THE CUBA TRANSITION AND A TRUMP DILEMMA AND TEST FOR OUR NATION?

By Harry C. Blaney III

As one of the key foreign policy tests of Donald Trump’s unfortunate campaign promises and to “Make America Great” is what he will do regarding our Cuba policy.  He has indicated as a threat that if Cuba does not change its policies he will cut relations with that nation. But both the threat and its consequences are more likely to make America “little” rather than great and decrease its leverage not only in Latin America but globally.

The death of Fidel Castro is an opportunity to increase our engagement, not to disrupt an initiative that has promoted many of our long-term goals in Cuba and in Latin America. It is a test for rationality and national interest for the new regime and at the moment it looks as if they still do not understand simple facts and long-term strategic interests of this nation and for that matter of the international community.

Trump speaks of disengagement because Cuba is not the democracy we would hope for and has had a record of human rights violations. His twitter threat that : “I will terminate deal” is a bad example of recklessness which applied to a legion of issues would destroy America’s creditably.  But does Trump also want to “disengage” with countries with like or even worse such records of democracy and human rights violations like China, Russia, Egypt, Turkey, a number of the “-Stans” and a host of other nations around the world?  What has Cuba done that is worst than many of these countries?  And where is there a better place to have a constructive influence over time?

President Obama and John Kerry’s policy is, like that of many past presidents, to engage with nations, even those we disagree with on a host of issues, rather that make “America Small” by mindless disengagement. For the good of global security America must be a leader of the global responsible powers and support positive preventive diplomacy, negotiations, and dialogue as necessary tools to make the world safe.

In the first case President Obama’s outreach to Cuba is by any fair account a success, has provided a key access to that beleaguered and troubled nation, and given Americans and Cubans the ability to exchange ideas, trade and cultural activities as never before.

A majority of Americans support the opening of our relations, with diplomatic and  business communities agreeing with that approach. Further, many young Cuban-Americans want this opening and outreach to continue.  Yet Trump seems in this and in other areas to upend the security, economic and political opportunities that America has gained by a careful and cooperative approach in the international arena.

The test of Cuba policy is whether Trump can see past his destructive campaign rhetoric and look to the long-term gains inherent in constructive engagement with Cuba and other problematic nations. Our country is great, but blind stupidity and destructive policy and actions will only diminish it within and without our nation.

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The First Clinton-Trump Debate; National Security Or Insecurity?

By Harry C. Blaney III and John Gall

Image result for 1st Presidential Debate

There were “crimes” committed during and after the shambles of a debate. This was a debate where the realities of the global security landscape were given the same lies and distortions as in the domestic side with Trump’s crude remarks, evident lies, and even stupidities. But in the international and security side, words do matter and our allies and our adversaries are listening and look on in wonder.

Yet the one similarity between the domestic and security side was the avoidance of facts and understanding of the implications of proposed policies.  Those were kind words for what were in reality ignorant sound-bites, lies, and distortion. Trump  demonstrated no comprehension of the dangers and catastrophic consequences of not just his statements as a candidate now, but of his likely action should he become president. His statements about nuclear weapons, his Middle East policies including his earlier anti-Muslim rants, stance on Israeli-Palestinian peace, and not least building a wall on our Mexican border and rolling back our advances in climate change, Cuban relations, and the Iran nuclear deal are just examples of a mind gone wacky.

After the debate the press followed Trump and gave him a billion dollars worth of advertising to push his views and with more lies with no fact check but not showing Clinton’s people in a equal level. It was a big misjudgment and sadly not surprising. The media crowd following Trump was after not substance but rather wanted a piece of a celebrity and TV eyeballs of a person who just moments ago said more lies and displayed much ignorance of the basic facts of our global world and its many challenges.

Yes, there could have been a more detailed and deep set of questions and answers from both Trump and Clinton, but the difference between her and Trump was as they say “legion.” That Trump was out of his depth, which was clear to all, including many Republicans in their reactions and the fact that after the debate many traditional Republican newspapers endorsed Clinton rather than Trump.

We have focused in this post below on some specific areas dealing with national security and foreign affairs with candidate quotes and commentary.

DEFEAT OF ISIS:

Clinton- ” I have put forth a plan to defeat ISIS. It does involve going after them online. I think we need to do much more with our tech companies to prevent ISIS and their operatives from being able to use the Internet to radicalize, even direct people in our country and Europe and elsewhere.  But we also have to intensify our air strikes against ISIS and eventually support our Arab and Kurdish partners to be able to actually take out ISIS in Raqqa, end their claim of being a Caliphate.” … ” But it’s like his plan to defeat ISIS. He says it’s a secret plan, but the only secret is that he has no plan.”

