CUBA AND TRUMP: MISGUIDED, VINDICTIVE AND DANGEROUSLY WRONG!

By,

Harry C Blaney III

There are few worst things that a president can do and it is to act out of personal spite and racist motivations, listen not to experts in the field, and not care if it hurts our nation or the real chances of moves towards a more opened and democratic society.

President Donald Trump on Friday announced a rollback of his predecessor’s policy engagement and seeking warming relations Cuba. Trump in a meeting said at a boisterous Miami crowd that “our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America.” In fact it is the worst deal, with few remaining key elements of Obama’s initiatives that would provide progress for people on both sides.

Cutting some key ties to Cuba is not the first action which has all these hallmarks sadly. Nor will it likely be the last since all decisions are made based on Trump’s basic stupidity and it seems desire to hurt others that do any good verses. Instead we see his own destructive acts to help a broad grouping authoritarian regimes and hurt our allies and mutual cooperation to make our world just a bit better.

One added cost is the further lost of respect and cooperation with Latin American nations.

But the one constant of much of his acts is his desire to undo anything that President Obama did that is good, helps our country, and contributes to the security and peace of our world. He wins the award for “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.” without much doubt.

In the case of Cuba Trump’s actions will not help democracy or justice in that nation more likely the opposite. Most Cuban Americans want to keep ties to Cuba. Those that are saying it did no good to open our links forget that we did not expect immediate change in the regime in Cuba, but already we did see more engagement and getting to know more about each other. The Cuban people are those that will lose the most from his blind action by Trump which is no more than petty vindictive. In any case our past policies of isolation and antagonism for decades were clearly counterproductive.

One irony is that there are far worse brutal dictatorships that Trump is happy to admire, welcome to the White House, and give assistance to. Our readers could easily name them! In reality it is called dirty narrow politics, in bending to the far right and vindictive Cubans, and not caring about the majority of Cubans that want badly more contact with family and recognize that change will come from contacts. It hurts American long term interests. Its name is hypocrisy and is also self-destructive.

We welcome your comments (see section below)

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

2015: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UNKNOWN CHALLENGES GOING FORWARD?

DANGERS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND CHOICES IN 2015 AND BEYOND

By: Harry C. Blaney III

After looking back at 2014, which was in so many ways a time of change and a time of conflict and tragedy for many around the world but there were also moments of active and sometimes productive diplomacy and renewal that transpired. In some areas of the world, it was lamentably much of the same. The sad questions that remain: Was the globe well served by its leaders? Did the citizens of each nation take the lessons of our times with renewed understanding and engagement? Did the institutions of our international community react, educate, and address with honesty and in comprehensive detail what these changes and trends portend for our frail planet? Does the international community know what needs to be done to safeguard the security and lives of its citizens?

Looking ahead, there are two categories of our analysis: (1) Recognizing the distinctly “macro global” trends of 2015, and (2) an attempt to understand these trends and consequences while devising possible responses to specific functional and regional problem areas.

In the “macro” or what some call the “geo-strategic” level, and what I have also called major global challenges, we are indeed facing the kind of significant risks and dangers which are among the most confounding and complex, along with not as easily understood barriers to progress. We often see across-the-board disruptive forces that impact much of the rest of the specific regional and functional issues we face.

Looking forward, there are two important issues. First, what are the underlying landscapes and trends that are shaping our global system? Second, what can the United States, our allies and friends, do to improve global security, poverty, and reduce violence and secure well being as we move forth into 2015 and beyond?

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S “SECOND WIND” ON GLOBAL ISSUES AND SECURITY

 One of the most important new developments is a tougher, more focused and more innovative stand by President Obama in foreign affairs including national security. This policy is still created with great deliberation, but also with more of a will to act “out of the box” than it did before the November election.

                 

Already, there are several examples of this development. One example is the agreement with China regarding a climate change limitation of greenhouse gasses that bypasses Congress. Another example that has great importance is the decision to open negotiations with Cuba, creating the ability to establish diplomatic relations and to relax decade’s old failed sanctions, overall promoting closer and a more intense engagement. His immediate action to deal with Ebola showed when prompt action was clearly needed he would act.  The very recent decision to continue to negotiate with Iran over their nuclear program as well as to start a quiet dialogue on broader issues, like how to handle ISIS, has also become another signal of this new development.  All show a new tendency to take political risks at home to achieve key American objectives.  

 

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama made it clear that he would be more active in taking the lead on a host of outstanding and difficult issues abroad. As our world grows more conflict prone, he is more assertive to make our best efforts to try to mitigate the worst consequences of upheaval, humanitarian disasters, global health dangers, the rich-poor poverty gap, terrorism and its repercussions, and last but not least the so called “rise” of China and Russian aggression. Presidential meetings in Saudi Arabia and India indicate a game-changing mode. But his caution and deliberation are likely to continue.

