On November 13, only one week after the U.S. mid-term election, Michael Beschloss appeared before an overflow crowd at Minneapolis’ Westminster Town Hall Forum to discuss his recent book, Presidents of War: 1807 to Modern Times. Below are photographs of Beschloss and the Westminster Sanctuary before the arrival of the crowd.
The Presidents of War
He made the following brief comments about the eight presidents of war who are covered in his book.
President James Madison and the War of 1812. This was the first and the most unpopular war in U.S. history, climaxed by the British burning of the White House and Madison’s escaping to Virginia in August 1814. (The book covers this in the Prologue and Chapters Two and Three.)
President James Polk and the Mexican-American War (1846 1848). This war was started by the U.S. on the U.S.false assertion that Mexico had ambushed and killed an American soldier in the new state of Texas. The U.S. won the war and acquired more than 500,000 square miles of Mexican territory extending west of the Rio Grande River to the Pacific Ocean.(This is covered in Chapters Four and Five.)
President Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War (1860-1865). Lincoln was the best president of war. Initially he was not a crusader and instead an enforcer of the constitutional ban on secession, which was not a popular message. Later with the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address he made it a moral crusade against slavery and the people began to follow Lincoln. (This is covered in Chapters Six and Seven.)
President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War, 1898. This was another war started on a false assertion: Spain had blown up the USS Maine in the Havana Harbor, when in fact it was caused by an exploding boiler in the ship. This war resulted in the U.S.’ acquiring the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain and de facto control of Cuba. (This is covered in Chapters Eight and Nine of the book.)
President Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1918. In his re-election campaign of 1916, Wilson’s slogan was “He kept us out of war,” but in April 2017 he had Congress declare war after German attacks on U.S. ships. In his well-meaning campaign for the League of Nations, Wilson made a lot of mistakes. (This is covered in Chapters Ten and Eleven.)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and World War II, 1941-1945. Before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, FDR gave very few speeches about the war in Europe, and there was strong U.S. public opinion against entering the war on the belief that World War I had been a mistake. Immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, the Congress declared war against Japan, the last time the U.S. declared war under the Constitution. FDR learned from the war with the exception of treatment of Japanese-Americans. (this is covered in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen.)
President Truman and the Korean War (Conflict), 1950-1953. According to Beschloss, Truman had read and written some history and had said one “could not be president without knowing history” and “every leader must be a reader.”(This is covered in Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen.)
President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, 1963-1969. This is another war started on a false U.S. assertion: the Vietnamese had attacked a U.S. ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which lead to a congressional resolution supporting military action. The White House audio tapes of LBJ’s conversations revealed important information: (a) Senator Richard Russell urged LBJ to get out of the war; (b) Secretary of Defense McNamara urged LBJ to get involved, thereby disproving McNamara’s later denials of same; (c) LBJ came to believe that this was a war the U.S. could not win and could not lose; and (d) LBJ rejected the advice of General Westmoreland to use nuclear weapons in the war. (This was discussed in Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of the book.)
Commonalities of the Presidents of War
Beschloss identified two common characterizes of these presidents.
First, they all became more religious during their wars. Lincoln before the Civil War was a sceptic or agnostic, but during the war regularly read the Bible and talked about wars being “oceans of blood” that prompted his seeking biblical guidance for sending young men to their death. Lyndon Johnson before the war was not a regular church-goer, but during the war, his daughter Lucy Baines Johnson Turpin, who had become a Roman Catholic, regularly and confidentially took LBJ to mass , and Lady Bird Johnson was heard to say he might convert to Catholicism.
Second, they all were married to strong women who gave good advice. In 1942 FDR was considering internment of Japanese-Americans, and Eleanor warned him strongly not to do so. The subsequent internment caused a major rupture in their marriage.
In response to a question about whether any of the war presidents had military experience, he did not state the obvious: they had not except for Truman in World War I. Instead, he said that President Eisenhower, who is not covered in the book even though he presided over the end of the Korean War, had the “perfect” military experience resulting from his military education and training and command responsibility during World War Ii that provided him with the knowledge of the ends and means, the costs and the unpredictability of war.
