Seeking More Cold War with Cuba

The neocons who dominate Official Washington speak most loudly through their flagship newspaper, The Washington Post, almost always seeking confrontation rather than cooperation in addressing the world’s problems, such as Cold War-era hostility toward Cuba, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.

By Paul R. Pillar

A Washington Post editorial proclaims in its headline, “Failure in Cuba,” with a bank head that declares, “Mr. Obama’s opening is not leading to positive change.” One should not expect anyone, including editorial boards, who have been opposed to a policy departure to change their own position quickly. But what the Post has to say about Cuba illustrates some unfortunate tendencies that have warped policy debate on other issues as well.

The biggest problem is the failure to ask, “What’s the alternative?” And to ask as well, “Why should the alternative be expected to bring any better results, especially on the very criteria on which the policy at hand is being criticized?”

Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2003. (Photo credit: Antonio Milena - ABr)

Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2003. (Photo credit: Antonio Milena – ABr)

This failure was quite apparent in much of the opposition to the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, an agreement that was clearly superior to the only real alternative, which was the absence of an agreement, on most of the very topics that opponents themselves were raising, from the size of uranium stockpiles to the frequency of international inspections.

With regard to Cuba, this deficiency of the argumentation is even more glaring because the alternative to Mr. Obama’s opening, i.e., a continued attempt to isolate and ostracize Cuba, has had an enormously long time to show what it can, or cannot do. In fact, it’s had half a century to show that; the United States instituted a full economic embargo on Cuba in 1962.

The U.S. embargo and attempted isolation of Cuba are the archetype of a failed policy. That policy has failed to bring about hoped-for change either small (the Post editorial talks about rates for wi-fi service in Cuba) or large (fundamental political change in the Castro regime) or much in between (including various human rights issues).

The inconsistency of the standards being applied in the editorial, as far as time and expectations are concerned, is ludicrously large. Evidently half a century, through ten different U.S. administrations, is deemed insufficient time to judge whether the policy of isolation can ever achieve any useful results. But the editorial criticizes President Obama’s opening for not bringing about a “sea change in Cuba” during the brief time it has been in effect. The announcement of the move to restore diplomatic relations was barely more than year ago, and embassies were reopened only six months ago.

Another flaw in the argumentation that we have seen before is to pin everything on one policy change and to fail to take account of other important conditions. The big, important condition regarding U.S.-Cuban relations is that the economic embargo is still in effect. The Obama administration has been limited to changes it can make through executive action; the embargo stays in effect as long as a majority in Congress refuses to end it.

When the Post editorial writers complain about meager Cuban purchases of U.S. goods and little evidence of opportunities coming to the private sector in Cuba, that is properly considered an indictment of the continuing embargo rather than, as the editorial portrays it, a deficiency in the steps the administration has taken.

Repeated references in the Post‘s piece to “unilateral concessions” made to Cuba reflects another unfortunately all-too-common tendency, which is to consider any hardship in a country with a regime we don’t like to be good in its own right, and thus any lessening of economy-damaging sanctions or embargoes as a loss for the United States.

Damaging someone else’s economy is of value only if helps to bring about some other desirable change in the other country’s policies or behavior, which the embargo of Cuba has manifestly failed to do. The embargo has hurt ordinary Cubans most of all, and that hurt is of no positive value to the United States. Neither has it done any good for U.S. credibility worldwide, given that it is the United States, not Cuba, that has been isolated politically on the issue.

Before President Obama started to redirect it, U.S. policy toward Cuba had been (and with the embargo, still is) like an ugly and embarrassing time capsule. The embargo and attempted isolation are as antiquated as those 1950s-era American-made cars that the Cubans somehow manage to keep running.

The policy has been the political remnant of one particular generation of Cuban-Americans who have had legitimate grievances against the Castro regime but have gotten stuck making one big gesture and never moved on to think about what works and what doesn’t. The gesture lives on in the next generation most conspicuously in the person of Marco Rubio, whose stubborn defense of the embargo is inconsistent and illogical.

It would be good both for the United States and for the Cuban people if further generational change and political evolution can move this issue out of the 1960s and into the Twenty-first Century, where it belongs.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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11 comments for “Seeking More Cold War with Cuba

  1. knucklehead
    February 3, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    The primary goal of the long-standing US policy has been to serve as a deterrent to other countries adopting an independent development policy. Changing actual policies in Cuba was only a secondary objective since Cuba, by itself is relatively insignificant.

    The embargo was a message to US vassal states. Toe the line, and open you country up to exploitation by US business interests, or we will destroy your economy. It is silly to suggest that the purpose of the policy was humanitarian.

