Is Obama Acting Pragmatically in the Alan Gross Case?

The worst managed issue between Cuba and the United States during Obama and Raul Castro’s first terms has been the detention of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital since December 3, 2009. Shirking the first requirement of pragmatism, namely “facing the facts,” the Obama Administration has created its own fictional narrative that contradict even its own documents now available to the public.

Gross is an American international development expert who entered Cuba as a non registered foreign agent. As a USAID subcontractor, his mission was to create a wireless Internet satellite network based on Jewish community centers that would circumvent Cuban government detection. The USAID program was approved under section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act, a law committed to regime change in Cuba.

Gross’s actions were covert. He never obtained the informed consent of the Cuban government or the Cuban Jewish community, which has always expressed opposition to the Helms-Burton law, particularly its attempt to politicize religious communities as tools to promote opposition groups. Mr. Gross did not know Cuba and did not speak Spanish. He loved Cuban music but that is hardly a qualifier for the type of covert mission he received from Development Alternatives Initiatives (DAI), a contractor for the US government.

All this is well-known, but Washington maintains that Gross did humanitarian work in Cuba. The US insists that the international community simply misunderstands the Helms-Burton law; it doesn’t violate Cuba’s sovereignty. USAID claims that Cuban civil society, religious groups and even dissidents who criticize the Helms-Burton approach are mistaken. The Helms-Burton law helps them; they just don’t realize it.

A new declassified document of a USAID task force associated with Gross indicates a pattern of consistent misinformation. At the head of a list of go-to-sources of information on Cuba, the program recommended Babalu blog, an irrelevant website managed by rabid pro-embargo elements.

Babalu blog is not focused on Cuba but on spreading baseless accusations and insults against Obama and his administration's policy towards Cuba. According to one of the less insulting posts, Obama is a “Marxist tyrant” along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator John Kerry and any Cuban-American or American who disagrees with Babalu Blog writers' McCarthyism. The fact that USAID Cuba program recommends Babalu Blog as a reliable source of information is in itself a call for closing the program until some adult guidance is guaranteed.

A message from Planet Earth to the Obama Administration

Every day Gross spends behind bars is an embarrassment for the American government. If anybody wonders why Havana is opposed to USAID plans to create Internet connections that circumvent its capacity to monitor traffic should read David Sanger’s new book Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power. “Olympic Games” was the code name for Stuxnet, a cyber worm that caused major disruptions in Iran’s nuclear program. According to Sanger, it was “the most sophisticated, complex cyber-attack the United States ever launched.”

But should Americans participating in USAID programs in Cuba worry about this? Cuban government officials don’t read capitalist newspapers. Oh, wait, sure they do! A team in Havana analyzes US publications, alerting their superiors of potential threats to Cuba’s national security. Although Mr. Sanger’s book was published after Gross was arrested, Cuban officials have already read and analyzed it.

But, Cuba is not Iran. Havana is not a nuclear proliferator and everybody in Washington knows that Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is a sham. The use of the Stuxnet cyber worm against Iran was justified. The Iranian nuclear military program is an existential threat to Israel and a game changer of the balance of power in the Gulf against the United States and its Arab allies. Iran has lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency about its facilities and programs.

So why would Cuban leaders fear a US cyber attack? A pragmatic approach calls for looking at how Cuba’s government views the issue. The Castros didn’t get where they are without studying Washington’s treatment of Cuba over the years. It turns out that declassified US documents reveal that efforts to overthrow the Cuban government have at times been more sophisticated than what even communist propaganda denounced. Everything has been on the table, including using the mafia to kill Fidel Castro. Washington might consider the USAID Cuba project peaceful. But any hope of Cuban accommodation to its current regime change design is unrealistic.

Time for a pragmatic approach

The Obama Administration’s cordial attitude towards the Cuban-American old-guard is a bizarre ideological commitment to those who did everything possible to prevent his reelection. Hard-liners’ insistence on rejecting negotiations in the Gross case is a transparent attempt to torpedo Obama’s overall dialogue approach with our adversaries, even when it clearly serves American national interests.

Whether American diplomats realize it or not, the Obama Administration’s fixation on Cuba’s unilateral release of Gross is making US policy looks amateurish. Even if Washington considers it unreasonable for Cuba to link Gross to the five Cuban agents arrested in Florida, it makes no sense to put on hold constructive proposals for better relations in other areas. Obama’s legacy in the hemisphere will suffer if he wastes his second term flexibility to improve US-Cuba relations because of unrealistic expectations. Incidentally, the probability of releasing Gross will improve as general relations do.

A central characteristic of pragmatism is the analysis of every challenge on its own merits without attempting to litigate, once again, yesterday’s battles. Continuing to operate our Cuba policy under an old and failed “regime change” strategy ignores the fact that the regime will soon change organically. Moving toward a comprehensive policy of engagement now is in the national interest of the United States, and is certainly in the best interests of Alan and Judy Gross.

This article was originally published at http://www.sharnoffsglobalviews.com/is-obama-acting-pragmatically-in-the-alan-gross-case/