
Former Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration
moderator and provocateur
Director, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation
Publisher, The Washington Note
Should be an interesting session.
-- Steve Clemons