Tag: International relations

Opening Cuba

This is a pretty big deal:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and ease economic restrictions on the nation, an historic shift he called the end of an “outdated approach” to U.S.-Cuban relations.

Obama said he’s instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to re-establish diplomatic relations, and that the U.S. will re-open an embassy in Havana. The administration will also allow some travel and trade that had been banned under a decades-long embargo instated during the Kennedy administration.

There are aspects of the embargo that Obama can’t undo because they were encoded into law when it was feared that Clinton might normalize relations with Cuba. Related to this are the release of about 50 political prisoners in Cuba, including Alan Gross and at least one US intelligence asset who has been in prison for 20 years. Apparently, the Vatican and Canada played a role in bringing this about.

As you can imagine, this is drawing a lot of fire from Cuban-Americans and Cuban-American politicians:

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer he would do everything in his power to block any potential U.S. ambassador to Cuba even receive a vote.

He also called the easing of economic restrictions “inexplicable” in a statement.

“Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy,” he said.
Rubio promised that as incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee he’ll “make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt by the President to burnish his legacy at the Cuban people’s [sic] expense.”

I have long been in favor of lifting the embargo. For 53 years, it has accomplished nothing. The vile Castro brothers have kept their brutal police state in place while becoming extremely wealthy. Meanwhile, average Cubans are among the poorest in the hemisphere, despite past support from the former Soviet Union and ongoing support from other socialist and communist idiots. It’s not like we don’t have relations with vile regimes like China or Saudi Arabia.

Will this cause “reform” in Cuba? I’m dubious, especially as the embargo is only partially lifted and most American businesses will not be able to open shop in Cuba. But I’m also aware that the Castros are in their 70s. Even assuming that they live for much longer, their rule is going to become increasingly fragile. Trade and travel between the two countries can hasten that day by loosening the absolute political and economic power Castro has over his citizens. But even if it doesn’t, it is long since time we abandoned this stupid and destructive approach.

We’ll have to see what happens. But overall, I think this is a good step. The most encouraging sign to me is the number of liberals lamenting that capitalism is going to take over Cuba.

Good Lord, we can only hope so.

Totalitarians Are All The Same

Two political flashpoints have erupted in the last few days. The first is in the Ukraine, where the President launched a violent assault on protesters, resulting in at least 26 people being killed and probably over a thousand injured. A truce might be coming into place. The second, to one’s surprise, is Venezuela, where Chavez’s heirs are arresting opposition leaders, beating protesters and silencing the press. Tonight there are reports of murder in the streets.

In the Ukraine, the protests are because the President has been cozying up to Russia and distancing himself from the EU, which most of the people vehemently oppose, having long memories of brutal Russian oppression. He has also, in the last few weeks, been desperately trying to silence the protests against his policies. In Venezuela, the issues are deeper:

Inflation has rocketed to more than 55 per cent, there are widespread blackouts and the staples of life are increasingly scarce. This, despite the fact that Venezuela is the most oil-rich country in the world. Crime is so rife in the big cities that many vulnerable Venezuelans are reluctant even to venture outside anymore. The murder rate in Caracas is 122 per 100,000 residents – higher even than Baghdad (as a Cuban friend of mine quipped last year, at least proper dictators like Fidel Castro keep the streets safe).

The response by the authorities to the protests has merely highlighted once again the government’s unwillingness to tolerate dissent. Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor and one of the protest organisers, has had an arrest warrant issued against him and videos have emerged of students being pistol whipped and kicked by armed policeman. As if taking its cue straight from the Soviet playbook, the government has blamed a “fascist upsuge” for the violence and “saboteurs” for the disintegration of the economy.

(You really should read that last link, where James Bloodworth takes his fellows liberals to task for refusing to acknowledge that goatfuck that was and is Chavezism.)

The striking thing about these brutal crackdowns is that they are being implemented by democratically-elected leaders. It’s a stark reminder that democracy, by itself, is no guaranteed protection against tyranny and oppression. As I have said many times, the most important part of a democracy is what happens between the elections. We’re being reminded of that now in the Ukraine and Venezuela.

Oppressors like to paint themselves in various colors — fascism, communism, socialism, etc. Some of them even paint themselves as defenders of democracy. But in the end, no matter what hair-brained philosophy they cling to, they are the same color: blood red.

Whither Turkey

I’ve been a bit pre-occupied this week but have spent part of today trying to catch up to the Turkish situation. I think Fareed Zakaria makes the best case scenario that this is essentially a collision of two backlashes. The first was against the extremely secular government that Turkey had for a long time (veils were forbidden in public places, for example). The second is response to Erdogan’s rather authoritarian approach to bring more Islam into the public space and the natural fears that this will lead to fundamentalism.

I’m not sure how this will play out but I’m more optimistic about this than I was about the Arab Spring. For one thing, Turkey already has an established democracy and a secular society. There isn’t really anything like the Muslim Brotherhood to step in and start to assert true Islamism.

Still, it’s critical that we keep an eye on what’s going on. Turkey is our most critical ally in the region (non-Israel division). What happens in Turkey is far more important than what happens in Syria, Libya or Egypt.

The Plot Thickens in Benghazi


U.S. intelligence officials, speaking on a not-for-attribution basis, provided reporters Thursday with the most detailed explanation yet of the CIA’s presence in Benghazi, Libya, and the agency’s response to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, while also identifying the two former Navy SEALs killed that night as being employed by the CIA.

But some news organizations, including the Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post, already knew that the two former SEALs — Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty — were working for the CIA and had agreed not to publish the information at the government’s request.

