Remarks, as delivered, by Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, USA (Ret), the Visiting Pamela Harriman Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on 26 September 2008, at the Conference on "The United States and Cuba: Rethinking Engagement" sponsored by the Institute for the Study of the Americas.
Thank you for that very kind introduction. And thank you to Lou PÃƒÂ©rez and to Shelley Clarke and to all the wonderful, warm people at the University of North Carolina and at the Institute for the Study of the America's for such a superb and warm welcome that we have all experienced. And for an extremely well-run conference.
I must do a little due diligence at the start and say that I am a lifelong Republican. I'm a conservativeÃ¢â‚¬â€an Edmund Burke conservative. Not one of the radicals such as we have in this country calling themselves conservatives today.
Being a Burkeian conservative means I believe that the best that has been thought and said and done in human history should be conserved and that it should be amended and altered only when there is positive practical proof that it should be.
Please remember these points about me while I speak what I am about to speak. I place my patriotism and my devotion to my country beneath no one's. After 31 years in the U.S. Army, I feel I have the bona fides to say that.
The Beijing Olympics are over.
The world came to China, some of its athletes broke a great many records, none succumbed to environmental poisoning, and the world went home again.
All this in the world's most populous and in many respects still most coercive communist nation.
ButÃ¢â‚¬â€a nation of 1.3 billion souls alive with capitalism.
Destructive, invasive, corrosive, avaricious, polluting, corrupting capitalism. But capitalism.
Of course I must admitÃ¢â‚¬â€again, there has to be due diligence hereÃ¢â‚¬â€that in its overall injurious effects it may not be as bad as American capitalism!
A little after the Beijing Olympics, on Saturday, September 6, the U.S. soccer team went to Cuba.
We won, one to zip.
The defeated host was another communist country but, alas, only with 11 million soulsÃ¢â‚¬â€and, as geostrategic realities would have it, those 11 million souls occupied an island that lay at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico along sea lines of communication that are critical to the U.S. Gulf Coast and all its wealth and productive and shipping capacity. And oh yes, it also lies only 90 miles from the coast of the sometimes U.S. state of Florida.
And compounding matters terribly, none of those 11 million souls, reportedly at least, was awash in capitalism. At least not the destructive, invasive, corrosive, avaricious, polluting, corrupting capitalism of China.
Or of America.
Cuba's capitalism, such as it is, is slow, creeping even, and aimed at better food production, attracting foreign investment, making money for the military, refurbishing Habana Vieja, and NOT corrupting la revoluciÃƒÂ³n.
The U.S.-Cuba soccer game, I should add, took place between two hellacious hurricanes: Gustav which had just passed through doing extensive damage to Cuba in its western provinces and on the Isle of Youth, and Ike which was at the time lurking in mid-Atlantic getting ready to strike the Dominican Republic, HaitiÃ¢â‚¬â€poor, poor HaitiÃ¢â‚¬â€and then Cuba.
The soccer game was the first visit to Cuba by the U.S. team in 61 years. And as the only goal scorer in the game, U.S. player Clint Dempsey, said, "Since the day we got here, everyone has been great. It wasn't bad in any way. Everyone was nice to us and respectful. It wasn't a nasty game. It was just a hard-fought, good game."
"It was just a hard-fought, good game."
Would that we could describe our relations with the rest of the world in that way, all the time. No matter who is the ultimate winner.
And to this "hard-fought, good game" those from the U.S. who wanted to root for their team had to come clandestinely.
As the Washington Post reported, "Several American fans entered the country without permission from the US government, using a third country as a travel hub. As long as their passports do not get stamped in Cuba", the Post continued, "Ã¢â‚¬Â¦their previous whereabouts will not be detected by US Customs. To remain anonymous, they arrived at the stadium in olive military caps, sunglasses and U.S. bandannas covering their faces."
Americans simply poured into Beijing; they had to sneak into Havana.
What is wrong with this picture?
Well, besides being utterly unconstitutional, blatantly ridiculous, and stupendously stupid, it is costing America immensely.
It is costing us in economic terms, national security terms, and just plain common sense terms.
Worse, it is doing this because our policy toward this island nation is not dictated by economic or security interests but by domestic interests.
