At last, U.S.-Cuban Relations Begin to Improve

The year 2010 had registered virtually no improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations. There had been rumors and suggestions for some time that the Obama administration might ease restrictions on, at least, academic and so-called “people-to-people” travel to Cuba. Delays were first attributed to the need to  wait until after the November elections – and then, given the disappointing outcome of the elections, there was concern that the administration might not act at all and that 2011 would be as disappointing as 2010.

But then, on the afternoon of January 14, 2011, came the surprise announcement from the White House that restrictions on certain kinds of travel would indeed be eased, that flights to Cuba could go out of additional airfields, not just out of Miami, and that Americans could now send limited remittances to Cuban citizens, provided the latter were not senior members of the Cuban government or Communist Party. Continue reading

China: an Indispensable Enemy?

The idea that we need an “enemy” is resurfacing amongst some military, media, and think tank types. All of whom think that confrontation with China is in America’s interest. Why?

I vividly remember going to a U.S.-Sino relations conference here in Washington during the Bush II era where a Chicago University professor predicted that America and China were heading for war and we should prepare for it.  I was seated at a table with some representatives from the Chinese Embassy including military attaches and I could feel the sense of tension and disbelief at how stupid they felt the statement was and how it only contributed to a counterproductive self-fulfilling prophecy. That may have been just what the speaker wanted.

The problem has been compounded by the unfortunate tendency for hawkish Americans to call countries that we have problems with our “enemy.”  This includes countries such as Cuba, Russia, and China. While each has serious problems in terms of democracy, governance, and an adversarial approach to the outside world, calling them the “enemy” serves no purpose except to shore up support for the equally hawkish counterparts within these countries.

Recently, Walter Isaacson, the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors that oversees US official media for foreign audiences said his organization needs more money to fight its enemies. Though he should know better, he explicitly included Russia, Iran, Venezuela and China onto this list. This is what happens when fear-mongers wave the bloody shirt to justify increased funding to their projects.  It certainly did not help our public diplomacy effort amongst those countries. Fortunately, Mr. Isaacson later retracted his maladroit statement.  He should be a leader in seeking constructive dialogue rather than confrontation.

Dealing with China is a prime example where we seriously need to do rethink our national security approach.  Our relationship with China has no silver “bullet”.  In this case, war can only serve those who desire global instability, conflict, and mutual destruction. Here is a case where total and intense engagement across a wide range of issues and differences is indispensable. Broad public diplomacy efforts, especially in multilateral venues, bilateral meetings, and wide exchanges of people, make the most sense. Continue reading