The President of Peace
In response to a question, Beschloss identified only one president of peace:. President Thomas Jefferson in 1807 resisted public pressure to go to war with Great Britain over an attack by its ship (The Leopard) against a U.S. frigate (The Chesapeake) in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia that killed three U.S. sailors and wounded eight others. (This is discussed in Chapter One of the book.)
Advice to U.S. Citizens
All presidents need wisdom, courage and judgment. They need to be moral leaders.
Citizens, Senators and representatives need to evaluate and criticize presidents on important issues, especially those of war and peace.
In his book’s Epilogue, Beschloss says “the framers of the Constitution had dreamt that war would be a last resort under the political system they had invented. Unlike in Great Britain and other monarchies and dictatorships of old, it would be declared by Congress, not the chief of State.” Yet “the notion of presidential war took hold step by step.” We as citizens need to insist on obeying the Constitution and requiring congressional declarations of war.
Beschloss is an award-winning author of nine books on presidential history. He is the presidential historian for NBC News and a contributor to PBS NewsHour. A graduate of Williams College and Harvard Business School, he has served as a historian for the Smithsonian Institution, as a Senior Associate Member at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and as a Senior Fellow of the Annenberg Foundation. His books on the presidency include, among others, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963; The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany; and Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989. His latest book, Presidents of War, was published in October. He is the recipient of the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the New York State Archives Award, and the Rutgers University Living History Award. He is a trustee of the White House Historical Association and the National Archives Foundation and a former trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
 Before 1898, the U.S. had a desire to own or control Cuba that was promoted by by U.S. slaveholders desiring support of Cuban slaveholders, and after U.S. entry in 1898 into the Second Cuban War of Independence (what we call the Spanish-American War) and the U.S. defeat of the Spanish, the U.S. made Cuba a de facto protectorate that lasted until 1934. Since the 1959 overthrow of Batista by the Cuban Revolution, of course, the two countries have had a contentious relationship, including the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that nearly erupted into war. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.
 Another U.S. president with wartime experience, including injuries, was John F. Kennedy, who during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 helped to steer the U.S. out of a possible nuclear war with the USSR over its missiles in Cuba. (See posts listed in the “ U.S.-Cuba History, 1989-2010” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.
During the first two years of President Eisenhower’s first term (1953-1954), U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (Rep., WI), was garnering national attention with his reckless charges of communist infiltration of the U.S. government, including the President’s beloved U.S. Army, which he had brilliantly served during World War II. Yet Ike, as the President was known, did not publicly confront McCarthy.
An important part of this history was the relationship between Roy Cohn, who was McCarthy’s chief counsel, and a handsome young staffer on McCarthy’s committee, G. David Schine, who after being drafted as a private into the U.S. Army obtained preferential treatment by the Army as a result of pressure from Cohn and McCarthy. Below are photographs of the two men.
When President Eisenhower learned of the special treatment and the reasons therefor, he instigated a secret Army investigation of these matters. The subsequent report of that investigation was publicly released and prompted fiery denunciations of the Army by McCarthy and Cohn, resulting in the now infamous Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954.
The implicit message of this report was Cohn and Schine’s having a homosexual relationship, which at the time was widely condemned. At the subsequent Army-McCarthy hearing, Army counsel, Joseph Welch, alluded to this relationship when he questioned another McCarthy aide, James Juliana, about the origins of a photograph that had been altered. The question: “Did you think it came from a pixie?,” which Nichols says was a sly allusion to the alteration’s having been made at the direction of Cohn, who was believed to be gay. McCarthy interrupted: “Will the counsel for my benefit define—I think he may be an expert on that—what is a pixie?” Welch’s response: “Yes, I should say, Mr. Senator, that a pixie is a close relative of a fairy [a widely used term for a homosexual at the time]. Shall I proceed, sir? Have I enlightened you?” The room erupted in laughter. (Nichols at 239.)
The hearing’s climax occurred on June 9, 1954, when Welch sarcastically asked Cohn about the important committee work that he and Schine purportedly had done on their weekends together and taunted him to “hurry” to “act before sundown” to discover communists anywhere. McCarthy sought to counter this attack on Cohn and McCarthy by interrupting to say that Welch’s law firm had “a young man named Fisher . . . who has been for a number of years a member of an organization which was named, oh years and years ago, as the legal bulwark of the Communist party.” (Nichols at 280.)