Trump – “But they wouldn’t have even been formed if they left some troops behind, like 10,000 or maybe something more than that. And then you wouldn’t have had them.  Or, as I’ve been saying for a long time, and I think you’ll agree, because I said it to you once, had we taken the oil — and we should have taken the oil — ISIS would not have been able to form either, because the oil was their primary source of income. And now they have the oil all over the place, including the oil — a lot of the oil in Libya, which was another one of her disasters.” .. ” But I will tell you that Hillary will tell you to go to her website and read all about how to defeat ISIS, which she could have defeated by never having it, you know, get going in the first place. Right now, it’s getting tougher and tougher to defeat them, because they’re in more and more places, more and more states, more and more nations.”

Commentary: Trump repeats some of his past scripted statements but no plan. Clinton does talk about use of “air strikes” and other support which is largely the Obama administration’s consensus of what they can do to defeat ISIS without putting more on the ground combat forces which would only put them in deadly danger in areas and landscape we know little about and where our strategy seems to be garnering gradual results.

ON NUCLEAR WEAPONS (AND A BIT ON OUR ALLIES AND GLOBAL WARMING):

Clinton- ” … of what we heard Donald say has been about nuclear weapons. He has said repeatedly that he didn’t care if other nations got nuclear weapons, Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia. It has been the policy of the United States, Democrats and Republicans, to do everything we could to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He even said, well, you know, if there were nuclear war in East Asia, well, you know, that’s fine… And, in fact, his cavalier attitude about nuclear weapons is so deeply troubling. That is the number-one threat we face in the world. And it becomes particularly threatening if terrorists ever get their hands on any nuclear material. So a man who can be provoked by a tweet should not have his fingers anywhere near the nuclear codes, as far as I think anyone with any sense about this should be concerned.”

Trump- ” The single greatest problem the world has is nuclear armament, nuclear weapons, not global warming, like you think and your — your president thinks.  Nuclear is the single greatest threat. Just to go down the list, we defend Japan, we defend Germany, we defend South Korea, we defend Saudi Arabia, we defend countries. They do not pay us. But they should be paying us, because we are providing tremendous service and we’re losing a fortune.” … ” But Russia has been expanding their — they have a much newer capability than we do. We have not been updating from the new standpoint. We are not — we are not keeping up with other countries. I would like everybody to end it, just get rid of it. But I would certainly not do first strike.  And [Iran is] going to end up getting nuclear. I met with Bibi Netanyahu the other day. Believe me, he’s not a happy camper.”

COMMENTARY: It is clear that an unbalanced and “cavalier” man should not have the nuclear codes and cause the destruction of the globe’s civilizations. The question of a nuclear first strike, an issue I have been following for decades, is one of great importance and sensitivity, none of which is shown by Trump. At the moment our policy, supported by the military, is to leave open the first use issue, but our policy must be not to do so in any conflict case that is likely short of immediate certain knowledge of nuclear weapons being used against us.

ON CYBERWARFARE:

Clinton – “But increasingly, we are seeing cyber attacks coming from states, organs of states. The most recent and troubling of these has been Russia. There’s no doubt now that Russia has used cyber attacks against all kinds of organizations in our country, and I am deeply concerned about this. I know Donald’s very praiseworthy of Vladimir Putin, but Putin is playing a really… tough, long game here. And one of the things he’s done is to let loose cyber attackers to hack into government files, to hack into personal files, hack into the Democratic National Committee…And we are not going to sit idly by and permit state actors to go after our information, our private-sector information or our public-sector information.”

Trump – ” As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not. I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don’t — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?… So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. …. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.”

COMMENTARY: Although both candidates agree on the growing danger posed by cyberwarfare, neither side presented any tangible policy suggestions to address the challenge. Clinton used the question to cite the DNC cyber attack and once again Trump took the bait to shield any hint of Russian involvement, despite US intelligence sources stating with certainty that the attack came from Russia. It’s surprising that Trump didn’t use the topic of cyberwarfare to take more potshots on Clinton’s email scandal, but that could be credited to the Republican candidate’s lack of preparation and at this point in the debate he was on full tilt.

