Cuban Reactions to Trump’s Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies

On June 16, as noted in a prior post, President Donald Trump announced a reversal of some aspects of the Cuba normalization policies that had been instituted by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Another post looked at U.S. reactions to this reversal. Now we look at Cuban reactions, and a subsequent post will set forth this blogger’s reactions.

Remember that despite all the hostile rhetoric in Trump’s announcement, he set forth only two changes to be implemented in subsequent regulations: (1) prohibit U.S. business transactions with Cuban entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military of security forces; and (2) prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in individual person-to-person travel to Cuba.

The Cuban Government’s Reactions[1]

The Cuban Government’s lengthy statement made only passing references to these two measures. It said they were made “with the intentional objective of denying [Cuba] income,” of creating “additional obstacles to already restricted opportunities available to U.S. businesses to trade with and invest in Cuba” and of imposing “further restrictions on] the rights of U.S. citizens to visit our country.”

The Cuban statement instead is devoted to objecting to what it calls “the hostile rhetoric” of President Trump’s announcement of the changes, which recalls “the era of open confrontation with our country” and which “constitutes a setback in relations between the two countries.” The U.S. President justified these policy changes “with alleged concerns about the human rights situation in Cuba and the need to rigorously enforce [U.S. embargo] blockade laws, conditioning its lifting, as well as any improvement in bilateral relations, on our country making changes elemental to our constitutional order.”[2]

However, said the Cuban Government, the U.S. embargo or blockade “causes harm and deprivation to the Cuban people and constitutes an undeniable obstacle to our economy’s development, but also impacts the sovereignty and interests of other countries, generating international condemnation.”

Moreover, these U.S. policy changes “contradict the majority support of the U.S. public, including the Cuban émigré community in that country, for the lifting of the [embargo] blockade and normal relations between Cuba and the [U.S.’]” Instead these policy changes “favor [the] political interests of an extremist minority of Cuban origin in the state of Florida, which for small-minded reasons do not desist in their pretensions to punish Cuba and its people, for exercising the legitimate, sovereign right to be free and take control of their own destiny.”

“The government of Cuba denounces the new measures to tighten the [embargo] blockade, which are destined to failure, as has been repeatedly demonstrated in the past, and which will not achieve their purpose of weakening the Revolution, or breaking the Cuban people, whose resistance to aggression of any kind or origin has been proven over almost six decades.”

“The government of Cuba rejects the manipulation of the issue of human rights for political purposes, and double standards in addressing it. The Cuban people enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms, and have achieved accomplishments of which they are proud, and which are only a dream for many of the world’s countries, including the . . . [U.S.], such as the right to health, education, social security, equal pay for equal work, the rights of children, the right to food, peace and development. With its modest resources, Cuba has contributed, as well, to the expansion of human rights in many places around the world, despite the limitations imposed given its condition as a blockaded country.”

“The [U.S.] is in no position to teach [Cuba] a lesson. We have serious concerns about [the U.S.] respect for and protection of human rights in [the U.S. and other countries].”

“Upon confirming the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations, Cuba and the [U.S.] affirmed the intention to develop respectful, cooperative ties between the two people and governments, based on the principles and purposes enshrined in the United Nations Charter . . . .: the inalienable right of every state to choose its own political, economic, social, and cultural system, without interference of any kind; and on equality and reciprocity, which constitute irrevocable principles of international law.”

“The government of Cuba reiterates its willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation in areas of mutual interest, as well as the negotiation of pending bilateral issues with the government of the [U.S.]. Over the last two years, it has been demonstrated that . . . the two countries can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting differences and promoting all that benefits both nations and peoples, but it cannot be expected that, in order to do so, Cuba will make concessions which compromise our independence or sovereignty, nor accept conditions of any type.”

Cuban Foreign Minister’s Reactions[3]

The following Monday in Paris, France, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, re-emphasized these points at a press conference. Again, he made only passing references to the two specific changes in U.S. policy. He said they “reinforce the ban on U.S. citizens traveling as tourists to Cuba, and restrict their civil liberties; they limit the freedom of U.S. citizens to travel.”