Welch, after finally getting McCarthy’s attention, said, “Senator, I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream that you would be so reckless and cruel as to do an injury to that lad. . . . If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.” (Nichols at 280-81.)
McCarthy, ignoring this plea, resumed his attack on Fisher. Welch responded, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?” (Id.)
At the time, many thought that Welch was surprised by this attack on Fisher, but there was no such surprise. Indeed, some thought that Welch’s cross examination of Cohn was taunting McCarthy so that he would attack Fisher and that Welch’s “no sense of decency” speech was rehearsed. (Nichols at 280-82.)
Six months later, on December 2, 1954, the U.S. Senate by a vote of 67 to 22 passed a resolution condemning McCarthy for certain of his actions as a U.S. Senator. Thereafter he had virtually no influence in the Senate or the country at large. He died on May 2, 1957. (Nichols at 292-97.)
In 2012, I met author Nichols when he gave a lecture at the Minnesota Historical Society on President Abraham Lincoln’s involvement in issues related to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, a subject in which I had an interest and about which have written blog posts. Later when I had written blog posts about Joseph Welch and his representing the Army in the McCarthy hearings, Nichols told me he was writing a book about Eisenhower and McCarthy, and I provided him with materials I had collected. I was surprised and pleased when Nichols included this kind acknowledgement at the end of his just published book:
Nichols was “particularly indebted to Duane Krohnke, a retired Minneapolis attorney and authority on Joseph Welch, his fellow alumnus at Grinnell College in Iowa. Duane provided me with documents unavailable elsewhere, especially Fred Fisher’s account of the hiring of Welch as counsel for the Army-McCarthy hearings. Duane also connected me with Ann M. Lousin [Grinnell, 1964] and Nancy Welch [not Grinnell’s 1961 Nancy Welch], Welch’s granddaughter, both of whom provided important information about Welch and McCarthy.” (Nichols at 300.)
 After Cohn died of AIDS in 1986, public speculation about his sexual orientation intensified. Some say that his relationship with Schine was platonic while others assert it was homosexual. In the HBO film of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” Al Pacino plays Cohn as a closeted, power-hungry hypocrite who is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg as he lies dying of AIDS. It should also be noted that in 1973 Cohn was hired by Donald Trump to defend the Trump Management Corporation against charges of racial discrimination and Cohn thereby became a close friend and mentor to Mr.Trump.
 Here are blog posts on this subject to dwkcommentaries.com: The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 3, 2012); White Settler’s Contemporaneous Reaction to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 6, 2012); Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (May 21, 2013); U.S. Military Commission Trials of Dakota Indians After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (June 11, 2013); President Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the Military Commission’s Convictions and Sentences of the Dakota Indians (June 24, 2013); The Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 9, 2012); Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Hanging of the “Dakota 38” (Dec. 26, 2012); Minneapolis and St. Paul Declare U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 “Genocide” (Jan. 12, 2013); Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part I) (Nov. 18, 2012); Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part II) (Nov. 25, 2012); Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part III) (Nov. 29, 2012); Personal Reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Dec. 10, 2012).
 I am the author of “Good Night, and Good Luck: The Movie’s Offstage Hero, Joseph Welch,” Grinnell Magazine (Summer 2006); the biography of Welch in Newman (ed.), The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (Yale Univ. Press, 2009); and the following posts on my blog (https://dwkcommentaries.com): Joseph Welch Before the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/14/12); The U.S. Army’s Hiring of Joseph Welch for the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/08/12); U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Nemesis: Attorney Joseph Welch (06/04/12); Attorney Joseph Welch’s Performance at the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/06/12); President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Involvement in the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/10/12); Joseph Welch After the Army-McCarthy Hearings (06/12/12); and Legal Ethics Issues in the “Anatomy of a Murder Movie [in which Welch played the judge]” (06/27/12). The joys of researching about Welch and other subjects are celebrated in Adventures of a History Detective, dwkcommentaries.com (April 5, 2011).