ON NATO AND OUR ALLIES:

Trump – ” Number one, the 28 countries of NATO, many of them aren’t paying their fair share. And, number two, I said, and very strongly, NATO could be obsolete, because… they do not focus on terror. And about four months ago, I read on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that NATO is opening up a major terror division. And I think that’s great…. And that was — believe me — I’m sure I’m not going to get credit for it — but that was largely because of what I was saying and my criticism of NATO.”

Clinton- ” You know, NATO as a military alliance has something called Article 5, and basically it says this: An attack on one is an attack on all. And you know the only time it’s ever been invoked? After 9/11, when the 28 nations of NATO said that they would go to Afghanistan with us to fight terrorism, something that they still are doing by our side.”

Clinton – ” Well, let me — let me start by saying, words matter. Words matter when you run for president. And they really matter when you are president. And I want to reassure our allies in Japan and South Korea and elsewhere that we have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them.  It is essential that America’s word be good. And so I know that this campaign has caused some questioning and worries on the part of many leaders across the globe. I’ve talked with a number of them. But I want to — on behalf of myself, and I think on behalf of a majority of the American people, say that, you know, our word is good.”

Trump – ” And it’s a big problem. And as far as Japan is concerned, I want to help all of our allies, but we are losing billions and billions of dollars. We cannot be the policemen of the world. We cannot protect countries all over the world…”

COMMENTARY: One of the most divisive and harmful statements Trump has made was his questioning our NATO alliance, especially when it is under threat from Russia on many fronts and our Europe allies need encouragement rather than blind and short-sighted nasty criticism. Putin must be delighted and Trump seems even to encourage Russian aggression.  A dangerous mix.  The same must be said of our other allies especially in Asia given what was not debated, the threat of North Korea and how to deal with it diplomatically.

ON IRAN:

Trump – ” But you look at the Middle East, you started the Iran deal, that’s another beauty where you have a country that was ready to fall, I mean, they were doing so badly. They were choking on the sanctions. And now they’re going to be actually probably a major power at some point pretty soon, the way they’re going… One of the great giveaways of all time, of all time, including $400 million in cash. Nobody’s ever seen that before. That turned out to be wrong. It was actually $1.7 billion in cash, obviously, I guess for the hostages. It certainly looks that way… The deal with Iran will lead to nuclear problems. All they have to do is sit back 10 years, and they don’t have to do much.”

Clinton- ” With respect to Iran, when I became secretary of state, Iran was weeks away from having enough nuclear material to form a bomb. They had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle under the Bush administration. They had built covert facilities. They had stocked them with centrifuges that were whirling away.  And we did drive them to the negotiating table. And my successor, John Kerry, and President Obama got a deal that put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot. That’s diplomacy. And we had sanctioned them. I voted for every sanction against Iran when I was in the Senate, but it wasn’t enough.  The other day, I saw Donald saying that there were some Iranian sailors on a ship in the waters off of Iran, and they were taunting American sailors who were on a nearby ship. He said, you know, if they taunted our sailors, I’d blow them out of the water and start another war. That’s not good judgment.  And Donald never tells you what he would do. Would he have started a war? Would he have bombed Iran? If he’s going to criticize a deal that has been very successful in giving us access to Iranian facilities that we never had before, then he should tell us what his alternative would be. “

COMMENTARY: One can’t go beyond Clinton’s critique of the consequences of Trump’s approach to Iran. Except that it underplayed Trump’s true dangers to our national security interests and how to deal with major crisis situations.

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The Audacity Of Stupidity And Historical Lies By Donald Trump — The Cuba Case

By Harry C. Blaney III


Photo Credit via The Wall Street Journal


There have been many strange and horrific strands to Donald Trump’s campaign both in domestic and in foreign affairs during this long and caustic campaign. In some ways there are still many dark murky elements of the pitch that Trump has been putting forth in almost all of his statements, policy papers, and not least in his Tweets. Confusion is a very polite word to characterize his utterances.

More recently as an example is Trump’s speech in Florida, where among various crazy ideas and efforts to deceive many sectors of voters with unspecified “help”, Trump importantly shows a deep disregard for trust and truth. But it lacks a realistic and sane view of American relations with Cuba.

This is not surprising given that in almost ever sector of critical foreign and national security policy Trump has put forth ideas and policies that would without question make America weaker and less secure and throw the world in even more disarray. Some well known examples include building a wall on the Mexican border, the disavowal of Climate change and to address this existential danger, dealing with Europe, and not least his relations with a brutal Putin.