And these domestic interests are so narrow and so shallow that if one lived on Mars and was looking down on earth, one must think the American people the dumbest on earth for allowing them to prevail.
And now, now that we have more extensive damage from the second hurricane to ravage Cuba, Ike, we have compounded our folly, offering $100K initially and, then to compound our perfidy even further, $5 million total with so many strings attached that we knew the Cuban government would refuseÃ¢â‚¬â€which, I suspect, is what we wanted in the first place.
Lately, and "lately" means the Cheney/Bush administrationÃ¢â‚¬â€note the order in which I describe this administration, pleaseÃ¢â‚¬â€el coloso del norte has not been doing too well in its own hemisphere:
We've been tossed out of Venezuela.
We've been tossed out of Bolivia.
We're despised in Argentina.
Nicaragua looks favorably on Russia's move into Georgia.
Honduras and Guatemala hold their noses when they deal with us.
The Chinese are going to drill for oil within 60 miles of the coast of Florida; Russia just landed Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers in Venezuela and Russia contemplates building a space launch facility in Cuba; PETR VELIKY (PETER THE GREAT), a nuclear-powered Kirov-class cruiser, and three escorts left Severomorsk on Monday headed for joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan Navy; and an international consortium, led by Dubai Ports World, plans on building the largest container processing facility in the Western Hemisphere in Mariel, Cuba. Its throughput capacity will rival or surpass Los Angeles.
In addition, in Moscow today, the Russians gave $1 billion (US) for military aid to Chavez. He's already purchased $2-3 billion of Su-30 Sukhoi fighter planes, M-17 helicopters, and thousands of assault rifles Ã¢â‚¬â€œ some of which may have gone to the FARC in Colombia.
We're barely tolerated in Mexico and puzzled over in Brazil, the real looming giant of America del sud. In fact, the best leader in the Western Hemisphere, Luiz IgnÃƒÂ¡cio Lula da Silva, just ignores us most of the time because to him, I'm sure, we are indecipherably inept.
The U.S. record in Latin America is just short of an abysmal failure. (And one suspects that, with the Cheney/Bush administration, if we had a policyÃ¢â‚¬â€which we don't, other than neglect and drugsÃ¢â‚¬â€the record would be worse.)
What should the new president do about this unprecedented failure in our own backyard?
What should he do ON DAY ONE?
And by that, of course, I mean in the parlance of punditsÃ¢â‚¬â€within the first 100 days of his first term of office.
I'll be very clear and very emphatic:
The very first action vis a vis Latin America should be to lift the embargo on Cuba and treat that nation just as we do other nations with repressive to partially-repressive regimes that are showing signs of accommodating the needs of the 21st CenturyÃ¢â‚¬â€countries such as China, Vietnam, Georgia, Ukraine, Albania, and others.
Establishing more or less, mÃƒÂ¡s o menos, normal relations with CubaÃ¢â‚¬â€after more than a century and a half of paternalistic/imperialistic behavior toward HavanaÃ¢â‚¬â€would be such a stunning signal to the rest of Latin America, that all manner of positive changes throughout the hemisphere might be possible in its wake.
And, by the way, if you want to read as good a treatise as there is on that paternalistic/imperialistic American attitude toward Cuba, read That Infernal Little Cuban Republic, forthcoming from the UNC Press, by Lars Schoultz.
The title comes of course from Theodore Roosevelt in one of his more pithy moments which, with that president and man in general, seemed to occur more frequently than with most presidents or men.
Those were different times calling for different men, we say, in our efforts to glorify the American past. And I say, yes, they wereÃ¢â‚¬â€and THESE ARE DIFFERENT TIMES CALLING FOR VERY DIFFERENT MEN, AND WOMEN.
That the past is prologue should be as frequently taken as a warning as it is a template for action.
But with so many foreign policy issues of heavy consequence on the president's plate, why focus on CubaÃ¢â‚¬â€or, for that matter, Latin America?
Two very significant reasons at least.
First, our new president, like our current oneÃ¢â‚¬â€or, at least partially, as a result of our current one and his CongressÃ¢â‚¬â€is going to be mired chest-deep in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. We see only its beginning at the present moment.
Retrenchment, withdrawal from costly overseas endeavors, a pulling in of our many overseas tentacles, if you will, is going to be an utter necessity.