A prior post reviewed the October 1962 messages between Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev regarding a possible nuclear war that might have been triggered by the Cuban missile crisis of that month. Now we look at their possibly conflicting opinions on the relative strength of the Soviet and U.S. nuclear missile fleets at the time.[1}
U.S. Opinions on Relative Missile Strength
In the 1960 campaign presidential candidate John F. Kennedy declared that there was a “missile gap” with the U.S. having significantly fewer missiles than the USSR, which often boasted about its missiles. For example, in a campaign speech on August 26, 1960, before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Kennedy said, “the missile lag looms larger and larger ahead.” On September 12, 1960, Kennedy charged that the danger of a Soviet missile attack would grow as the Russians increased their missile lead. Two days later he asserted that “crash [U.S.] programs . . . will eventually close the missile gap.”
On January 12, 1961 President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his final State of the Union Address stated, “The ‘bomber gap’ of several years ago was always a fiction, and the ‘missile gap’ shows every sign of being the same.” He backed this up with the assertion, “Tremendous advances in strategic weapons systems have been made in the past eight years. Today many types [of guided ballistic missiles] give our armed forces unprecedented effectiveness. [This includes ICBM missiles (ATLAS, POLARIS, and soon TITAN and MINUTEMAN) and IRBMs (THOR and JUPITER).] The explosive power of our weapons systems for all purposes is almost inconceivable.”
Eight days later (January 20, 1961) in his Inaugural Address President John F. Kennedy did not specifically mention missiles, but did say to “those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction. We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”
Ten days later, on January 30, 1961, President Kennedy delivered his first State of the Union Address, in which he stated, “I have directed prompt action to accelerate our entire missile program. Until the Secretary of Defense’s reappraisal is completed, the emphasis here will be largely on improved organization and decision making–on cutting down the wasteful duplications and the time-lag that have handicapped our whole family of missiles. If we are to keep the peace, we need an invulnerable missile force powerful enough to deter any aggressor from even threatening an attack that he would know could not destroy enough of our force to prevent his own destruction. For as I said upon taking the oath of office: ‘Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.’”
In the third week of the Kennedy presidency a kerfuffle on the issue of a missile gap was created. On February 6, 1961, his new Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, told journalists in what he thought was an off-the-record session that there was a positive missile gap in favor of the U.S. This remark was widely reported in the press. 
Two days later (February 8), President Kennedy denied the accuracy of any such remark with this statement: “Yesterday McNamara told me that the Defense Department has not concluded any study that would lead to “any conclusion at this time as to whether there is a missile gap or not.” This had been confirmed to the President by the controller of the Department, Charles Hitch, who was conducting “a review of our tactical weapons” that had not been completed.
Finally on February 16, McNamara denied that he had told newsmen the [U.S.] was either behind or ahead of the Soviet Union in the missile race in a letter to Senator Everett Dirksen, who had just called for President Kennedy’s resignation on the ground that he had won the election on false pretenses. McNamara stated, “I have not said with respect to missile power that the [U.S.] is either in a superior or inferior position vis-á-vis the Soviet Union. . . . I have emphasized that, acting on the President’s instructions, we have already begun to move so there will be no such gaps in the months and years ahead.” McNamara’s letter also included three newspaper articles that he claimed corroborated his statements. The Senator then put McNamara’s letter and the articles into the Congressional Record.
Soviet Opinions on Relative Missile Strength
According to Khrushchev’s son at the 1992 conference, the Soviets during this period threatened the U.S. with missiles the former did not have in order to prevent a U.S. attack. (Blight at 130.) In other words, Khrushchev at the time apparently knew or believed that the USSR was at a disadvantage with the U.S. on missiles and that such an opinion perhaps influenced his negative reaction to Fidel’s suggestion of a USSR missile strike on the U.S.
Cuban Opinions on Relative Missile Strength
At the previously mentioned 1992 conference, McNamara mentioned his January 1961 [actually February 1961] statement that there was a missile gap in favor of the U.S. Castro, however, at the same conference, said that at the time of the crisis he did not know about McNamara’s statement. (Blight at 126-27, 131-32.) Moreover, Castro, at the 1992 conference, said that at the time he believed the Soviets had more missiles based upon what they said about their missile capability and upon their demonstrated technical prowess in space. (Id. at 257-58.)