 

It is clear that the White House, Department of State, and Department of Defense are all currently going through a “re-thinking” of American strategy to account for the fast moving changes that are developing around the world. Included in this reassessment are relations with Russia; especially dealing more actively with the escalating Ukrainian-Russian conflict. This is extremely relevant as this conflict not only touches the security of our NATO countries, but also shows a perspective for a long-term diplomatic modus vivendi with Russia. But, as this is being written, there is a building consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that some added assistance to Ukraine is necessary.

 

Look for new instruments and modalities from Obama to shape the foreign affairs agenda and debate in the coming months. Also look for Secretary John Kerry to be even more active in setting the stage in places like the Middle East, China, Africa, and India.  Expect a host of added initiatives over the coming months and even into 2016. President Obama is clearly laying a more active and innovative American agenda in the foreign affairs field, even beyond his term in office.

 

A second installment of this post, looking forward into 2015 and beyond,  specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy will follow in the coming days.

 

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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Cuban Missile Crisis: Lesson for Today on Nuclear Diplomacy

On the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis we need again to focus on what lessons we can learn from those events regarding nuclear crises and emerging major conflicts of strategic importance. The usefulness of learning from history only works if we understand the challenges we face today.

In my opinion, we do face critical nuclear and other serious conflicts which can determine the stability of the global landscape and specifically U.S. vital interests and security.

But they are not the same as in 1962. Our dangers are far less in terms of the “Cold War” era of “MAD” (Massive Assured Destruction), nuclear standoff between two super powers of the 1950s, and (until 1991) the fall of the Soviet Union.

First, to gain an insight into a reflection of these times there is a series of quotes from former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara who lived through this crisis.

The quote below is from an article by him later in life

The world is facing another potential war in Iraq. We have a host of potential conflicts ahead of us in the next 50 or 100 years. We should learn from the Cuban missile crisis and the mistakes that many of us made to determine how to reduce the risk of such wars in the future.”

“For many years, I considered the Cuban missile crisis to be the best-managed foreign policy crisis of the last half-century. I still believe that President Kennedy’s actions during decisive moments of the crisis helped to prevent a nuclear war. But I now conclude that, however astutely the crisis may have been managed, by the end of those extraordinary 13 days—October 16-October 28, 1962—luck also played a significant role in the avoidance of nuclear war by a hair’s dilemma.
We were lucky, but not only lucky. I believe we would not have survived those 13 days had not the president shaped and directed the ways in which his senior advisers confronted the crisis. This began within minutes of the moment on Tuesday morning, October 16th.”

Another key judgment that McNamara made in reflection to his experience during the Cuban missile crisis was:

We must learn as much as we can about nuclear crisis in October 1962—about the factors that led to it; about the reasons we escaped the ultimate consequences in the events; about what might have happened but thankfully did not; and about whether, or how, the lessons learned from the missile crisis might assist those of us who are interested in reducing the risk of nuclear catastrophe in the 21st century.”

There are two levels of efforts which are needed to lessen the chances of another such crisis. The first what I will call macro’ policies and institutions that both America and the international community need to improve or build which can mitigate possible crises or act to prevent their occurrence. They include:

Strengthening treaties and institutions working against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These include the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT treaty), the coming into force the of Comprehensive Test Band Treaty which we have singed but not yet ratified. The other institution is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna which is the group that does the inspections and other key activities to make sure non-nuclear nations party to the NPT do not build nuclear weapons. There are other treaties and institutions which are also useful such as the New START treaty with Russia negotiated by the Obama administration which continues inspections and verification regimes between the two countries. Promote and fund the UN institutions of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and reconciliation.

Nunn-Lugar program and with the formal ending of this program next year, which aimed to make safe nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union space and  the continued development of this effort via other means if possible.

            Promoting strong bilateral cooperation with others to advance such goals as nuclear free areas or to gain agreement on reductions of such weapons between antagonists and getting them off “hair-trigger.”

Strengthening the education of our citizens about the issues of nuclear weapons and the type of policies which will act against another Cuban missile crisis.

Gaining support for polices institutions, and domestic modalities which will increase our leverage and capacity to act to prevent in advance the development of conditions which would cause a major conflict or destruction.

What McNamara pointed out in later years suggests the need to learn an important lesson: seek to understand the adversary and how the situation looks to that country’s leadership. That may require a level of empathy and a reduction in self-righteousness. It also requires on our part a long-term strategic view and understanding future trends and opportunities.

Here is a short list of 7 Lessons from the Missile Crisis that pertain to the nuclear and WMD and MAD challenges we face today and in a larger sense dealing with conflicts and strategic dilemmas generally:

(1) Know the intentions and capabilities and interests of your opponent and others with an interest in the issue at hand. Some say it’s “know your adversary” which requires intensive on the ground “diplomacy” first; not boots on the ground if possible, which can destroy sometimes the needed interpersonal understanding and effective peaceful outcomes. I call this “preventive diplomacy.”