Not least also among his irresponsibilities is his vague call for someone to kill Hillary Clinton and for the disarming of her Secrete Service team. But the repeated lies and distortions continue in Florida. He accused Senator Clinton for creating ISIS as he has done before asking “why she won’t take responsibility for her central role in unleashing ISIS.” Fact checkers have call this a lie and fabrication. Yet much of the media does not call him on this especially in interviews.

His MO is to try to ingratiate some fragment of the voting public no matter the saneness of his proposals or their basic practicality or their massive cost to American goals, security and values.

The crude Cuban gambit is just on example of this insanity and disregard of serious thinking and long-term strategy. This tactics is called in politics “slice and dice”: tell each segment of the population you are for them and the opponent is not. Even in the same speech he sets forth policies that will harm most Americans but not in the 1%, and moments later Trump talks about the rich and the establishment that supports Clinton. Or making racist statements about minorities and saying how he will help them…but without specifics. This stance, despite its contradictions, can often be a winning strategy sadly.

It is in this dark context of repeated idiocies, that policy toward Cuba arises in a state with a high percentage of Cuban-American voters.

In this speech he said:

“We are also going to stand with the Cuban people in their fight against communist oppression.

The President’s one-sided deal for Cuba benefits only the Castro Regime. But all of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro Regime were done through executive order, which means the next President can reverse them – and that is what I will do, unless the Castro Regime meets our demands. Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people.”

In another speech last month, Trump also told the Miami Herald that he would keep open the infamous Guantanamo detention center, stating that:

“I want to make sure that if we have radical Islamic terrorists, we have a very safe place to keep them…I know that they want to try them in our regular court systems, and I don’t like that at all. I don’t like that at all”

Guantanamo has been a source of great harm to US interests due to its harsh conditions, almost no transparency, and lack of any real fair judicial process. It has been an item of shame for America around the world. It has only helped the recruitment of more terrorists each day that it stays open with prisoners.

 

The opening to Cuba by the Obama administration in fact as been one of the truly great acts of long-term strategy and enlightened vision for dealing wisely, at last, with a misguided policy of isolation and confrontation which has gained nothing. Now there is new light and dialogue and contact that, over the long run (and it will take time), promises to improve our contacts and cooperation on many issues, promote a better life for the Cuban people, and enhance the growth of civil liberties and democracy.

Trump’s approach is again even more confrontation, and his harsh actions would bring us back to the bad times of frozen conflict. This means less hope for democracy and would gain the opposition of much of Latin America, let alone the hopes of many Cuban-Americans that increasingly want the new open relationship that Obama and Hillary Clinton started.

The sad part, if one reads the many quotes of Trump on foreign affairs contained in this web site, Cuban policy is just one example of a Trump led path that leads towards unbelievable global disaster for America at home and abroad. Trump will not “make America great” but diminish our global leadership and cause added new conflicts and chaos in every corner of the world.


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PART II : THE YEAR 2015: A LOOK BACKWARD FOR GLOBAL SECURITY AND PEACE

PART II : THE YEAR 2015: A LOOK BACKWARD FOR GLOBAL SECURITY AND PEACE

By

Harry C. Blaney III

Beyond the specifics of our fractured and conflict ridden world covered in Part I of this two part series, are questions about the contributions or the follies of our national and global leaders and of our institutions and in the end concerned and impacted citizens.

We want to add some thoughts about the import of events in 2015 that are in some ways emblematic of the global landscape we live in and provided either new difficult challenges or show hopeful paths for America and the international community.

THE ISSUE OF GLOBAL LEADERS AND OUR SECURITY: FINDING COOPERATION

2015 was a year where there also was a real effort of some global leaders to find areas of agreement, of conciliation, of paths to peace and reduction of nuclear weapons and dealing with terrorism in intelligent ways. The first part of this series saw some very dark events and some acts by leaders that contributed to hatred, conflict, inequality, and bigotry. While others tried to mitigate these catastrophes. The results were indeed mixed.

This balance between peacemakers and authoritarian and malevolent “disrupters” and war-makers has been through all of human history and 2015 was not exception. Examples are below of this on going struggle.

DISINTEGRATION VERSES INTEGRATION, THE MIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION CRISIS, TERRORISM, AND GLOBAL WARMING

THE EUROPEAN CHALLENGE

The key challenges for Europe are immigration, keeping Britain in the EU fold, getting rid of austerity and getting the economy on a growth pattern. It also was addressing terrorism within and abroad, facing inequality which threatens stability, and the growth of fascists and racist and extreme right-wing governments and parties. And also defining the relationship with America, an aggressive Russia and rising China in a constructive way.