He said President Trump’s announcement in Miami was “a grotesque Cold War-era spectacle” before an audience of terrorists that was “an affront to the Cuban people, to the people of the world, and to the victims of international terrorism across the globe.” The announcement “marks a step back in bilateral relations, as has been recognized by countless voices within and outside of the [U.S.], the majority of which out rightly reject the announced changes” and will adversely affect [U.S.] relations . . . with Latin America and the Caribbean, and will severely damage the credibility of its foreign policy.”

“These frankly unpopular measures ignore overwhelming support for the lifting of the [embargo] blockade and the normalization of relations with Cuba by members of the U.S. Congress, many of whom are Republicans; the country’s business sector; various civil society organizations; the Cuban émigré community; the press; social networks; and public opinion in general.”

These changes “will restrict the freedoms of U.S. citizens, cost [U.S.] taxpayers more money, reduce the opportunities of [U.s.] companies and business people against their competition, [and] lose {u.S.] income and jobs.”

These U.S. changers “also ignore the overwhelming majority view of the Cuban people, who wish to have a better relationship with the people of the U.S. They will cause human harm and deprivation; they will affect Cuban families. They will bring economic damage not only to state-owned enterprises in Cuba, but also to [Cuban] cooperatives [privately owned businesses], and will especially harm self-employed or private workers. They will also harm and increase discrimination against Cuban émigrés settled in the [U.S.].”

These U.S. changes will “reinforce our patriotism, our dignity, our determination to defend national independence by all means, in the spirit of José Martí, Antonio Maceo and Fidel Castro Ruz.”

Nevertheless, Rodriguez “reiterate[d] Cuba’s willingness to continue the respectful dialogue and cooperation in areas of mutual interest and to negotiate pending bilateral issues with the [U.S.], on the basis of equality and absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty. As demonstrated by the advances achieved in the last two years, Cuba and the [U.S.] can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting the profound differences between our governments and promoting all that benefits both countries and peoples.”

Yet, “Cuba will not make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence, will not negotiate its principles or accept conditions, as it has never done, never, throughout the history of the Revolution. As the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba establishes, we will never negotiate under pressure or threats.”

In response to journalists’ questions, the Foreign Minister made the following additional comments:

  • “Regarding the issue of the so-called ‘U.S. fugitives in Cuba,’ I can reaffirm that, under our national law and international law and the Latin American tradition, Cuba has granted political asylum or refuge to U.S. civil rights fighters. Of course these people will not be returned to the United States, which lacks the legal, political, and moral foundation to demand this.” (This has been Cuba’s consistent position as this issue was raised in negotiations with the Obama Administration before and after the December 17, 2014, announcement of the two countries embarking on the path of normalization.)
  • “U.S. citizens who committed crimes in Cuba, such as the hijacking of aircraft, were sentenced by Cuban courts and served long prison terms in Cuba. By unilateral decision, and in an act of goodwill, the Cuban government in recent years has returned to the United States 12 U.S. citizens who were fugitives from the U.S. justice system.”
  • “President Trump consistently said throughout the election campaign that he . . . would seek . . . a better deal with our country. For Cuba, “a better deal would mean lifting the [embargo] blockade, returning the territory of the Guantánamo Naval Base [to Cuba], accepting the concept of mutual compensation that would greatly benefit certified U.S. property owners, due to the nationalizations of the 1960s.”
  • “The blockade [embargo] is a piece of the Cold War; it is criminal, genocidal, according to the Geneva Convention on Genocide. It is absolutely unjust and arbitrary. It is a crude, systematic violation, flagrant and systematic, of the human rights of all Cubans, hurting Cuban families, causing damage and deprivation. On the other hand, the blockade [embargo] infringes on the interests of U.S. citizens, of its companies, of its business people, and also constitutes a violation of the civil liberties and political rights of U.S. citizens who are prohibited from traveling to Cuba.”
  • It “would seriously damage the very interests of the [U.S.] and of its citizens, if the U.S. government prevented or disassociated itself from cooperation with Cuba, which is a neighboring country and contributes to stability in the region, to the solution of regional and hemispheric problems, which has been a victim of, and actively fights, international terrorism, as well as drug trafficking; trafficking in persons; cyber-crime; against the use of digital media from one country to surreptitiously attack another; against crimes of fraud, money laundering, in which, necessarily, the interests of the continent’s countries coincide.”
  • “I can reaffirm that Cuba will attend to, honor, the agreements signed, and I reiterate our willingness to negotiate and sign new cooperation agreements in other areas. Because our way of thinking is to respect, in a civilized manner, the great differences which exist between our governments, but to advance in all that can benefit the two peoples, in our national interest and that of the Cuban people.”
  • “It is clear that the measures being implemented by the U.S. government will harm the Cuban people, and especially harm sectors with which the U.S. government has expressed the most interest in building relations. In Cuba, it would be impossible to hurt the state sector of the economy without seriously hurting the cooperative sector, the self-employed, or small private businesses, in particular in the areas that some of these measures address, like the ban on individual travel by U.S. citizens under ‘people-to-people’ licenses.”
  • “[T]hese measures, no doubt, [also] prejudice U.S. interests. The paradox is strange, because the U.S. President has said that his priority is the U.S. citizenry, the creation of jobs, seeking opportunities for U.S. companies and businesses, making them more competitive. With these measures, he is doing exactly the opposite.”