Thus, perhaps Castro suggested a Soviet missile strike on the U.S. in the event of an U.S. invasion of the island because he thought the Soviets had a significant advantage over the U.S. on missiles.
I invite comments of agreement or disagreement by those who have done more research on this issue.
See generally Alexandr Fursenko & Timothy Naftali, “One Hell of a Gamble;” Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-1964, at 257-315 (W.W. Norton & Co, New York: 1997); Desmond Ball, Politics and Force Levels: the Strategic Missile Program of the Kennedy Administration (pp. 88-94) (Univ. Cal. Press; Berkeley CA; 1980); James G. Blight, Bruce J. Allyn and David A. Welch, Cuba on the Brink: Castro, The Missile Crisis, and the Soviet Collapse (Pantheon Books; New York; 1993) [ hereafter “Blight”].
 A journalist at the time reported that when Eisenhower left office in January 1961 he believed that the U.S. was the strongest military in world and “the much advertised missile gap will prove to be . . . fictitious. . . . Many Democrats and a Kennedy task force violently disagree.” Yet, this journalist concluded that “statistical comparisons and available intelligence indicate that President Eisenhower’s opinion [was] based as firmly as possible on factual information.”(Baldwin, A New Military Era? N.Y. Times (Jan. 19, 1961).)
On July 1, 2015, the U.S. and Cuba announced an agreement to restore diplomatic relations. This post will discuss the U.S. announcement and reactions. A subsequent post will do the same for the Cuban announcement and reactions.
In the White House’s Rose Garden, President Obama announced the plans to reopen the embassies. Here is what he said:
“More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana. Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”
“When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone expected that it would be more than half a century before it re-opened. After all, our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people. But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.”
“For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working. Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -– cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere. The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can -– and will –- change.”
“Last December, I announced that the United States and Cuba had decided to take steps to normalize our relationship. As part of that effort, President Raul Castro and I directed our teams to negotiate the re-establishment of embassies. Since then, our State Department has worked hard with their Cuban counterparts to achieve that goal. And later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”
“This is not merely symbolic. With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people. We’ll have more personnel at our embassy. And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island. That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.”
“On issues of common interest –- like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development -– we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba. And I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences. That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information. And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values.”
“However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement. That’s why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba. And we will continue to do so going forward.”
“Since December, we’ve already seen enormous enthusiasm for this new approach. Leaders across the Americas have expressed support for our change in policy; you heard that expressed by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil yesterday. Public opinion surveys in both our countries show broad support for this engagement. . . .
“Here in the United States, we’ve seen that same enthusiasm. There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba and American businesses [that] want to invest in Cuba. American colleges and universities . . . want to partner with Cuba. Above all, Americans who want to get to know their neighbors to the south. And through that engagement, we can also help the Cuban people improve their own lives.”
“Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward. I believe it’s time for Congress to do the same. I’ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba. We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work. After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?”
“Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation. But it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for 50 years. It shuts America out of Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people.”
So I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people. Listen to the American people. Listen to the words of a proud Cuban-American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came out against the policy of the past, saying, ‘I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.’”
“Of course, nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights. Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change. It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better.”
“A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana. This is what change looks like.”
“In January of 1961, the year I was born, when President Eisenhower announced the termination of our relations with Cuba, he said: It is my hope and my conviction that it is ‘in the not-too-distant future it will be possible for the historic friendship between us once again to find its reflection in normal relations of every sort.’ Well, it took a while, but I believe that time has come. And a better future lies ahead.”
The same day Secretary of State John Kerry from Vienna, Austria also discussed the plans, including his intent to travel to Havana for the opening of the embassy later this month. His statement included the following:
“Later this summer, as the President announced, I will travel to Cuba to personally take part in the formal reopening of our United States Embassy in Havana. This will mark the resumption of embassy operations after a period of 54 years. It will also be the first visit by a Secretary of State to Cuba since 1945. The reopening of our embassy . . . is an important step on the road to restoring fully normal relations between the United States and Cuba. Coming a quarter of a century after the end of the Cold War, it recognizes the reality of the changed circumstances, and it will serve to meet a number of practical needs.”