Angela Merkel, who I have criticized for her economic austerity policies towards Greece and other weak EU states, came through initially in 2015 as a moral leader in support of refugees feeling death and conflict which seems to have cost her support at home. Her fate in 2016 will hinge not only on gaining some consensus within Germany for helping and accepting the refugees but for leading the EU towards a broader and more effective set of policies and actions which will make for a peaceful settlement and fair sharing of the burden. Immigration in 2015 was truly a challenge almost un-precedented and was largely an event that divided Europe and its reactions engendered more disunity and irresponsible acts and policies.

2015 was a year Britain went down the dangerous path towards possible separation of Scotland which thankfully failed – not thanks to Prime Minister Cameron. Cameron made the decision to hold a referendum to leave the EU and a vote is set for 2016. Merkel will also be key in helping keep the UK in the EU when the forces in Britain of the small minded Tory Euro-skeptics and the British equivalent of our Republican Tea Party bigots want to separate from the EU. Further there was and continues a dangerous move and sentiment within Europe against not only immigration but also the EU and the “FORE Project” which is the keystone for peace and stability and yes democracy in the region. The leaders of Europe did not in 2015 face fully up to these challenges.

FRANCE TO THE FORE?

What was seen as a weak French socialist president Hollande, turned out to be seen by many as strong in dealing with terrorism in Africa, and recently in his stance during the Paris attacks in November and the lead host of the Paris Climate change meeting. France in some ways has come to replace the British as a more reliable partner on a number of key issues. Their decision to contribute planes and resources to the allied bombing efforts in Syria and Iraq was an unexpected act. They were more involved in dealing with Russia on Ukraine, in the Iran nuclear deal, and took on anti-terrorism responsibilities in Africa.

THE BRITISH RETREAT?

Prime Minister David Cameron, on the other hand, did a lot of talking and little real action. While supporting UK continued membership in the EU he mismanaged in 2014 and 2015 the process of the vote on EU membership that is planned to take place in 2016. Should UK leave the EU the consensus of experts is it would be a disaster for Britain (and for Europe also).

He has failed to quiet the separatist tides in Scotland after the vote to stay united by a totally irresponsible handling of promises that were made for increased Scottish home rule. Not least he has move toward anti-immigration moves to mitigate the influence of such parties as the UK Independent Party with its racist, anti-EU, and isolationist tendencies. Wining the election in 2015 with a clear majority in Parliament but not in the nation was a plus for him, but it led to a doubling down on arch-conservative programs to punish the poor and to enhance the very rich. In the end this can’t but reap harm to Britain in the world.

DEPLORING WORLD’S WOES!

Economic growth overall in the developing nations was disappointing and the growth of conflict in places like Africa and Middle East hurt as did growing debts and political disarray. Leadership in the developing world was in too many cases a disaster for these countries with a few making efforts against an overwhelming tide of despair, corruption, and disparity of wealth and power. On a upward note, Castro in Cuba decided to respond to Obama’s outreach, China’s leaders helped at last on climate change/ environment, and India also finally went along when it was a spoiling nation with the Paris accords. Key in 2015 and will be in 2016, is efforts to start a rapprochement between the near warring nuclear weaponed India and Pakistan. A number of countries had mostly democratic elections including Burma, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Burma. And there were game changing elections in Argentina, Venezuela, and the Central African Republic,

AMERICA’S ROLE IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND RECONCILIATION

Notable above all, has been President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry who carried often much of the globe on their shoulders. They got India and China to finally do something constructive on climate change, more than anyone Obama and Kerry got the Iran agreement through in negotiations and in the Congress. Establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba was a major breakthrough for both sides. Obama proposed both the Atlantic and Pacific trade packs which still remain controversial, but envisions a more united world economically and has strategic significance. 2016 will see how these two initiatives progress.

A key wise outcome was the administration kepting its promise not to do “stupid things” and kept their caution and steely focus on what could be done effectively and at least cost. It has shown some results. They saw their judgement and policies make some progress in 2015 and into 2016 with notable victories, with little American blood lost, in Iraq with the retaking of Ramadi and other towns. They revised our strategy in Syria with progress by American supported Kurd forces taking key points and pushing the Islamic State back from important towns and sites but some mixed results. But with a little advancement by the Syrian opposition forces. The Syrian quagmire became even more difficult after Putin’s 2015 intervention and Russian bombing of opposition forces.