Cuba’s rejection of the rhetorical demands by President Trump has elicited the strong support of Russia, which has maintained close ties with Havana and in March signed a deal to ship oil to Cuba for the first time in over a decade. Russia said that Trump was “returning us to the forgotten rhetoric of the Cold War.”

Cuban Citizens’ Reactions[4]

In addition to the Cuban government, Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurs oppose the change in the U.S. travel rules. They have grown and prospered as Americans over the last two years have flocked to the island on airlines, patronizing thousands of private bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants. For example, Camilo Diaz, a 44-year-old waiter in a restaurant in Havana, said, “When [Trump’s] cutting back on travel, he’s hurting us, the Cuban entrepreneurs. We’re the ones who are hurt.” A similar opinion was voiced by

Havana resident Marta Deus, who recently set up an accountancy firm and courier service, to cater to the emerging private sector. She said, “We need clients, business, we need the economy to move and by isolating Cuba, they will only manage to hurt many Cuban families and force companies to close.”

This obvious adverse impact on Cuba’s emerging private businesses is also obviously adverse to the U.S. interest in encouraging this sector that promotes economic gains for many Cubans and that constitutes a growing counter-weight to the Cuban state controlling everything. The change also promises to increase the cost of Americans going to Cuba because hotels are more expensive than the new, small b&bs.

Expressing a contrary opinion is Jose Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the country’s largest dissident group. He said, “When the Obama administration stopped condemning human rights violations in Cuba, the regime here said ‘look we can do this and nothing happens, so we can continue repressing more forcefully.’” Other dissidents agree repression has worsened but say rolling back the detente, which will hurt ordinary Cubans, is not the solution.

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[1] Revolutionary Government Statement: Any strategy directed toward changing Cuba’s constitutional order is condemned to failure, Granma (June 19, 2017); Reuters, Cuban Government Says Trump Will Not Weaken ‘the Revolution,’ N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Assoc. Press, Russia Says Trump Is Using ‘Cold War Rhetoric’ on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 18, 2017); Reuters, Russia Criticizes U.S. for ‘Anti-Cuban’ Approach, Says It Sides with Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 18, 2017).

[2] The prior post about the U.S. announcement of the limited changes to U.S. policy did not discuss or quote President Trump’s full-blown condemnation of many Cuban policies and practices and U.S. past and current efforts to change those policies and practices. The full text and summaries of that speech are available in the following: White House, Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba (June 16, 2017); DeYoung & Wagner, Trump announces revisions to parts of Obama’s Cuba policy, Wash. Post (June 16, 2017); Davis, Trump Reverses Pieces of Obama-Era Engagement with Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017); Schwartz, Trump Announces Rollback of Obama’s Cuba Policy, W.S.J. (June 16, 2017).

[3] Rodriguez, Cuba will not make concessions essential to its sovereignty and independence, nor will it negotiate its principles or accept conditions, Granma (June 20, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba Highlights Strong Rejection to Trump’s Policy, (June 19, 2017); Live Press Conference of the Cuban Foreign Minister (+ Video), Granma (June 19, 2017); Ahmed, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Calls Trump’s New Policy a ‘Grotesque Spectacle,’ N.Y. Times (June 20, 2017). The day after his press conference, Foreign Minister Rodriguez repeated some of these comments in an interview by a Russian press agency. (‘Total regress’: Trump would blame Havana for climate change, if he believed in it—Cuban FM to RT, Russia Today (June 20, 2017).)