(2) Keep your active engagement with “problem states” and potential adversaries rather than either an unneeded policy of public antagonism, hostility, or withdrawal of contact. Keep the diplomatic doors open. Indeed the wise choice is to strengthen them.

(3) In a crisis, if possible, keep or create enough time to think through the crisis and fully understand all aspects of the crisis and see it from all sides. Develop a process of communication that does not escalate the crisis but reduces it or slows it down so that both sides have time to think of the consequences and the avenues to avoid a “show down” leading to open conflict.

(4) Get advice from a wide circle of experts and “wise people” who have experience and specialized knowledge that are not only of weapons, but of the people and culture of potential adversaries and their perspective. When the decision in the war in Vietnam was made to escalate that conflict, there was no true expert in the room on Vietnam and its society nor its historical relationship with China. The same is true of the Iraq war according to written documents.

(5) Consult with allies and countries in the region or those directly impacted if the situation permits about best options on how to solve the crisis. See if others can act to help decrease the tension and open doors of communication. Explore “third tract diplomacy” options by those who have entry to and confidence of the leaders of our adversaries.

(6) Question both the intelligence given to you and those who urge immediate military action without also examining the cost of such action and ignore the efficacy of other options. Bring in those who have new ideas and alternative approaches to see if these ideas might work and how.

(7) Find solutions which have a “win-win” outcome for all sides whenever possible including compromises when necessary. Seek, if required, “under the table” or not public solutions when they are justified by the peaceful resolution of a nuclear related crisis or other serious situation. Do not think the best option is a “Zero Sum Game” outcome for either side. To maintain agreement and willingness to accept long term an outcome means the other side can live with it and gain some benefit.

These rules apply today to such situations as Cuba where my colleague Wayne Smith is the preeminent expert. He is also the preeminent expert today to North Korea, Iran, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and Russia – all countries with nuclear weapons or possibly building nuclear weapons or have capability.

But it also applies to “problem” or “rogue states” such as in the Middle East and Arab world, North Korea, and in places in Africa where upheavals are rampant and instability endemic. It applies strongly to the Afghanistan/Pakistan/India conundrum and danger zone.

Finally, I need to illustrate the imperative to learn lessons via another conversation between McNamara and Leonov of the KGB Cuba Desk during the Cuban crisis that took place at a conference in 1992 in Cuba:


Leonov: It is terrible even to think of what would have happened. Under such conditions an entire group of Soviet forces in Cuba wouldve perished, along with perhaps millions of Cubans. Therefore, if what you describe happened, no Soviet leader would have been able to keep his post without taking some dramatic action in response. The closest target, of course, was in West Berlin. I think we would have seized West Berlin.


McNamara: And we would have responded with nuclear weapons…


Leonov: Yes. I remember vividly October 27, the most dangerous day. Khrushchev, as we know, received a cable from Fidel on the 27th in Moscow (the 26th in Havana), saying that an American attack was imminent within 24-72 hours. Of course, this was shocking. But also arriving at that time was a cable from [Soviet ambassador to Cuba, Aleksander] Alekseev to the head of the KGB which had this phrase: Fidel said that the probability of attack and invasion is at least 95 percent; and if the Americans attack and invade, you [Khrushchev] should attack the U.S. and wipe them off the face of the earth!” Obviously, things were spinning out of control. Such unprecedented messages, at such a time, meant that we had to find an exit, whatever it may be. And we found it just in time.

McNamara: I conclude from this discussion that were damn lucky to be here. We were so close to a nuclear catastrophe.

Leonov: One mistake at the wrong time in October 1962, and all could have been lost. I can hardly believe we are here today, talking about this. It is almost as if some potential intervention occurred to help us save ourselves, but with this proviso: we must never get that close again. Next time, we would not be so lucky, as you put it.

Almost all of us who were born before 1962 and most of those who were born after that momentous date would not be here unless we found, by diplomacy and wise judgment, a peaceful path from nuclear destruction. We all need the smartest, judicious and questioning leaders we can find here in the US and abroad.

U.S Cuba Policy Rejected By All

The outcome of the recent Summit of the Americas was a total embarrassment for the United States – and not just because of the misconduct of the Secret Service detail. Our Cuba policy was roundly condemned by virtually all other governments and it was made clear that if we stick to barring Cuban attendance, there would be no more Summits, for the other governments would not participate.

And why the U.S. refusal to sit with Cuba? Because, we say, it is not a democracy. No, but it is moving in the right direction. At the urging of the Catholic Church, Cuba has freed most of its political prisoners, and also has opened up to the private cultivation of land and to more and more small private enterprises. Surely we could encourage movement in that direction more effectively by engaging and resuming dialogue, rather than by sitting on the sidelines and in effect saying that only when they have a perfect democracy will we talk to them.