But the simply fact is that U.S. and allied precise bombing and intelligence has been critical for success, despite being downplayed by the neo-cons and their hawkish Republican followers, who seem blindly want more vulnerable troops on the ground as proof of their on-the-cheep “toughness.” In fact we saw that added allied bombing was taking place.

The key still remains our diplomatic efforts. The UN Security Council with American and allied nations, and even Russia agreement, voted on a path towards possible peace and a new Syrian governance structure. This effort is filled with uncertainties, but promises more hope than would getting mass American combat troops sent to be killed by the Islamic State terrorist on their home turf. I see this as a use of “smart power” while the GOP still seems, as they did in Iraq under Bush II earlier, decide to use “stupid power” and play the terrorist’s game.

AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS AND THE GLOBAL ORDER

The debates in 2015, especially those of the Republican candidates revealed how dangerous our atrocious politics have become for the security if the rest of the world. 2015 showed how unbalanced our nation could become and how one major party has so gone off the deep end that even the fair right creator of this condition in Republican politics, Charles Koch in a Financial Times interview said that he was “disappointed” by the current crop of Republican presidential candidates and resigned to having to support one with whom he agrees on only some issues. He thinks his issues are not being addressed. He is unhappy with the positions of Trump and Cruz on dealing with Muslims! And perhaps more? There is more irony in this as he has probably been more responsible for the GOP crazies we have today than any other person on this earth! Yet he would support any crazy according to his statement rather than any Democrat.

The other trend in our nation in 2015 and before has been the universal effort by the Republican candidates to beat up on Obama and especially to call him “weak” mostly focusing on his caution about using massive ground forces in Syria and Iraq. Trump started this idea of “No energy” not only against Obama and also his GOP opponents, but it has become a chorus by all the rest of what can be fairly described as the worst group of would-be presidents in American history. Each has done all they could either in their official capacity or on the campaign trail to undermined American power and interests around the world by their irresponsible statements, policies, or votes. They have been indifferent on how they are viewed by other nations. Just their presence in 2015 and the possibility that any one of them might be president sends shudders down most allied leaders and many of their educated citizens.

This is a world of interdependence, globalized as some would have it, and this is the high level information world where people everywhere hear what is said by global leaders and would be leaders via TV and the internet.

So goodby 2015, and we will look at the prospects for 2016 soon.

We welcome you comments!

A TRANSFORMATION IN CUBAN-AMERICAN RELATIONS AND ITS LASTING PROMISE

 President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba shake hands at the Summit of the Americas on April 11, 2015.
President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba shake hands at the Summit of the Americas on April 11, 2015.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

There are too few moments in our new century when we can say without much doubt that we have achieved a historic change of trajectory and have hope at last to move from mutual confrontation towards mutual dialogue and even cooperation. The decision of President Obama to open that dialogue, to start the process of establishing diplomatic relations, likely taking Cuba off of the list of “terrorist states”, and not least the one-on-one meeting between President Raul Castro and President Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Panama.

Opening the front page of the Sunday New York Times and seeing Obama and Castro sitting side by side and another shaking hands, for someone who remembers well and vividly the period of the Cuban Missile crisis, living through the long history of mutual isolation and mistrust and even conflict, gave a sense of a kind of new dawning from a dark period that neither side should be proud of.

Obama’s act has also transformed our relations not only with Cuba but also Latin America; who have restored largely their own relations and criticized America for lagging in doing what was clearly wise in reaching out for some measure of starting what will be a long process of rapprochement and hopefully a more democratic Cuba in time.

President Obama said that clearly “there will still be problems to overcome, but he was optimistic that we will continue to make progress and that this can indeed be a turning point.” Castro also made jesters that indicated this was a path he was willing to go down. However, he most likely hopes to obtain more than what is possible now, as hard bargaining lies ahead.

There were a few moments of regressive behavior by some of the Cuban delegation at the Panama conference. This behavior indicated that in the Cuban government, those who wish to show the authoritarian side of the regime and are still clearly not accustomed to the rules and ways of public discourse and democratic dissent still exist. But, I think that was a sign of the last gasps of a weak and regressive and failing regime that is the past and not the future.