[4] Reuters, Reuters, Cubans Fret New Trump Policy Will Dampen Tourism Boom, N.Y. Times (June 14, 2017); Miroff, In booming old Havana tourist quarter, Trump speech puts Cubans in a bad mood, Wash. Post (June 16, 2017); Reuters, Cubans Say Crestfallen That Trump Rolling Back Détente, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2017).

Trump Administration Reportedly Planning Reversal of Some Aspects of U.S. Normalization of Cuba Relations   

Next Friday, June 16, in Miami, President Trump reportedly will announce certain changes in U.S. policies regarding Cuba. These changes will be the result of an overall review of such policies that has been conducted from the first days of this administration. Not surprisingly the review process has revealed conflicts between leaders of various federal departments favoring continuation of normalization, on the one hand, and political opponents of normalization from Florida, on the other hand. Supposedly the political cover for the rumored over turning at least some of the normalization is the U.S. desire to combat human rights problems on the island.[1]

While President Trump reportedly still has overall support from most Republicans in the Senate and House, on June 8, seven Republican Congressmen sent the president a letter urging continuation of normalization with Cuba. They were Representative Tom Emmer (MN), who is the Chair of the House Cuba Working Group, along with Jack Bergman (MI), James Comer (KY), Rick Crawford (AR), Darin LaHood (IL), Roger Marshall (KS), and Ted Poe (TX). The letter made the following points:

  • “Given Cuba’s proximity, it is a natural partner for strategic cooperation on issues of immediate concern. Since the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, the [U.S.] and Cuba have signed nine formal bilateral agreements that have improved efforts to combat human trafficking, illicit drug trade, fraud identification, and cybercrime. A rollback of Cuba policy would threaten these efforts and in turn, the safety of the American people.”
  • “More concerning, if we fail to engage politically and economically, our foreign competitors and potential adversaries will rush to fill the vacuum in our own backyard. For instance, Russia is already strengthening its ties with Cuba, supporting infrastructure investment and resuming oil shipments for the first time this century. China is also expanding its footprint in Cuba as well. China is now Cuba’s largest trading partner and heavily invested in providing telecommunications services, among other investments, on the island.”
  • “Reversing course would incentivize Cuba to once again become dependent on countries like Russia and China. Allowing this to happen could have disastrous results for the security of the [U.S.]. Alternatively, we can counter the growing threat of foreign influence in our region by engaging with our island neighbor. We can empower the Cuban people by providing high quality American goods and supporting Cuba’s growing private sector through increased American travel.”
  • “We urge you to prioritize U.S. national security and not return to a policy of isolation that will only serve to embolden adversarial foreign power in the region.”

This letter was personally delivered to the White House on June 8 by Representative Emmer and three of the other signers of the letter. Afterwards Emmer told Reuters, “My hope is that when the administration is done with their review, they don’t let one or two voices overwhelm what is in the interest of the United States.”

For advocates of normalization, like this blog, this policy review reportedly has bad news and good news regarding U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. business with Cuban state or military enterprises, Americans travel to Cuba and U.S. “democracy promotion” programs on the island.

U.S. Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

Good news: severing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba seems very unlikely.

Business with Cuban State or Military Enterprises

Bad News. Reuters says the Administration is considering “tightening restrictions on U.S. firms doing business with Cuban state or military enterprises. Such a restriction could have far-reaching consequences for existing deals, such as the one last year by Starwood Hotels and Resorts last year to manage hotels in Cuba — one of which is owned by the military conglomerate Gaviota — and effectively freeze future ones, since the military in Cuba has a hand in virtually every element of the economy.”

Such restrictions would cost U.S. manufacturing and chemical companies through January 2021 (the end of the term for the Trump presidency) an estimated $929 million, adversely affecting 1,359 jobs. In addition, imposing new restrictions on U.S. agricultural and medical exports to Cuba, for the same time period, are estimated to cost the U.S. an additional $3.6 billion and 3,087 jobs.

On the other hand, there also is internal resistance in the Administration to making it more difficult for U.S. businesses and agricultural interests to do business with Cuba. Similar resistance exists in Congress as evident with various pending bills to end the U.S. embargo of the island, in whole or in part, as discussed in an earlier post.

Americans Travel to Cuba[2]

Bad News. There are rumors that the Administration may cut back on the ability of Americans to travel to the island. Again, however, there are pending bills in Congress that would prevent this.

