Another US mistake, by Wayne Smith

Campaign News | Sunday, 3 December 2006

From Morning Star

Another US mistake

(Tuesday 28 November 2006)


WAYNE SMITH, the former chief of mission at the US Interests Section in Havana highlights his country's failed strategy to destabilise Cuba

PRIME Minister Blair certainly thought that he was doing the right thing when he endorsed his friend President Bush's invasion of Iraq and sent in British troops to support that invasion.

After all, the US cousins said that they had rock-solid evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that threatened us all.

They also said that there was clear evidence that Saddam Hussein had links to al-Qaida and was part of the terrorist threat against us all.

Only, it turned out that there were no weapons of mass destruction, nor had Bush and his stalwarts any real evidence that there were.

Equally spurious were the allegations that Iraq was linked to al-Qaida and was somehow part of the terrorist threat. It was not.

The reasons given were false and, in addition to that, the invasion turned out to be totally counterproductive. Bush and his advisers believed that they could quickly and easily turn Iraq into a flourishing democracy.

The other countries would then follow suit and we'd be left with a peaceful and stable region. What a pipe dream.

Rather than that, the invasion has turned Iraq into a breeding ground for terrorists, has spurred massive insurgencies and a near civil war - a civil war that could result in spiralling instability throughout the whole region. The invasion has produced exactly the opposite of what Bush promised. And, it must be said, those who supported it, no matter how well meaning their intentions, must share some of the blame for the resulting debacle.

Iraq is by no means the only Bush foreign policy initiative proving to be embarrassingly counterproductive. Cuba is another example - among many. Just after September 11 2001, the Cuban government denounced the terrorist acts of that day, expressed its solidarity with the US people and offered to co-operate fully with the US in actions against terrorism, even to sign a bilateral agreement to that effect.

Cuba also signed all 12 UN resolutions against terrorism. Had these overtures been explored, it might have led not only to joint efforts against terrorism, but to some broader accommodation between Washington and Havana.

But the Bush administration did not explore them - rather, it began calling for the downfall of the Castro government and, in May 2004, issued a 500-page action plan to bring that about - a plan which sounded like the blueprint for a US occupation of the island.

That was followed by the appointment of a US "transition co-ordinator" for Cuba, Caleb McCarry. In Iraq, the US invaded and occupied the country before appointing such a co-ordinator. The Cubans wonder whether, in their case, the order is simply to be reversed.

The underlying premise of the action plan was that the Castro regime was on the verge of collapse. Just a few more US sanctions, a few more Radio Marti broadcasts and it would all be over.

Well, not quite. Two years on, rather than collapsing, the Cuban economy is showing strong signs of recovery. Even the CIA admits that the growth rate was over 8 per cent last year. Cuba says that it was closer to 12 per cent and expects much better this year.

On July 10, simply ignoring reality, the Bush administration came out with a sequel to its action plan, this one stressing that the so-called "succession strategy," in which Raul Castro would replace his brother in the presidency, was "totally unacceptable." It was bad timing.

A few days later, on July 31, the unacceptable happened. For medical reasons, Fidel turned power over to Raul. The Cuban people accepted the transition and now, almost four months on, Raul is governing the country without missing a beat.

The Bush administration, however, refuses to deal with Raul even as it refused to deal with Fidel. And yet, none of the measures that it puts forward to bring down the government has any chance of success.

Radio and TV Marti broadcasts have no effect whatever on Cuban public opinion. And a General Accounting Office report in Washington has just revealed that almost all the millions of dollars that the administration has supposedly been channelling to dissidents in Cuba have in fact gone into the pockets of people in Miami and never reached Cuba at all.

Of course, more draconian measures cannot be excluded. The July 10 report has a secret annex. Why? The US administration won't say. But, given the history of CIA plots, sabotage and assassination attempts, one must expect the worst. Certainly, the Cubans do expect it.

The outcome of the elections in the US, however, may help deter any such adventures. The US people made it clear that they have misgivings about Bush's conduct of foreign policy and will be watching future developments with great attention. CIA hanky-panky in Cuba would not go unnoticed.

Even without that, however, Bush's Cuba policy is counterproductive. It raises Cuban concerns and defensiveness which militate against a more relaxed atmosphere conducive to liberalising changes.

Because of that, many of the dissidents in Cuba have denounced US policy. As Elizardo Sanchez, Cuba's leading human rights activist, put it to me in 2004, "US policy has an effect exactly the opposite of the one you should want."

Cuba's Catholic bishops have also expressed their disagreement with US policy, saying that its measures "threaten both the present and future of our nation."

All that being the case, it is to be hoped that Prime Minister Blair will not support Bush's gravely mistaken policies in Cuba, as he did those in Iraq.

Now a senior fellow at the Centre for International Policy in Washington and an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Wayne Smith spent 25 years in the US diplomatic service, his last post being as chief of mission at the US Interests Section in Havana (1979-82).

* Wayne Smith was one of the speakers at the Latin America 2006 conference this Saturday December 2 at Congress House, Gt Russell Street, London WC1.

Other speakers included Harold Pinter, Tariq Ali, Victoria Britain, Colin Burgon MP, plus keynote speakers from Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia and Britain. Some 400 delegates attended.

Professor Smith is giving a public seminar at London Metropolitan University on 5 December. Details are in the events section on this website homepage.

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