The Obama Legacy in Cuba

By Elliott Abrams of The Council on Foreign Relations:

The Obama Legacy in Cuba

Moving fast in his waning months, President Obama concluded he had not done enough to overturn U.S. policy toward Cuba and ensure that his new policies will survive. So he has issued a new “Presidential Policy Directive” that goes even further.

Two things are striking about it. First, what the United States gets in return from the Castro regime is exactly and precisely nothing. This is not a bargained-for exchange; Castro makes no promises, allows no one to get out of prison, does not even make a vague allusion to reform. Nothing. This is because Cuba policy is, for the President, less an exercise in statesmanship than the true product of ideological politics. This policy is a remedy, a medicine, an apology, to make up for what he sees as decades of American sin toward Cuba.

Of course, in Mr. Obama’s imagination “Cuba” means “Castro;” the Cuban people are really not an actor here. The benefits of all the commerce that will now grow go directly to the regime. For example, the hotels that Mr. Obama wishes to fill with American tourists are owned by the Cuban military. No matter, it seems.

One can see glimpses of all this in the actual text of the Directive. For example, take these lines: “we are not seeking to impose regime change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make their own choices about their future.” Later in the text we see this again: “We will not pursue regime change in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the United States cannot impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the Cuban people.”

This is blindness, because the real problem facing the Cuban people is precisely that the future of Cuba is NOT up to them, but is under the control of a tyrannical communist regime. They are not permitted “to make their own choices about their future,” and when they try they are beaten and jailed. Mr. Obama’s failure to recognize and admit this is at the heart of the moral abdication that is his Cuba policy. And it is at the heart of his administration’s broader failures in human rights policy: when he sees “Iran,” he sees the regime, not the people, so he remains silent in June 2009 when they rise up in the Green Revolution. In truth the people of Iran were getting in the way of his Iran policy, so they had to be ignored. This is the precise phenomenon we see as well in Cuba.

In fact the Cuban people are suffering from a human rights crackdown since the signing of the first agreement with the regime. American newspapers have reported this very widely, and one might have expected Mr. Obama to hold back on further concessions until the crackdown was lifted. One might, that is, if one had not been paying attention: for Mr. Obama, this is another “legacy item,” and it has nothing to do with the actual, real-world human rights situation in Cuba. Human rights and democracy activists there are on their own.

The second striking aspect of the Obama Cuba policy is found in these lines in the Directive:

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support broader United States Government efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, with Intelligence Community elements working to find opportunities for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts.”

This is nothing short of amazing. The Miami Herald has correctly reported that “Since Fidel Castro seized power in January 1959, and over the next five decades, Havana built one of the world’s most active intelligence services — one that dispatched spies and agents to penetrate the highest levels of the American government and some of the leading Cuban exile organizations.” The Cuban regime is an enemy of the United States and an ally of Russian intelligence. Now Mr. Obama is ordering DNI to cooperate with the Cubans, which can only have them licking their chops. Once again, ideology takes precedence over all else–in this case including national security. To force the U.S. intelligence community into cooperation with Cuban intelligence is insult and injury in equal measure.

Here is a part of an article about Cuban intelligence from The National Interest in 2013:

“According to the long-standing PCC [Partido Comunista de Cuba] narrative, the United States is the principal threat to the revolution, and so U.S.-related intelligence collection is likely to remain a Cuban imperative….Intelligence supports other Cuban official interests. U.S. intelligence specialists have long assumed that Cuba provides other countries in the anti-U.S. firmament—such as Iran, China, and North Korea—with information, including commercial and technical data, collected by its U.S.-based spies. No country (including the United States) shares intelligence for nothing. ‘Intelligence liaison,’ as it is known, is a transactional relationship, and the Cubans can reasonably expect to receive information, money and commodities in return. Cuba will probably try to expand its market for intelligence about the United States.”

The new Presidential Directive, ordering DNI to cooperate with the Cuban intelligence services, will help this along.

Mr. Obama has sided with the regime against the Cuban people, and when the regime has cracked down he has remained silent. He has pushed democracy in Cuba further away, and refused to use American leverage to stop the abuse of dissidents. He is enriching and strengthening the regime and lengthening the tyranny under which Cubans live. This is the true Obama legacy in Cuba.