Presumably, however, the Trump Administration would be hesitant to adopt measures that would be harmful to U.S. travel companies. U.S. cruise operators and airlines, for example, are estimated to lose around $712 million in annual revenues under enhanced travel restrictions with resulting risks to U.S. employment in these businesses. Especially at risk are jobs in south Florida involved in the cruise business. Through January 2021 (the period for the current term of the U.S. presidency), these costs are estimated at $3.5 billion, adversely affecting 10, 154 jobs.

These adverse effects were echoed at an early June aviation industry conference by Alexandre de Juniac, the Director General of the International Air Transport Association: “Restricting the network of aviation and access to Cuba would be bad news for aviation. Generally we welcome the extension of access to any country by plane.”

In addition, making it more difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba would adversely affect the relative prosperity of the island’s emerging private enterprise sector, which acts as a counterweight to the state-owned enterprises and as a force for liberalization of various aspects of Cuban society and government. According to Engage Cuba, a U.S. coalition of businesses and others supporting normalization, Cuba’s private business sector currently accounts for 1/3 of Cuba’s workforce, has greatly expanded Cubans’ earning potential, has gained a larger share of the island’s food service industry, is providing almost 1/3 of all rooms available for rent in Cuba, and through tech entrepreneurs is helping to modernize the economy.[3]

Just recently some of the Cuban entrepreneurs have formed the Association of Businessmen to help, advice, train and represent the members of the private sector. The group applied in February for government recognition. The official deadline for a government response has passed without approval or rejection, thereby leaving the group in the peculiar status known in Cuba as “alegal” or a-legal, operating unmolested but vulnerable to a crackdown at any time.

U.S. “Democracy Promotion” Programs in Cuba

Good News. As noted in a prior post, the Administration’s proposed Fiscal 2018 State Department budget eliminates funding for the so-called covert “democracy promotion” programs in Cuba conducted by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

However, it also has been reported that the president is weighing an increase in funding for USAID programs that promote democracy in Cuba, initiatives that the Castro government has long condemned as covert efforts to overthrow it.

Cuban Human Rights[4]

A White House spokesman, Michael Short, recently observed, “As the President has said, the current Cuba policy is a bad deal. It does not do enough to support human rights in Cuba. We anticipate an announcement in the coming weeks.”

This issue also was highlighted in a recent article by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, which severely criticized the U.N. for electing human rights violators, like Cuba, to membership on the Human Rights Council. Cuba’s government, she said, “strictly controls the media and severely restricts the Cuban people’s access to the Internet. Political prisoners by the thousands sit in Cuban jails.” Therefore, she was proposing that “membership on the Council must be determined through competitive voting to keep the worst human rights abusers from obtaining seats.”

However, at a Council meeting in Geneva on June 6, Ambassador Haley did not mention Cuba in a short statement to emphasize the U.S. “strong conviction to the protection and promotion of human rights” and the importance of the Council’s “resolutions [that] can give hope to people who are fighting for justice, democracy, and human rights, and they can pave the way for accountability.”

Later that same day in Geneva at what she described as a Council “side-event,” she spoke about “Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela.” As the title of her remarks suggest, she focused on that country’s current abuses of human rights and democracy and complained about Venezuela’s being a [Council] member in good standing . . . [and using] that membership to block any meaningful discussion of its human rights violations. The . . . Council has no excuse. It cannot consider itself the world’s leading human rights organization and continue to ignore the violations and abuses that are occurring in Venezuela.” Although Cuba is a strong ally of Venezuela and frequently dismisses the latter’s critics, Ambassador Haley made not mention of Cuba in these remarks.

Cuba, however, returned to her remarks later the same day, June 6, at Geneva’s

Graduate Institute, where her focus was the Council’s failure “to act properly – when it fails to act at all – it undermines its own credibility and the cause of human rights. It leaves the most vulnerable to suffer and die. It fuels the cynical belief that countries cannot put aside self-interest and cooperate on behalf of human dignity. It re-enforces our growing suspicion that the Human Rights Council is not a good investment of our time, money, and national prestige.”[5]

One example of the Council’s failure, she said, was Cuba, where “the government continues to arrest and detain critics and human rights advocates. The government strictly controls the media and severely restricts the Cuban people’s access to the Internet. Political prisoners by the thousands continue to sit in Cuban jails. Yet Cuba has never been condemned by the . . . Council. It, too, is a member country.”

