Richard Clarke: Cuba Not a State Sponsor of Terror
As Congress comes to grips with the magnitude and political implications of the devastation across Cuba from Hurricanes Fay, Gustav and Ike--it is vitally important to make sure that Washington understands something Cuba is not.
Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism and hasn't been at least since the Clinton Administration conducted a formal review of the list in the late 1990s.
Unfortunately--according to Richard Clarke, who was the U.S. Government's coordinator for counterterrorism in both the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations--domestic politics intervened and kept Cuba on the list.
Last month, I conducted a fascinating interview with Richard Clarke at his office in Virginia. Clarke will be remembered as the man who repeatedly warned President Bush and his boss, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, that al-Qaeda was about to strike. His most recent book, Your Government Failed You, talks about how our national security community is broken and what can be done to fix it.
Domestic Politics, Not National Security
For Clarke, current U.S. policy toward Cuba is "a demonstrable failure." As a national security practitioner, Clarke believes policy needs to be made based on a cool-headed assessment of the situation, a transparent calculation of our interests, and it must consider the fullest range of our policy options. This policy calculation has not happened for Cuba, and he thinks it must.
Clarke is clear, of course, that Cuba was a real security threat to the United States. In the 1960s the Soviets were stationing missiles, bombers and troops on this island only 90 miles from the Southern tip of Florida. In the 1970s and 1980s, Cuba was exporting soldiers, arms and communist revolution. But after the return of Cuba's troops and the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba stopped being the same kind of threat to U.S. interests. "They are a national security problem," he told me, "but nowhere near what they were."
Yet our policy did not change to reflect the new calculation. Here, I ask him why:
Clarke is in good company. Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to presidents Ford and Bush-41 told my colleague Steve Clemons essentially the same thing. Said Scowcroft,
"My answer on Cuba is Cuba is not a foreign policy question. Cuba is a domestic issue. In foreign policy, the embargo makes no sense. It doesn't do anything. It's quite clear we can not starve Cuba to death. We learned that when the Soviet stopped subsidizing Cuba and they didn't collapse. It's a domestic issue."
In 1994, in his last book, Richard Nixon assessed America's Cuba policy, our interests and our options argued that America's relationship with Cuba needed a change. Serving on the NSC during the at the same time in the 1990s, Clarke watched as the U.S. opened up relations with 20+ former Soviet satellites, but not Cuba. We built economic, political, and cultural ties across the board and for the most part, Clarke believes, it was successful. But Cuba was always isolated. That, he told me, was a mistake.
State Sponsors of Terrorism List
Supporters of the embargo often cite Cuba's listing on the State Department's State Sponsors of Terrorism List as evidence that Cuba remains a threat. In my interview, Clarke talked extensively about that list. It was always supposed to be a tool of policy, which meant nations had to have a way to get off the list, by doing the right thing. But in Cuba's case, that was not going to happen. In the late 1990s, Clarke oversaw a review of all the nations on that list and determined that Cuba should not be on it.
Here's the clip:
Pro-embargo supporters will continue to argue that the fact that Cuba remains on the State Sponsors of Terror List is evidence that the United States should maintain a hard line with Cuba, even after the devastation wrought by this year's hurricane season.
Now Cuba's presence on that list has been discredited as the bi-partisan result of domestic politics. It's not about Cuba, it's about Florida's 27 electoral votes.
The following is a transcript of the two videos above.
Doherty: ...Cuba [policy] has suffered for many years, from a bipartisan consensus that Cuba policy will be generated in the political sphereÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
Clarke: Yup, I think CubaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a really good example because whether itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a democrat, Bill Clinton in the white house or George Bush in the white house Ã¢â‚¬â€œ one or two Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Cuba was a third rail issue, which meant you couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t touch it. It was electric.
It wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really a national security issue, it was a political issue and specifically it was a Florida issue. How could we, whether it was bill Clinton or George Bush, how could we win Florida in the next presidential election; how could we pick up those two, three, or four congressional districts that are dominated by Cuban Americans. And every aspect of what should be a national security issue decided analytically on the merits of whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in the U.S. national interest, was run through the filter of politics
Clarke: Then you look at Cuba and the reason in the 1990Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s, in the late 1990Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s, why we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t take Cuba off the list was not because they were sponsoring terrorism.
Doherty: Why was it?
Clarke: It was because U.S. domestic political reasons. Factually, objectively, they are no longer sponsoring terrorism. So should they be taken off the list? Perhaps. In the context Ã¢â‚¬â€œ as with Libya, as with North Korea Ã¢â‚¬â€œ in the context of a bilateral negotiation, that is larger than just the issue of terrorism.