There is still a long road to full rapprochement, full diplomatic relations and setting the guidelines for this new relationship. Not least, is the continued authoritarian rule in Cuba on one side, and the opposition by the anti-Castro groups and far right types here in America on the other.  There will be many difficulties in this process but I think with time, and some acknowledgment by both sides that a “new day” is better than the “old animosities,” Cuba will find its own democratic footing. With this, America will leave behind its old and unsuccessful strategy of isolating Cuba and itself and gain by the new openness.

If we can talk with Putin, and can talk to China, and talk with Iran, we can talk with Cuba. In my earlier days, America wisely decided by both Republican and Democratic presidents that we could and should talk to a hostile and aggressive Soviet Union and achieve thereby significant cuts in nuclear weapons via treaties, establish a “hot line,” to avoid misunderstandings, deal with a variety of arms control agreements, have military to military contacts, and conduct cultural exchanges. Thus, we certainly can find ways of cooperating with a nation just 90 miles south, where the people also seek reconciliation. Our efforts at negotiations paid off for both sides in the end. There was no real “hot war” and frankly the West prevailed via its diplomacy and wise policies; and nations were freed from the control of a failed dictatorship.

President Obama, in these last two years of his presidency, without the restrictions of narrow politics, seems to act on his best values and instincts, helping shape a world if at all possible towards a more “soft landing” and enhanced security. Although it could mean disturbing our “Know Nothing” far right war hawk Republicans, he is taking chances to shape a safer and more prosperous and perhaps fairer world.

 

We welcome your comments! 

A version of this essay was also carried at the London School of Economics and Political Science Web Blog. Visit the Link Here:   http://bit.ly/1yXztYX

2014 A “RETHINKING NATIONAL SECURITY” YEAR: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?

2014 A “RETHINKING NATIONAL SECURITY” YEAR:: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?

By Harry C. Blaney III

2014 was without much doubt a significant year in terms of global security. One question is whether 2014 has set a trend in the makeup of our international order in the future and to what extent? The events of 2014 were at many levels transformative but also show much continuity with the recent past trends.

Terrorism took on a new guise in the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, and “caliphate”), with the fierce occupation by this extraordinarily brutal group of large areas in both Iraq and Syria. The emergence of added conflicts and upheavals in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the Sunni-Shia divide were continuing factors of instability. But less mentioned is the serious question of unstable and nuclear armed Pakistan’s trajectory and that of nuclear India which is being reshaped still as this is written with unknown consequences.

Another event of special note was the end of an assumed understanding about the security and inviolability of the boundaries and independence of existing European states by the invasion and occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by Russian troops and paid mercenaries. With the annexation of Crimea, and now continued fighting and uncertainty over the fate of Eastern Ukraine, the viability and security of the entire country has changed radically the landscape of Central and eastern Europe and beyond.

NATO has reassessed its role and the implication of these actions resulted in agreement to establish a more robust “rapid reaction force.” America also has assigned a “rotating” troop and air armed units to the Baltic States. Putin has recently called NATO a threat to Russia and the new Russian strategic plan seems a bit more aggressive than earlier.

Not least, with this external belligerence towards what Russian nationalists call “The Near Afar” or “Near Abroad” – their neighborly countries, – Putin has established increasingly harsh authoritarian rule over Russia and its people proper. This development is as important to global security and stability as is the Ukraine invasion and conflict. The two seem to be intertwined and have indeed been fed by Putin and his cronies heating up a new “fascistic” Russian xenophobia and militaristic nationalism.

This effort can be attributed to the perceived need by Putin to shore up his domestic support in light of an increasingly economic catastrophe that Russia seems to be experiencing at the end of 2014; all due to Putin’s costly international blunders and foolish economic choices. Even Putin has acknowledged in his New Year’s message that Russia faces hard times ahead.

At home, the same neo-cons that got us into an unneeded and disastrous war in Iraq, and ran the Afghanistan war mindlessly and incompetently now wrongly depict Putin and Russia as stronger, which is absurd given the real impact of sanctions, the fall in the price of oil and gas, and the precipitous fall of the Ruble. This argument was not only predominant in one major neo-con publication but has been picked up by the right-wing GOP hawks who if they had their way would have us still deep in the mud of “endless war.”

The reality is the increased isolation of Putin personally and of Russia. Their economy ever fragile is now in real recession and week in many sectors. Global leaders realize, as do investors, that Russia under Putin is a risky place to place any bets on. This new realization by many is that Russia is in the hands of an incompetent, arbitrary, and illusionary leader who seems to care not a bit about the well being of his country’s people. Russia is weaker today than at the start of 2014 despite all of its aggression and seems destined to fall further under Putin’s harsh hand unless there is a major change of course. None of this is good news for the West, however, given the uncertainty of Russian behavior.