In addition, according to Haley, Cuba uses its membership in the Council as proof that it is a supporter of human rights, instead of a violator. The Cuban deputy foreign minister called Cuba’s 2016 re-election to the Human Rights Council, “irrefutable evidence of Cuba’s historic prestige in the promotion and protection of all human rights for Cubans.

Whatever the merits of the U.S. allegations about Cuban human rights, reversing any aspect of the current status of normalization, in this blogger’s opinion, will not cause Cuba to change its own policies and practices. Instead, any reversal may well harden Cuban resistance to change and provide opportunities for other countries, like Russia and China, to enhance their relations with Cuba. Finally such reversals are hypocritical in light of the recent U.S. embrace of Saudi Arabia with a poor human rights record.

Conclusion

A New York Times editorial summed up this controversy by criticizing the rumored return to the “hard-line sanctions-based approach [that] was in place for more than 50 years after the 1959 revolution and never produced what anti-Castro activists hoped would be the result, the ouster of Cuba’s Communist government in favor of democracy. Isolating Cuba has become increasingly indefensible.”[6]

In contrast, said the editorial, “Mr. Obama’s opening to Havana has enabled the freer flow of people, goods and information between the two countries, even as significant differences remain over human rights. It has produced bilateral agreements on health care cooperation, joint planning to mitigate oil spills, coordination on counternarcotics efforts and intelligence-sharing. In April, Google’s servers went live in Cuba and thus it became the first foreign internet company to host content in one of the most unplugged nations on earth. Mr. Obama’s approach also encouraged Latin American countries to be more receptive to the United States as a partner in regional problem-solving.”

All U.S. supporters of normalization need to express their opinions to the White House, the U.S. State Department and members of Congress.

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[1] Rumors of Upcoming Trump Administration Rollback of U.S. Normalization of Relations with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (May 25, 2017); Reuters, Trump Administration Nearing Completion of Cuba Policy Review: Sources, N.Y. Times (May 30, 2017); Davis, Trump Considers Rolling Back Obama’s Opening With Cuba, N.Y. Times (May 31, 2017); Mazzei, Gomez, Kumar & Ordońez, How Cuba policy, and its inevitable drama, ensnared Trump’s White House, Miami Herald (June 1, 2017); Trump Reversing Cuba Policy Would Cost $6.6 Billion, Over 12k Jobs, Engage Cuba (June 1, 2017); Reuters, Trump Expected to Unveil New Cuba Policy as Early as Next Friday: Sources, N.Y. Times (June 9, 2017); Mazzei, Trump to reveal Cuba policy in Miami Next Friday, Miami Herald (June 9, 2017); Reuters, Some Republican Lawmakers Urge Trump Not to Reverse Cuba Opening, N.Y. Times (June 9, 2017); Letter, Representative Tom Emmer and six other Republican Congressmen to President Trump (June 8, 2017);Werner, Many in GOP unshaken by Comey’s testimony against Trump, StarTribune (June 10, 2017).

[2] Reuters, U.S. Travel Sector to Suffer if Trump Reverses Cuba Detente: Report, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Glusac, How a Shift in U.S. Policy could Affect Travel to Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Assoc. Press, Cuban Entrepreneurs Start first Private Business Group, N.Y. Times (June 1, 2017); Reuters, U.S.-Cuba Policy Looms at Aviation Industry Conference, N.Y. Times (June 7, 2017).

[3] 5 Facts About Cuba’s Private Sector, EngageCUBA (Feb. 24, 2017).

[4] Assoc. Press, Trump Faces Tough Task Unwinding Obama Cuba Policy, N.Y. Times (June 2, 2017); Haley, The U.N. Human Rights Council whitewashes brutality, Wash. Post (June 2, 2017); Haley, Remarks at a Human Rights Council Side Event: “Human Rights and Democracy in Venezuela (June 6, 2017); Haley, Remarks at the U.N. Human Rights Council (June 6, 2017); Cumming-Bruce, U.S. Stops short of Leaving U.N. Human Rights Council, N.Y. Times (June 6, 2017).

[5] Haley, Remarks at the Graduate Institute of Geneva on “A Place for Conscience: the Future of the United States in the Human Rights Council,” (June 6, 2017).

[6] Editorial, Undoing All the Good Work on Cuba, N.Y. Times (June 5, 2017).