While AP, the Times and the Post held back this detail following an official request, reporters at other news outlets may also have known or assumed the men were not security contractors given the nature of their work in Libya. ABC News, for example, reported that Doherty had been working to “round up dangerous weapons” in the country. One national security reporter told The Huffington Post that it was an “open secret” in national security circles that the former SEALs were working for the CIA.

Apparently, only 7 of the 30 consulate employees were actually working for the State Department. All the rest were CIA. What precisely they were doing in Benghazi, whether this screwed with the chain of command, what role this played in the confusion in those critical seven hours — that has yet to be determined.

The latest from David Ignatius also dispels a few rumors, claiming there was no “stand down” order, that the drone in question was an unarmed drone that was diverted to provide a view of events and also that fighting appeared to stop at 1 am. Then this:

5:15 a.m.: A new Libyan assault begins, this time with mortars. Two rounds miss and the next three hit the roof. The rooftop defenders never “laser the mortars,” as has been reported. They don’t know the weapons are in place until the indirect fire begins, nor are the mortars observed by the drone overhead. The defenders have focused their laser sights earlier on several Libyan attackers, as warnings not to fire. At 5:26 the attack is over. Woods and Doherty are dead and two others are wounded.

There are still some very big questions to answer, especially why security was not beefed up in the weeks before when it became clear the consulate was a danger point, why Stephens was put in a place that was mostly CIA with such a tiny State Department contingent and why military assets were not used to secure the area, even after the fighting stopped. (As far as I can tell, there is no current information on what our military assets were doing at the time.)

It’s also becoming clear that a lot of our response depended on local cooperation from the Libyan government. This cooperation happened but was often delayed, confused or incompetent. In fact, there are indications that this may have been an inside job by some of those Libyan resources.

So, yes, this dismisses some of the more egregious accusations. But we continue to circle back to the big question: why was a United States ambassador put in harm’s way without the kind of protection he would have in a peaceful country? And why were our military assets not deployed? Why did this remain a CIA op when it become obvious that they were in over their heads?

The cooperation of the media in keeping the CIA’s presence (and, presumably, continued involvement) is a bit concerning. It might have clarified things a lot earlier. But I really don’t have a problem with it. I prefer that the press be discrete about some things. There’s no evidence that the CIA was torturing people or disappearing dissidents. Revealing their presence prematurely could only endanger our operations there.

As I said on Twitter last night, we now have some answers to our questions. But we also have a lot more questions.

Update: More from the LAT:

Senior intelligence and Defense officials say there was some coverage by unarmed surveillance drones during part of the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack, but no feed was available for the president. The Special Operations team arrived on the Italian island of Sicily hours after the attack was over. And “no AC-130 was within a continent’s range of Benghazi,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

That begs the question, of course: why weren’t they there?

An Act of War?

Isn’t that what this is?

The US ambassador to Libya is among four Americans killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, President Barack Obama has confirmed.

Unidentified armed men stormed the grounds overnight amid uproar among Muslims over a US-produced film said to insult the Prophet Muhammad.

They shot at buildings and threw handmade bombs into the compound.

It is still unclear how the ambassador, J Christopher Stevens, and the others actually died.

CBS is reporting that the staff were moved after the initial attacks but their location was betrayed by Libyan guards.

Right now, the situation is very fluid. Ansar Al-Sharia, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, is claiming credit for the attacks. But it’s not clear exactly what went on. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for peaceful protests. We’ll see how that goes.

All over some obscure privately-funded movie.

What is clear is that American soil has been attacked and an American official killed. The exact response can be debated. For example, if we really believe that the Libyan government had nothing to do with this, we can work with them to kill the fuckers.

But a response will be coming. There is simply no alternative.

Update: It’s probably been taken down now, but a video trailer of the offending film is floating around on youtube. I watched a few minutes. If this is what has provoked the riots, it’s ridiculous. As my brother said, it’s just an excuse. The “film” wouldn’t pass muster as a high school play. Honestly, Maons was more professionally made.

Oh, how things change….

Rumsfeld on “Old Europe” then:

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld Wednesday dismissed French and German insistence that “everything must be done to avoid war” with Iraq, saying most European countries stand with the United States in its campaign to force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to disarm.

“Germany has been a problem, and France has been a problem,” said Rumsfeld, a former NATO ambassador. “But you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe. They’re not with France and Germany on this, they’re with the United States.”

Rumsfeld also said Germany and France represent “old Europe.” The expansion of NATO in recent years means “the center of gravity is shifting to the east,” he said.

He was pilloried by the MSM for pointing the lack of commitment from the Europeans in NATO to any sort of defense, and the reliance on US tax payers to do the heavy lifting.

Gates on the same now:

Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Gates issued a dire warning that the United States, the traditional leader and bankroller of the alliance, is exhausted by a decade of war and and its own mounting budget deficits, and simply may not see NATO as worth supporting any longer.

“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” Mr. Gates said.

And the MSM nods in agreement.

I guess the difference was that Bush was going into Iraq and that was going to hurt the sweet deals for Oil Hussein many of “Old Europe’s” capitals had, and starting war #2. Gates is now speaking for people trying to get rid of Gaddafi so Europeans don’t have to worry about him doing what all others in Africa are doing – selling to the Chinese – and these tools are on war #4, 5 if you want to count Pakistan, and that makes this all better.

Don’t get me wrong: I think both are right about telling the Europeans to stop not only expecting free rides, and Rumsfeld was doubly so for telling them not t to screw us when it is convenient for them, but then I remember what it was like when the Europeans could defend themselves. Do we want more of what we had at the beginning of the previous century? And, no, I don’t think Europeans have abandoned those ways, they have become pussies, by necessity, as they allowed US tax payers to pay for their defense, but I would not be surprised to find out that they are still bloodthirsty bastards deep down in there.