    • Joe Tedesky
      February 3, 2016 at 4:56 pm

      Our U.S. Government has a terrible track record when it comes to respecting other nations sovereignty. The American media has an even worst track record to reporting the truth when it comes to describing such things, as well. Back in 1969 after witnessing how horrific the Papa Doc Haiti government was, and how the U.S. backed it, only because we hated Fidel, well I saw the light. America is a great country, but more often than not our ambitions and goals are questionable. If the American media were to ever report the truth, well then maybe us good American people would finally say enough is enough. This flaw is what causes blow back. Correct this problem, and then you won’t need to stand in a TSA inspection line at the airport.

      PS I hope Cuba keeps the old cars. It is a cool look to keep!

  2. J'hon Doe II
    February 3, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    No man of Good Intention
    can speak of will and wisdom
    w/o shedding a tear for
    the empty seats that surround him
    in the arena of life today,
    Eros and Psyche
    are dying sorrowful deaths
    being overcome by Greed & Envy
    and Lust and pharmakia
    fantasies promoted by
    trapped in the mode
    ad industry sales to
    colonized consumers
    getting by under colonialism
    by reason of the Doctrine
    of Survival as DECLARED
    by one Thomas Malthus
    economic theorist of
    world population control.

    https://www.siam.org/meetings/archives/pp97/cp12.htm

  3. Trowbridge Ford
    February 3, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    The continuing Cold War with Castro’s Cuba is just the price it has to pay for not being the fall guy, like the USSR, for the plot to get rid of them at JFK’s expense in Dallas during the revival of the Missile Crisis after a 13-month hiatus.

    Ultimately Casey’s Agency got rid of the USSR by making Gorbachev so frightened over its planned extinction during a non-nuclear conclusion to the Cold War at Olof Palme’s expense that he agreed to conditions which caused the break up of the Soviet bloc, and the collapse of the USSR.

    The CIA is still hoping to bring down the Cuban Revolution.

    • Ted Tripp
      February 3, 2016 at 5:03 pm

      I am not sure about that view of the fall of the Soviet Union. Although the CIA is frighteningly effective at times, e.g. Guatemala, Iran, Chile, I find it hard to believe that Casey could be clever enough to outsmart Gorbachev. Excessive military expenditures for the Cold War and Afghan intervention were quite enough to do the trick.

  4. Ted Tripp
    February 3, 2016 at 4:58 pm

    My understanding of the Miami Cuban refugees has always been that they were the refuse and detritus of the old Bautista regime, not able or willing to adapt to the Revolution. Their political power results from American elite idiocy, as it is not the first time that the elites have chosen to side with scum!
    If anyone has a better narrative, please let me know.

    • John
      February 3, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      I think you have it correct. After spending a month in Miami, I quickly understood why Castro would have kicked these people out.

  5. Drew Hunkins
    February 3, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    Fidel Castro’s one of the greatest leaders the Western hemisphere has ever seen. History will absolve him of all the smear campaigns and propaganda thrown his way.

  6. February 3, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Casey had delegated the matter to Ollie North, Navy Secretary John Lehman, CNO Admiral James Watkins et al., and they were outwitted by KGB’s Vladimir Kryuchkov and Vladimir Putin in Dresden during the non-nuclear showdown, thanks to all the spying Moscow developed.

    Gorby, though, immediately agreed to a medium-range missile treaty with Reagan, and then opened the bloc and the USSR itself to such decentralization that they fell economically and politically apart.

  7. Alex T.
    February 4, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Since Cuba is one of only 3 countries remaining without a Rothschild controlled central bank, all i can say to this story is, Duh!
    h/t Iran and N. Korea are the other two.
    Ever wonder why they are in the Zio news so much as bad actors?

  8. elmerfudzie
    February 4, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    I’d like to be a guest of the Cuban people, not a tourist, not someone who “drops-in” for two weeks and then, upon leaving, assumes that they “know it all” about Cuban culture. In the broadest sense this is a quackish notion held by many Western Occident traveler in the Jet set -class. Cubans are a marvelous people, a gene pool that stretches from across Europe, Africa and into the West Indies. An adventurous pool of peoples, historically devoted to maritime trading. Speaking here as a US Citizen, I ask the Cuban people to forgive and forget the ignorant mis-judgments of President William Mc McKinley’s administration, who’s colonial predatory nature can be traced to those recorded musings by President Zachary Taylor; when he stated and I quote: “We shall acquire it (Cuba) by a coup d’etat at some propitious moment…” Further, to forgive and forget the October 1976 Cubana Flight 455 bombing where Luis Posada Carriles was tried and convicted as the terrorist who murdered 96 passengers AND with strong links to CIA sponsored terror against Cuba. But there’s more, much more to forgive; the American (old mafia) was allowed to fester in Cuba, under the leadership of the corruptly installed Batista regime, along with his, mafia inspired and financed, entourage of gambling and prostitution casinos. As we, the Citizens of the USA, begin to rediscover and Christianize ourselves perhaps the opportunity will arise to pass a “Christian” message of love and faith to them, to open a few churches, to freely agree to mutual (cultural) assimilation(s) of one kind or another. Well,, it’s a hopeful dream anyway….

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