Shadow Government

Cuban crimes and U.S. apologists

As if the world needed further reminding, in recent weeks there have been two events that underscore the unremitting brutality of the Castro regime in Cuba. Just last week, human rights activists reported on the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 83-day hunger strike. An Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, Zapata Tamayo was a 42-year-old Afro-Cuban dissident who was serving a 36-year sentence for the Orwellian crime of "dangerousness." Amnesty lamented, "Faced with a prolonged prison sentence, the fact that Orlando Zapata Tamayo felt he had no other avenue available to him but to starve himself in protest is a terrible indictment of the continuing repression of political dissidents in Cuba." Indeed.

In the second incident, last December, American citizen Alan Gross was jumped by Cuban state security agents as he attempted to leave Cuba after providing communications equipment to help apolitical Cuban Jewish groups access the Internet. He has been held since in a cell in the notorious Villa Marista state security headquarters in Havana.

One would think that decent people everywhere would be appalled at these outrageous assaults on freedom and human dignity, and thankfully most are. (A searing Washington Post editorial here on the death of Zapata Tamayo.) Unfortunately, that doesn't include the dogged legions of critics of U.S.-Cuba policy who can find no criminal act by the Castro regime that cannot be explained or excused.

Even an action as heinous as the death of a political prisoner won't dissuade them. The incessantly critical Center for Democracy in the Americas (!) "laments" the death of Zapata Tamayo, but "joins...others in urging changes in Cuba policy as the right response." 

Not to be outdone in bad taste, another critic, Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute,  points visitors to his blog to a Cuban government statement on medical attention given to Orlando Zapata before his death, before, er, chiding the Castro regime that it is responsible for the well-being of prisoners in its custody, just as the United States is "for  prisoners it holds at Guantanamo or anywhere else." Mr. Peters apparently fails to see the obscenity of comparing captured terrorists to a Cuban prisoner of conscience.

In the case of arrested American Alan Gross, the twisted perspective is equally contemptible. Gross was in Cuba under a USAID program that began during the Clinton Administration to provide material support to families of Cuban political prisoners and human rights activists. The program was expanded by the U.S. Congress during the Bush Administration to encompass "New Media" technology -- including Internet access and cell phones -- for Cubans wishing to carve out some semblance of independent space on the island.

One would think that a fellow American jailed by a totalitarian regime for trying to help its people would cause these commentators to close ranks behind the unfortunate individual, but they are perfectly willing to throw him to the wolves. Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations helpfully echoes the regime's rationale in the Washington Post, "I believe the Cubans arrested him to force the U.S. government to focus on the provocative nature of these aid programs, which are designed to push for regime change."

The dean of Castro apologists, Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy, throws Mr. Gross an anchor when he intones to the Miami Herald, "Maybe he was up to something he shouldn't have been up to."  

An anti-embargo blog, The Havana Note, offers this message of solidarity: 

"The issue is not only the US magnifying the importance and saying nice things about marginal political opponents of a government everyone else in the world but we recognize, but also that it subsidizes them while maintaining a harsh embargo on travel and trade."

It is a wonder the Castro regime pays anyone to write its propaganda when there are so many outside Cuba so willing to carry the regime's water.

Finally, elsewhere on this site the ubiquitous Mr. Peters is back at it, penning the equivalent of a Castro ransom note for the unfortunate Mr. Gross: "It would be far better if a long-overdue review [of U.S.-Cuba policy] were prompted by something other than Gross's arrest" (although he is willing to allow it to be prompted by just that). He says President Obama "would do well to slash or scrap USAID's Cuba program" because "current policies play naively and directly into the hands of Cuban state security." Not only is he oblivious to the irony of his own recommendation playing precisely into Havana's hands -- arrest an American, shut down the aid program -- but he appears unconcerned about the dangerous signal that would send around the world about America's willingness to stand by oppressed peoples seeking respect for their inalienable rights.

From these morally bankrupt perspectives, the problem in Cuba is not a brutal, unrepentant, and unreformed Stalinist regime, but a U.S. policy that attempts to help Cubans connect with the outside world beyond regime control or claim their essential freedoms. America should count its blessings such a mindset never prevailed during the Cold War, lest the Berlin Wall still be standing.

The double standard regarding Cuba has been a source of enduring frustration for Cuba democracy advocates. Just last year, regional leaders invited Cuba back into the fold of the Organization of American States, despite its five decades of rigged one-party "elections," yet continue to shun democratic and peaceful Honduras. The world rightly honors a long-serving political prisoner like Nelson Mandela, but couldn't name one of several Cuban political prisoners who served longer sentences in the Cuban gulag than Mandela's 27 years in South African prisons. Activists demanded U.S. intervention in Pinochet's Chile to support regime change there, but any such effort to support democratic forces in Cuba is deemed "illegitimate."