“The United States and Cuba continue to have sharp differences over democracy, human rights, and related issues, but we also have identified areas for cooperation that include law enforcement, safe transportation, emergency response, environmental protection, telecommunications, and migration. The resumption of full embassy activities will help us engage the Cuban Government more often and at a higher level, and it will also allow our diplomats to interact more frequently, and frankly more broadly and effectively, with the Cuban people. In addition, we will better be able to assist Americans who travel to the island nation in order to visit family members or for other purposes.”
In addition, the State Department conducted a special briefing by a senior official on this historic development. This individual said, “We’re confident that our embassy in Havana will be able to operate similar to other embassies operating in restrictive environments. We will be able to meet and exchange opinions with a variety of voices and views both within the government and outside. We’ll be able to engage a broad range of Cuban civil society and citizens.” The conditions for “access to diplomatic facilities, travel of diplomats, and the level of staffing . . . are acceptable for carrying out the core diplomatic functions necessary for implementing the President’s new policy direction on Cuba.” There were not any agreed “constrains or restrictions” on the exact types of programs or facilities that each of our embassies conducts.
According to the State Department spokesperson, there will be future discussions or negotiations with Cuba over human rights, telecommunications, health issues, fugitives, law enforcement, U.S. claims for property expropriation, Cuban claims for damages under the embargo and U.S. broadcasts to the island. Until there is a nomination and confirmation of an ambassador, Jeffrey DeLaurentis will be the charge d’affaires and will lead the embassy.
Also earlier the same day Cuba’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that the head of the US Interests Section in Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, had delivered to the Acting Foreign Minister, Marcelino Medina, a letter from President Obama to Army General Raul Castro confirming “the restoration of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies in the respective countries” on or after July 20. Here is the text of that letter:
“I am pleased to confirm, after high-level talks between our two governments, and in accordance with international law and practice, that the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba decided to restore diplomatic relations and permanent diplomatic missions in our respective countries 20 July 2015. This is an important step forward in the normalization process, which started last December, with regard to relations between our two countries and peoples.”
“In making this decision, the United States are encouraged by the mutual intention to enter into friendly and cooperative relations between our two peoples and governments, consistent with the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, in particular those relating to equality sovereign states, the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means, respect for the territorial integrity and political independence of States, respect for the equal rights and self-determination of peoples, non-interference in internal affairs States as well as promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
“The United States and Cuba are parties to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, signed in Vienna on April 18, 1961, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed in Vienna on April 24, 1963. I am pleased to confirm the understanding the United States that the above conventions apply to diplomatic and consular relations between our two countries.”
Although the U.S. can easily change the plaque on its building in Havana to one proclaiming that it is the Embassy of the United States of America, the State Department has said it needs $6.6 million to retrofit the building to make it suitable as an embassy. This may require a supplemental appropriation by Congress.
The U.S. will need an Ambassador to Cuba, and such an appointment needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In the meantime, as just noted, the U.S. has a capable career diplomat running the interests section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who will be in charge.
Reactions to the Announcement
The announcement of re-establishment of diplomatic relations drew widespread praise. Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) stated, “It’s long past time for U.S. policy toward Cuba to be associated with something other than five decades of failure. It is difficult to overstate the importance of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, in furthering our own national interests, benefiting our relations in the region, and encouraging a positive future for the Cuban people. I am confident that this move will lead to increased travel and contact between U.S. citizens and everyday Cubans, to the benefit of both.” Senator Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN), a co-sponsor of a bill to expand U.S. travel to Cuba and the author of a bill to lift the trade embargo, said, “This is the first step that must happen in order to lift the embargo.” Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy (VT) and Benjamin Cardin (MD) issued similar positive statements.
Engage Cuba, a bipartisan public policy organization dedicated to coalescing and mobilizing American businesses, non-profit groups and concerned citizens for the purpose of supporting the ongoing U.S.‐Cuba normalization process and enacting legislation to reform U.S. travel and trade restrictions with Cuba, issued a statement of support. It said, “We applaud this important step in bringing the U.S. and Cuba closer together, and urge Congress to hasten the day when American travelers and companies have the freedom to engage with one of our nearest neighbors. Opening embassies in Washington and Havana is an important step toward the day when Americans can make their own decisions on where they travel, and our businesses can compete with the rest of the world. We are making history by making it clear that America’s engagement isn’t a concession, it is a show of strength and the best way to promote our values and create opportunities for both Americans and the Cuban people.”