I'm not talking about a return to isolationismÃ¢â‚¬â€though sometimes I consider that such a move would be better than playing at being the new Rome, as Cheney and Bush have done for most of their time in office.
What I mean is our being constrained by over 50 trillion dollars of private and corporate debt in this country to a more sane, a more sustainable, and ultimately a wiser foreign policy.
And in that light, What cost Cuba?
How many billions of dollars will it cost the U.S. to reverse the foreign policy idiocy of half a century? Indeed, as I alluded to previously, of a century and a half?
How many loans from China, Japan, Germany, the UAE and others will we have to take out to lift the embargo?
Not a single loan. Nada. Zip. Nothing.
It will cost our country absolutely nothing in dollars to lift the embargo, in fact to effect a complete rapprochement with Cuba.
And that's all that Cuba wants. No huge loans. No ineffective USAID teams descending like mosquitoes on their provinces. No U.S. foreign assistance at all.
Just lift the embargo, allow travel, allow money to flow from Cuban-Americans with families and loved ones in CubaÃ¢â‚¬â€allow the normal relations of nations between the colossus and the little island.
So that's the first reason to effect swiftly dramatic changeÃ¢â‚¬â€unlike Israel-Palestine, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a host of other supposedly more serious national security challenges, U.S.-Cuba relations cost nothing to fix.
The second reason for acting positively on Cuba in the first 100 days is more substantive.
By doing so, we open the door to our backyard, our hemisphere, to Canada, to Mexico, to all of Central and South America. We open the door in a way we have never done before.
The Monroe Doctrine was, at times, even when we enforced it, as John Q. Adams implied, in a rowboat in the wake of the British man o'war, enlightened self-interest. Later it became sheer imperialistic arrogance, at its depth in the Cold War even seeing communists everywhere and actually effecting the removal of democratically-elected leaders to thwart the alleged rise of communism. Think Chile, for example.
Even FDR's Good Neighbor policy was, in effect, a call to arms for WWII Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not a bad policy, to be sure, but one that would eventually evolve to see tyrants as OK, as long as they were our tyrants. Does Fulgencio Batista come to mind for example?
But today, as in WWII, hemispheric cooperation and solidarity have never been more important but for very different reasons.
If we are to confront the serious challenges of our timeÃ¢â‚¬â€and of the future times out to at
least 2050Ã¢â‚¬â€we must act together.
Whether planetary warming, energy transformation, global terrorism, dwindling water supplies, illicit drug trafficking, high seas piracy, global outbreaks of deadly diseases, coordinating free trade and open markets through the WTO, or a host of lesser regional and global challenges, none can be successfully met by any single nation acting alone.
In that light, look at what a dramatically changed, normal relationship with Cuba would start.
First, to the north Canada would have far less reason to worry that its southern neighbor has lost its mooringsÃ¢â‚¬â€a distinct concern our very good friends to the north have harbored these past almost 8 years. A former Canadian prime minister said to me last year, "Larry, we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hate Americans, we need you, like you, and appreciate our economic synergies and that your security umbrella extends to us. What we fear is a headless giant in the world." And that former prime minister was right: we lack leadership.
Second, to the immediate south, our Mexican friends would have a similar reaction. Being naturally more wary about us, they would think it a trick initially and wait to see what happened. But as soon as we proved our seriousness by our actions, they would at least begin to believe we had recovered our senses.
In Central America, from PanamÃƒÂ¡ to Honduras, there would be rejoicing and a willingness to reengage with a government that starts off with such a sound and decisive move.
And in South America, a tyrant like Chavez would have at least one of the carpets beneath his feet suddenly removed. The others, I surmise, are soon going to be removed by the people of Venezuela if Chavez doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t moderate his increasingly tyrannical ways.
Likewise, where there are South American leaders who increasingly view us as more dangerous than helpfulÃ¢â‚¬â€again, there would be motivation on the part of these leaders to rethink and reengage.
Our follow-up with each capital would therefore be very importantÃ¢â‚¬â€but that's for another speech. How we could improve all bilateral and regional relations is too complex to enter into here. Cuba would open the door; competent diplomacy and concrete actions would have to follow.