On the contrary, America, led by President Obama and with the help of Secretary John Kerry and his team, is clearly in ascendancy, but largely unnoticed by our U.S. media or acknowledged by the Republicans. With the U.S. showing a recent 5% growth rate, better job numbers, and closer cooperation with Europe, it remains at the center of global decision-making and power.

Further, with the negotiations with China over climate change successful, the continued push for Atlantic and Pacific free trade treaties, and the hope of successful nuclear talks with Iran continuing, there is some positive momentum for 2015. In addition, the successful efforts to help put together still fragile, but key new “unity” governments in Afghanistan and Iraq is better than the likelihood of immediate tribal conflict between major ethnic communities in the face of terrorist threats.

One of the great new creative developments has been President Barack Obama’s initiative to reestablish relations with Cuba. This is a landmark action with potential to change the entire playing field regarding a nation that is in a time of major transition. Obama has with one stroke of the pen re-engaged America with Cuba. He recovered two prisoners and let long serving Cubans in jail free, see political prisoners released, broadened the areas of exchange of visits, goods, and dialogue, advancing towards early establishment of full diplomatic relations.

Yet, what one must also recognize is the continuing monumental challenge that faces all of mankind and our natural world: climate change. And 2014, while it did not bring about any immediate significant global move to fully address this existential threat, has nevertheless shown some progress and hints of what the major powers might be trying to move towards to mitigate, if not yet fully solve the coming cataclysm. This has largely been done by executive authority whether by domestic pollution regulation or by international diplomacy.

Also among the non-events, Iraq and Afghanistan did not yet disintegrate into warning ethnic and political conflict but at least for now choose a path of political compromise and efforts at inclusiveness, thanks to the intensive efforts of Secretary Kerry backed by President Obama along with efforts of other diplomats. China did not make a full war yet over the South China Sea islands, and Putin did not yet attack any NATO countries,  although he did send irresponsible flights and ships near NATO counties and neutrals to show his great detest toward their sanctions. North Korea did not use its nuclear bombs and thus saved itself from total destruction. And American politics continued, without change, its corrosive politics, however adding one electoral change that may have extended the power of its crazies over the Senate.

What did not happen in 2014 is almost as important as the events that did. We did not attack Iran, nor do we have combat troops in Syria yet. We have not changed our goal to pull direct combat troops out of Afghanistan, but did act to support that frail nation and its armed forces in more constructive ways. Russia did not become “Nine Feet” tall but simply diminished itself with its own acts of silliness and cruelty. Additionally, Scotland did not become an isolated mini-state north of Britain, the American economy did not “tank” but grew and in the 3rd quarter some 5% annual growth. Lastly, Europe still did not really recover from it own self induced “austerity” policy which has proved a disaster for most of the EU counties that tried that disastrous road.

Sadly, the Middle East remains in deadlock; largely by the determined and also self-destructive efforts, not least new settlements, of the current Israeli government to destroy it seems the only possible rational creation of a two state solution. Nor did the PLA do much that was constructive. Gaza was a tragedy for all sides.

In the coming weeks we will be writing about what 2015 and beyond may bring, and look at how America might shape events towards positive outcomes and perhaps even more real security and peace.

We welcome your comments!

HISTORIC OBAMA EXECUTIVE ACTION: CUBA COMES OUT OF THE COLD AS DOES OUR POLICIES!

American Alan Gross being embraced after being released by the Cuban government as part of the historic negotiations (White House)
American Alan Gross being embraced after being released by the Cuban government as part of the historic negotiations (White House)

By Harry C. Blaney III

There is no doubt that history will record President Obama’s decision to engage with Cuba and offer recognition and most importantly changing at long last the unproductive isolation of both Cuba and ourselves from real diplomacy and meaningful contact as one of his most important diplomatic achievements. But now the hard work starts to make the new relations work for both America and the Cuban people.

Sadly the Republicans are still being obstructive with a head in the ground view, looking back with the blinders of a failed and worn out ideology. When President Obama made pubic his decision on Wednesday, December 17th, it was like a dark leaded curtain had been lifted and new light had a long last appeared in this long running and difficult relationship. It was not just turning a new page, it was like starting a new book on which the pages still have to be written.

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