Further, the Cubans note that our conditions for dialogue continue to change. For years, we assured them that if they would but give up their ties of dependency on our principal adversary, the Soviet Union, and stop their efforts to overthrow other governments in this hemisphere, then we could begin to engage and enter into a constructive dialogue. By the early-1990s, the Cold War was over, the Soviet Union had become the Russian Federation, and Cuba had officially renounced any intentions overthrowing other hemispheric governments. Rather, they said, it was their intention to live in peace with all. And so have they done.

In other words, our conditions had been met. And so did we then improve relations and begin that constructive dialogue? No, quite the contrary. The U.S. then took new measures against Cuba in the form of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, and with even greater hostility in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act. The purpose of the latter was clear as Senator Helms vowed that with its passage we could now say “adios, Fidel.”

Well, not quite.

Worst of all, of course, was the administration of George W. Bush, whose objective, quite openly, was to bring about the end of the Castro government. But he did not succeed either. Raul Castro replaced Fidel, yes, but the Revolution remained intact.

Meanwhile, all other governments of the hemisphere did began to engage with Cuba, until it has today reached the point at which only the United States does not have diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. Ironically, we are now the ones who are, at least in this sense, isolated- and we will remain isolated so long as we hold to this outdated and utterly sterile policy of refusing to move toward a more normal relationship with Cuba. As some have put it, “It is a self-inflicted wound.”

As indicated at the Summit, the time has long passed for the United States to move toward constructive dialogue and engagement with the Cuban people. Our policy of regime change has not worked, and, instead, is utterly counterproductive.  If we keep it up much longer, the United States may find itself in Cuba’s place as the one country isolated from the rest of the Western Hemisphere.

By Wayne Smith.

Romney’s Skewed White Paper on Cuba

On January 25, the Romney campaign issued a White Paper on Cuba and Latin America stressing that, unlike the Obama administration’s policy of appeasement toward Cuba, Romney’s would be one of no appeasement and no accommodation; rather, it would be one of unwavering support for the pro-democracy forces on the island. The paper goes on to list a series of policies the Romney administration would immediately put forward to advance its goals. Most are either off-the-wall or have already been tried, unsuccessfully.

First, Romney would reinstate the 2004 controls on Cuban-American travel and remittances, which the paper suggests, were lifted as part of the Obama administration’s appeasement policy. The authors have that one all wrong. The restrictions were lifted not really to appease the Cuban government, but more as a gesture to the Cuban-American community, the majority of whom want to see their families and to be able to send them more money. We’ll see how they react to being told that if Romney is elected, they’d have to go back to the days of George W. Bush when there were strict limits on how often they could travel and how much money they could send to their families.

And, it should be noted, those harsher controls on travel and remittances did not force the Cuban government to change its policies or accommodate us in any way. A hard line on our side simply resulted in one on theirs.

Second, Romney will adhere strictly to the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, including implementation of Title III. But Helms-Burton has been on the books now for some 15 years and has had little effect; it wouldn’t be any more effective under Romney than under, say, George W. Bush. Title III, which gives Cuban-Americans the right to sue the citizens of third countries in U.S. courts over use of their old properties in Cuba, has never been implemented, not even by the George W. Bush administration, and never will be. It’s so utterly extraterritorial in nature that it isn’t implementable. We would all look forward to seeing the Romney team give it a try.

Romney would of course demand the release of Alan Gross, as has the Obama administration. But simply demanding is not likely to have any more effect under a different administration. It will take something more imaginative than that. One can only hope the Obama administration will show itself capable of such imagination.

Romney would also seek ways, including criminal indictment, of holding the Castros accountable for the shoot-down of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft in 1996, leading to the death of four Americans. This is so much pie in the sky – it will play well in Miami, but isn’t likely to achieve anything.

Romney would increase funding for “democracy promotion programs” inside Cuba. These would publish pamphlets and take positions against the government. The problem here is that if that they –what few there are –are funded by the United States, they are seen to be the instruments of a hostile power, which diminishes any impact they might have.

Romney would also aim to “break the information blockade” by ordering “the effective use” of Radio and TV Marti. TV Marti is effectively blocked on the island. Radio Marti has been on the air for years but has little listenership, not for technical reasons, but because, as one Cuban put it: “the programs all seem to be made ‘for and by’ a Miami audience.” That doesn’t seem likely to change, even with technological advancements and new equipment.

And then there is Romney’s plan to publicly name oppressors, i.e. police officers and other officials who mistreat or in some way oppress the Cuban people. Given the “enemy” source, this is likely to have minimal impact.

By Wayne S. Smith.