And I have no doubt that with a new man in the Oval Office, a new vice president in the West Wing who adheres to and believes in the Constitution of the United States, a new national security advisor there with him, with new ministers in the key departments, America can make it happen.
We've been down this road before with Europe but never with Latin America.
We've been down this road before with Japan but never with Latin America.
We've been down this road before with South Korea but never with Latin America.
We're traveling down this road today, however imperfectly, with China and India, but we are utterly stalled out in Latin America. Worse, in fact, for we are going backwards.
It is time we developed meaningful, concrete, uplifting policies for our own hemisphereÃ¢â‚¬â€and it is time we de-emphasized the talk, the rhetoric, and lived those policies.
Actions are what we require, actions. And lifting the embargo on Cuba and normalizing relations should be the very first act.
From the Naples (Florida) Daily News, as reported on NapleNews.Com:
"Now that Fidel Castro is no longer officially in power in Cuba, 60 percent of likely voters believe the U.S. should revise its policies toward Cuba Ã¢â‚¬â€ even more believe all U.S. citizens should be allowed to travel to Cuba (68 percent) and that U.S. companies should be allowed to trade with Cuba (62 percent). In a Zogby Interactive survey conducted in July 2007, slightly more than half (56 percent) of Americans said the U.S. should remove travel restrictions and end the embargo on trade to Cuba."
American citizens are wising up. Too bad their government is so far behind them. Soon, however, like the French ruler looking out the window at the people moving away, Washington is going to have to say: "Wait, wait, I'm coming! DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t leave me behind." That isn't exactly leadership, but it will have to do.
The Presidential debate tonight (if it happens) is supposed to focus on foreign policy and will be moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS. Here are two questions that probably won't get asked.
1) US help to victims of four tropical storms and hurricanes in Cuba is limited by the long conflict between our countries. Should the President for humanitarian reasons temporarily suspend political and legal obstacles to:
--direct help from all private citizens to relatives and friends;
--large scale assistance from non-governmental organizations
--the sale of food and building materials; and
--travel to support such help?
2) How do you resolve a conflict between national policy goals and special interest swing state/ethnic politics? Both of you ignore national polls favoring normalization of US-Cuba relations and campaign as though votes in Florida are all that matters, though you have different takes on which Cuban American views are most important. Wouldn't a real change in policy toward Cuba, like ending all restrictions on travel, be in greater harmony with our Hemisphere and help rebuild our international reputation?
There is a another chance
On October 7 a Town Hall debate will be moderated by Tom Brokaw at Belmont University in Tennessee. All questions will come from the audience or be drawn by the moderator from the internet.
Betraying our own values
''The United States, in the past, has acted honorably and quickly in response to hurricanes in Central America, tsunamis in Indonesia and earthquakes in Pakistan: they come in first, with the most resources and without conditions,'' said Frank Mora, a Cuba expert at the National War College in Washington.
''That has not been the case for Cuba. It's embarrassing and shameful that politics has inserted itself at a time when so many Cuban people on the island are suffering,'' Mora said.
Miami Herald, 9/17/08
Almost 1000 Americans from diverse backgrounds have called for suspending political limits on assistance to hurricane victims http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Cubafloodaid/
The Washington Post is starting to pick up on the severity of the devastation in Cuba caused by the Hurricanes. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson and I brought this up last week in this op-ed that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Houston Chronicle, and the San Diego Union Tribune, among others. It was followed by this piece by William Leogrande in the Miami Herald.
Here's a WP quote from our friend Silvia Wilhelm in Miami:
"I will not be surprised if we're looking at a major immigration crisis in the next few months," said Silvia Wilhelm, executive director of the Miami-based Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, an organization that promotes closer U.S.-Cuba relations, who visited the island after the hurricanes. "We're talking a situation that is very critical for the Cuban people."
Here in Washington, however, the situation in Congress is actually looking dire. The Wall Street bailout is sucking all the oxygen out of the Hill and the Cuba legislation put forward by Dodd, Lugar, Delahunt and Flake is on track for a lonely death.
A Russian TU-160 "Blackjack" strategic bomber in Venezuela.
Let's chalk up the losses of late in Latin America:
We're being tossed out of Venezuela.
We're being tossed out of Bolivia.
We're despised in Argentina.