Moreover, said Engage Cuba, “A vast majority of the American people – and 97% of the Cuban people – support re-establishing diplomatic relations. Today is a great day for the American and Cuban people who seek a brighter future for their two countries. After 54 years of a failed Cold war policy, better days finally lie ahead.”
A similar supportive statement came from the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), which is “devoted to changing U.S. policy toward the countries of the Americas by basing our relations on mutual respect, fostering dialogue with those governments and movements with which U.S. policy is at odds, and recognizing positive trends in democracy and governance” and which is a member of Engage Cuba. CDA stated, “”This is a moment we have been working toward for many years. The restoration of diplomatic relations between our countries is a major achievement that will help to heal decades of mistrust and will open opportunities for the U.S. and Cuba to collaborate on issues of mutual interest like immigration, environmental conservation, and regional trade. We applaud the tireless work of Cuban and U.S. diplomats, policymakers, academics, and activists who have helped make this possible. We are ready to work with all our allies to defend these positive steps initiated by President Obama and to move forward with removing the embargo once and for all.”
The day before this announcement, President Obama held a joint press conference at the White House with the visiting President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff. In his opening remarks, Obama said, “As President, I’ve pursued a new era of engagement with Latin America where our countries work together as equal partners, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. As we saw at the recent Summit of the Americas, the United States is more deeply engaged in the region than we’ve been in decades, and I believe the relationship between the United States and Latin America is as good as it’s ever been. We’re focused on the future — what we can accomplish together.”
After he had reviewed the many ways that Brazil and the U.S. cooperate, Obama commented, “And finally, we’re working together to uphold democracy and human rights across Latin America. I very much appreciate President Rousseff and Brazil’s strong support for our new opening toward Cuba. I updated Dilma on our progress, including our work to open embassies in Havana and Washington. And I believe that Brazil’s leadership in the region, as well as its own journey to democracy and a market economy can make it an important partner as we work to create more opportunities and prosperity for the Cuban people.”
In her response President Rousseff remarked about “the importance for Latin America of the recent decision made by President Obama and by President Raul Castro, even with the partnership with Pope Francis to the effect of opening up relations with — or resuming relations with Cuba, a very decisive milestone and point in time in U.S. relations with Latin America. It is really about putting an end to the lingering vestiges of the Cold War. And it ultimately elevates the level of the relations between the U.S. and the entire region. May I acknowledge the importance of that gesture to all of Latin America and also to world peace at large. It is an important example of relations to be followed.”
These thoughts were echoed in the subsequent Joint Communique by the two presidents: “President Rousseff praised President Obama’s policy changes towards Cuba, and the Leaders agreed that the latest Summit of the Americas (held in Panama, on April 10 and 11, 2015) demonstrated the region’s capacity to overcome the differences of the past through dialogue, thereby paving the way for the region as a whole to find solutions to the common challenges facing the countries of the Americas.”
As anticipated, however, Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a Cuban-American, immediately issued a press release condemning the agreement. It said:
“Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama Administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession. The administration’s reported plan to restore diplomatic relations is one such prized concession to the Castro regime. It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President’s December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people. I intend to oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed. It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.”
I am glad that my recent concern about the delay in announcing resumption of diplomatic relations has been alleviated. This is an important development in the reconciliation of our country with Cuba. Now all advocates for reconciliation need to notify their senators and representatives to oppose any of the measures put forward by Senator Rubio and others to try to block this important move.
 Senator Rubio in a letter to Secretary Kerry in June “vowed to oppose the confirmation of any ambassador until issues like human rights, fugitive terrorists and billions of dollars of outstanding claims were resolved.” The Senator said it is “important that pro-democracy activities not be sacrificed in the name of ‘diplomacy’ just so that we can change the name of a building from ‘Interest Section’ to ‘Embassy,’ ” Similar negative press releases came from other Cuban-Americas in the Congress: Senator Robert Menendez (Dem., NJ) and Republican Representatives from Florida, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.