Of course, international human rights organizations have been forced to confront the regime's systematic abuse of human rights, but they also insist on getting their licks in on the United States, as if U.S. policy forces the regime to assault dissidents in the streets or deny Cubans their fundamental freedoms.

It is a sad state of affairs, and one that show no signs of abating. Obviously, activists are in a state of panic as they see their dreams of an Obama Administration unilaterally and unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime evaporating into thin air. Clearly, no U.S. President is going to risk the dignity of his office reaching his hand out to a thug regime that demonstrates no willingness to abide by any elementary norms of civilized behavior.

No question there are some sincere critics of current policy that believe opening up Cuba to U.S. trade and travel will transform Cuba into a Jeffersonian democracy. But they fail to understand the true nature of the Castro brothers' regime. A unilateral reversal of U.S. policy at this point would accomplish nothing but making the United States an accomplice in the Castro regime's continued crimes again the Cuban people.

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Incremental sanctions make a nuclear Iran more likely

In its most recent report, the IAEA acknowledged what many observers have asserted for years -- that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. Whether this is the result of new evidence, or merely the willingness of the agency’s new director-general to heed the existing evidence, is beside the point. The findings will provide new impetus for a sanctions push that has been extensively foreshadowed over the last several months by leaders in the United States and Europe.

For the next tranche of sanctions to be successful, thought must be given not only to which measures are chosen, but how they are chosen. The instinct of policymakers in Europe and Washington is often to act incrementally; stronger sanctions are proposed, only to be diluted in U.N. negotiations aimed at unanimity. The measures that are ultimately adopted are usually just one step beyond the previous set.

This incremental approach is counterproductive. The sanctions’ predictability and long lead time allows Tehran to prepare for them in advance. For example, Iran is currently expanding its oil refining capacity and reducing consumption subsidies in anticipation of the sort of gasoline sanctions moving through Congress, and could be a net gasoline exporter by 2013. Incrementalism inures the Iranian regime to sanctions altogether, stripping of credibility any threats of tougher action in the future. The result is to rob sanctions of their deterrent effect and make extreme outcomes -- a nuclear-armed Iran, or war with Iran -- more rather than less likely.

The traditional approach also places too high a value on international consensus. While multilateral support is necessary to efforts to deter Iran, unanimity is not. Unanimity does not make weak sanctions more effective. Also, the unanimity achieved is often symbolic -- lowest-common denominator measures are supplemented by a “coalition of the willing” who shoulder greater sacrifice while others enthusiastically embrace whatever is not explicitly forbidden. For example, China National Petroleum Corporation (having taken the place of France’s Total SA) will begin the drilling phase of a major gas project in Iran in March, at the same moment the rest of the P5+1 begin their deliberations on sanctions. In this next round of sanctions deliberations, the price required of Beijing for its seat at the head diplomatic table must be that it accept its fair share of the responsibility for and cost of deterring Iran.

To avoid the trap of incrementalism and advance efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons progress, the U.S. and Europe must think backwards. That is, consider what circumstances must be brought about to induce a change of course by the Iranian regime, along with the time available to bring about such circumstances. A cursory analysis of past Iranian shifts suggests that the threshold at which the regime will recalculate remains far off -- Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1988 decision to accede to a ceasefire in the Iran-Iraq war, for example, came only after several Iranian naval ships were destroyed in battle with the U.S. Navy.

Thinking backwards leads to the conclusion that the regime’s resilience, and the urgency underscored by the IAEA report, should lead the West to eschew any gradual buildup of pressure for bolder, less predictable, and faster-acting measures. By implication, our international persuasion efforts should be focused less on means -- such as sanctions -- and more on ends. If an ally agrees that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, that its success in this regard would be devastating for global security, and that sufficient pressure must be brought to bear on the Iranian regime to force its recalculation, then reasoning backward will lead naturally support for far-reaching sanctions or similar measures. If on the other hand there is no such concurrence on objectives, then agreement on “crippling” sanctions is unlikely ever to materialize.

It is possible that a bolder approach to sanctions will signal to a skeptical Iranian regime that we are willing to endure much to derail its nuclear ambitions, and induce its leader to preemptively change his strategy. More ominously, a failure by the regime to do so may lead the international community to realize that no sanctions will be sufficient to divert Iran from its path.