Nicaragua looks favorably on Russia's move into Georgia.
Honduras and Guatemala hold their noses when they deal with us.
We're barely tolerated in Mexico and puzzled over in Brazil, the real looming giant of SudamÃƒÂ©rica. In fact, the best leader in the Western Hemisphere, Luiz IgnÃƒÂ¡cio Lula da Silva, just ignores us most of the time because to him, I'm sure, we are indecipherably stupid.
The Chinese are going to drill for oil within 60 miles of the coast of Florida; Russia just landed Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers in Venezuela and contemplates building a space launch facility in Cuba; and an international consortium, led by Dubai Ports World, is studying plans to build one of the largest container processing facilities in the Western Hemisphere in Mariel, Cuba. Its throughput capacity will rival or surpass Los Angeles.
The U.S. record in Latin America is just short of an abysmal failure. (And one suspects that if the Cheney/Bush administration actually had a policyÃ¢â‚¬â€other than neglect and drugsÃ¢â‚¬â€the record would be worse.)
In January 2009, what should the new president do about this failure in our own backyard?
The very first action should be to lift the embargo on Cuba and treat that nation just as we do other nations with repressive to partly-repressive regimes that are showing signs of accommodating the needs of the 21st CenturyÃ¢â‚¬â€countries from China and Vietnam to Albania and Georgia.
Establishing more or less normal relations with CubaÃ¢â‚¬â€after more than a century and a half of paternalistic-imperialistic behavior toward HavanaÃ¢â‚¬â€would be such a stunning signal to the rest of Latin America, that all manner of positive changes throughout the hemisphere might be possible in its shadow.
Once Latin American leaders, from Chavez to Lula, see that the U.S. is serious about Cuba, they will have to get serious about the U.S. Chavez, for example, will have a major plank of his anti-Americanism jerked right out from under him. Lula will have to consider that we mayÃ¢â‚¬â€may, I sayÃ¢â‚¬â€have just regained our composure and our senses.
And in Cuba, there will be a cautious and growing recognition that the future may be a lot brighter than had been thought, particularly now that three hurricanes have ravaged that island nation and it needs a lifting of the embargo, not a hand-out, to recover its footing.
Moreover, unlike almost any other foreign policy challenge now confronting the U.S.Ã¢â‚¬â€Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, or the Israeli-Palestinian situation, for examplesÃ¢â‚¬â€an opening to Cuba will cost the economically-struggling U.S. not a single dollar. Not a single dollar.
The rewards of such an opening, however, are huge: a completely new outlook from our entire hemisphere, from Toronto to Buenos Aires; a sensible policy with an island nation 90 miles from Florida and with many blood-ties to the U.S.; and an opening through which, hopefully, can pour new, positive and productive bilateral and regional relations with nations in our own backyard.
Only a fool would resist.
by Lawrence Wilkerson And Patrick Doherty
September 18, 2008
If you live in Galveston, Texas, Hurricane Ike will be remembered for its destruction. But history may remember the ninth named storm of the 2008 season for swinging the 2008 presidential campaign.
That's because Ike devastated a little island off Florida named Cuba. In fact, Cuba sustained damage from four hurricanes: Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike. Gustav hit the Western end of Cuba as a Category 4 storm. Ike entered the east of Cuba as a strong Category 3 then shredded the full length of the island for three days. There were reports of walls of water 50 feet high hitting the north shore.
In a country of more than 11 million people, 2.7 million evacuated their homes when Ike came through. Today, 444,000 homes in Cuba are damaged, meaning up to 2.2 million Cubans are living dangerously or wondering when it will be safe to go home.
Food supplies on the island are nearly exhausted. The crops and livestock for domestic consumption and cash crops like tobacco and sugar cane, necessary for the hard currency to import food _ are devastated. The island's electrical grid is severely damaged and in some places non-existent. Communication towers are down across the country. Roads are blocked with rubble from collapsed buildings, trees, or just washed away. Schools, hospitals, and clinics have suffered extensive damage or are non-functioning.
And it will only get worse. With at least $5 billion of damage done to a nation where the average monthly salary is $17, the economy will not be able to support the Cuban population for quite some time. Even the Cuban military is on short-rations with perhaps a week left. With food shelves empty, hoarding and black market price gouging will quickly squeeze all families, displaced or not, with little to no income and no subsistence agriculture to fall back on. As the vast majority of Cubans become malnourished and post-disaster diseases increase in prevalence, the political situation is likely to become much more volatile within Cuba.
All this could occur within the next six weeks. Faced with a displaced, hungry and frustrated population, Havana could do what it has done in the past: allow a mass migration to head north. In 1980, responding to unrest triggered by economic downturn, Havana launched the Mariel boatlift that brought 125,000 Cuban immigrants over a five-month period to South Florida. In 1994, facing another economic catastrophe, the Castro government allowed at least 35,000 Cubans to leave the island _ an episode that cost the U.S. Treasury more than $500 million.
The U.S. government is now offering Cuba a $1.5 million package of temporary shelter for 10,000 families and household items for 8,000 with an additional $3.5 million conditional on the survey of a U.S. disaster assessment team.(1) In contrast, Haiti, which was hit by three storms, has already received $19 million in aid from the U.S. government. Even Burma, which has a military dictatorship more repressive than Cuba's and was ravaged by Cyclone Fargis, received $50 million in aid.
Indeed, an increase in funding for traditional humanitarian items is not what Cuba needs or wants from the United States. Their government believes that there would be no prospect of a crisis if the U.S. economic embargo were not blocking them from purchasing the needed supplies on the open market. It can get food from other countries in the region. Rather, Cuba's infrastructure needs repair. They need electrical components like poles, cable, and transformers. They need heavy-duty construction equipment and materials. The only market that can respond fast enough is the United States.
Without those supplies, the boats could very well sail before November. Americans with family in Cuba will be furious with the Bush administration for placing politics over saving lives. Cuban refugees who make it onto U.S. soil will benefit from the wet-foot/dry-foot policy that other Latino immigrants _ a key demographic this cycle _ view with considerable hostility. South Florida is already reeling from the domestic economic recession and a new load of low-skilled immigrants will put downward pressures on wages and exclusion will risk increased levels of criminal activity. At a minimum, CNN will be showing pictures of thousands of malnourished and water-logged Cubans being picked up on the high seas and then sent to the notorious U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo, only to be repatriated to a growing catastrophe.
It is now time to lift the embargo, let Cuba buy what it needs and move on. The U.S. policy of isolation to bring about regime change has failed to achieve its goals for fifty years. Fidel has grown old and retired. Cuba is no longer sponsoring revolution overseas but exporting doctors and nurses instead. And by giving Havana a ready-made excuse for economic failure, the embargo has the perverse effect of supporting the Castro regime rather than weakening it.
The Bush administration is between a rock and a hard place. If it continues with business as usual, Havana may very well decide the outcome of the U.S. elections. If it moves to end the embargo and Cuba purchases the supplies it needs to rebuild, it will have prevented the disaster that it foresaw but Cuba will cease to be an electoral goldmine for the GOP.
America needs to put politics aside. It is time to do the right thing. Protect the lives of innocent Cubans, protect our electoral process, end a 50-year-old failed policy, and be good Samaritans after all.
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Patrick Doherty participated in the humanitarian operation in Kosovo and the Balkans. They are chairman and director, respectively, of the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative at the New America Foundation, 1630 Connecticut Avenue NW, 7th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20009; Web site: www.newamerica.net.
This essay is available to McClatchy-Tribune News Service subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.
(c) 2008, New America Foundation
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan by Delacroix
Here is what Sarah Stephens, Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said recently with regard to the hurricanes that have recently ravaged Cuba:
In recent days, three hurricanes -- Hanna, Gustav, and Ike -- have laid waste to the island. Thanks to ferocious winds and rain, Cuba lost 700,000 tons of food products in ten days. One quarter-million homes and structures were damaged or destroyed. Water, telephone, and electrical services are disrupted. Care International predicts that tens of thousands of Cubans will be left homeless and that Cuba is facing the real possibility of food shortages in the days to come. Thanks to Cuba's remarkable civil defense, only seven lives have been lost, but my Cuban friends tell us in simple terms, this is a crisis, a catastrophe.
Other governments have responded decisively. Russia, which cut off financial aid to the island after the Cold War, has started making good on its promise to deliver 200 tons of supplies. Spain is sending 15 tons of aid by air. Venezuela, China, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the EU are all pitching in.
But where is the United States? We're busy baiting the Cuban government under the guise of hurricane relief.
I didn't believe that it could get any worse, but the Bush Administration has descended to a new low in Latin America.
Pushing a Latin American policy whose only highlights are occasional trips to South and Central America by hospital ships, billions of taxpayer dollars to an utterly failed drug policy in the Andean Region, and millions of dollars to corrupt and ineffective Cuban-American organizations in Florida, all wrapped up in an overall policy blanket of almost total neglect, the Cheney/Bush team may depart the White House with the worst record of failure in our own hemisphere of any since Nixon, Kissinger, and the Central Intelligence Agency created an absolute disaster in Chile almost 40 years ago.
But to cap it off with an extended middle finger to Havana after the Cuban people have suffered so dramatically, is truly sucking at the dregs of failure.
We need to lift immediately all aspects of our bankrupt policy's restrictions on money, travel, aid, and comfortÃ¢â‚¬â€and leave that condition intact for at least 90 daysÃ¢â‚¬â€and to ensure that whatever the Cuban people need, they get it. Period. That is the only decent thing to do.
Some time ago, we used to be a decent people by and large. Why canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t we reach down and find some of that decency again?
The landing of hurricanes Ike and Gustav on Cuban shores -- already reaping damage Fidel Castro has compared to that brought upon Hiroshima -- may bring the issue of the Cuban embargo back into electoral politics. Or it might simply glance off.
These disasters provide an incredible opportunity for both candidates to send a signal to a hemisphere thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been largely neglected in years past. Feelings of abandonment are sure to heighten as nations attempt to rebuild, especially without so much as a mention on the presidential trail.
Barack Obama offered...
a written statement, joining Ã¢â‚¬Å“with leaders in the Cuban American community in calling on President Bush to immediately suspend restrictions on family remittances, visits and humanitarian care packages from Cuban Americans for a minimum of 90 days,Ã¢â‚¬Â but has failed to actually speak about the tragedy in Haiti, Cuba or elsewhere in the region.
McCain has previously held that restrictions should not be lifted until the U.S. can be Ã¢â‚¬Å“confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made,Ã¢â‚¬Â and doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t appear to have taken a position since Gutav and IkeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Caribbean devastation.
The Cuban government declined $100,000 the U.S. had offered to deliver through existing charitiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ channels, stating Ã¢â‚¬Å“Cuba affirms that in reality the only correct, ethical (action) ... would be the total and definitive elimination of the harsh and cruel economic, commercial and financial blockade applied over nearly a half century against our nation.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Condoleezza Rice, in turn, stated: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I don't think in the context that we see now that the lifting of the embargo would be wise,Ã¢â‚¬Â referencing the transfer of power from Fidel to Raul.
Nonetheless, past hurricanes have brought about change in Cuba policy. In 2002, after Hurricane Michelle swept the Island, Cuba reached out to American grain suppliers after having Ã¢â‚¬Å“turned up its noseÃ¢â‚¬Â when such trade was initially legalized in 2000. In years since, the two have built a quiet and cumbersome relationship, the U.S. now standing a the island's primary food supplier, commerce in 2007 topping $437 million despite steep the steep obstacles of the embargo.
This is a potentially powerful time for engagement, and the power to demand that engagement resides squarely two men. Representative Howard Berman of California, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has also asked that Bush suspend restrictions on gifts, remittances, and travel to Cuba for ninety days.
This is what Hurricane Ike looks like in Baracoa, Eastern Cuba. This pic was sent in by my friend and Havana Note co-editor Gail Reed, who is Director of MEDICC.
For those interested in helping out victims in need in Cuba -- who took a direct hit from Hurricane Gustav a few days before Ike hit -- check out this informative letter from Sarah Stephens at the Center for Democracy in the Americas.
In her informative, compelling letter, Stephens points to seven places that can help get aid to Cubans in need:
Natural disasters and humanitarian relief are always good opportunities to change the game on political situations that make no sense -- like the embargo or even the Cuban resistance to the terms of offered American government aid.
But even this disaster is a missed opportunity for the governments involved which makes it even more important for others who care to help.
-- Steve Clemons