The U.S. Senate’s Dysfunctional Confirmation Process

The recent squabble over new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ testimony at his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee highlights the dysfunctionality of that process. After examining the current process as used for Sessions, suggestions will be made for an improved process.

The Current Process

Every member of the committee is allotted a set number of minutes to make statements and ask questions. The committee chair (now a Republican) opens followed by the ranking member of the other political party (now a Democrat). Then a member of the majority party (Republican) is granted the same privilege before returning to someone from the minority party (Democrat). The committee members also are permitted to submit written questions to the nominee after the hearing.

As a result, the time and ability to ask follow-up questions is severely limited and indeed is sidelined by the structure of the hearing.

In addition, the senators are used to making political speeches and hogging the limelight. Some are not lawyers by training or have forgotten how to ask questions designed to elicit useful information. These facts also adversely affect the ability of a hearing to obtain pertinent information from the nominee.

Committee’s Confirmation Hearing for Sessions

The above problems were exemplified at Mr. Sessions January 10 confirmation hearing by his responses to questions from Minnesota’s Senator Al Franken and New Hampshire’s Senator Patrick Leahy:[1] Here are those exchanges:

  • Franken:CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote, ‘Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say quote, ‘There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’
  • “Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
  • Sessions:“Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
  • Leahy: “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?”
  • Sessions: “No.”

Franken’s question was clearly too verbose and difficult to understand and was focused on what Sessions would do in the future as Attorney General if there were evidence that the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the campaign. Sessions’ volunteering that he did not have communications with the Russians during the campaign is now shown to be incorrect, but it was not responsive to the question.

Leahy’s question is better, but is still limited to contacts with Russian government officials “about the 2016 election.” Thus, Sessions’ flat “No” may or may not be truthful in light of subsequent disclosures that he had at least two meetings with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.

Committee’s Post-Hearing Proceedings for Sessions

After the hearing, Senator Franken submitted 20 such questions with many subparts, but none concerned Russia. Senator Leahy also submitted 37 such questions, again with many subparts. Other written questions came from four of the 11 Republican committee members and from all of the other seven Democratic members.[2]

One of Leahy’s question (No. 22) concerned Russia with subparts about the U.S. intelligence community’s report about Russian interference in the U.S. election of 2016, and Sessions said he had not reviewed the report, “but have no reason not to accept the [report’s] conclusions.”

Another subpart (e) of that Leahy question stated: “Several of the President-Elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Sessions response: “No.” (Emphases added.)

This written question from Leahy comes closer to asking the appropriate foundation question, but it was still limited to contacts “about the 2016 election,” which provided Sessions with a basis to interpret that limitation and to say “no” if any such contacts were not about the election as so interpreted.

Supplemental Committee Proceedings for Sessions

The truthfulness of Sessions’ responses to these questions was called into question by a March 1 Washington Post report that he had had at least two meetings with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. in this time period. Indeed, this report prompted Senator Franken to state that Sessions had misled the American public about his contacts with Russian officials and that he should reappear before the committee to answer “tough questions” on this subject.[3]

The Attorney General, however, immediately responded to these concerns. On March 1 his spokesperson said that he did have the two meetings with the Ambassador that were referenced in the Washington Post article, but that they were in his capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee, not as a Trump supporter, and that there was no discussion about issues regarding the presidential campaign. The next day Sessions said his hearing testimony was “honest and correct as I understood it at the time” although he was “taken aback” by Franken’s question and was focused on its reference to possible contacts between Trump campaign surrogates and Russian officials. “In retrospect,” he said, “I should have slowed down and said I did meet one Russian official a couple times, and that would be the ambassador.” Sessions also said that the September meeting at his office with the Ambassador included two of the Senator’s senior staffers, that the two principals talked about a trip the Senator made to Russia in 1991, terrorism and Ukraine, that the conversation became “a little bit . . . testy” and that the Senator declined the Ambassador’s invitation to lunch. In addition, on March 2 Sessions recused himself from “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”[4]

The Judiciary Committee Chair, Senator Chuck Grassley (Rep., IA), resolved this controversy by rejecting the request by the Democratic committee members for another public hearing and by offering Sessions an opportunity to supplement his testimony in writing.

Sessions did so on March 6 with the following statement after repeating the previously quoted Franken question and Sessions’ answer:[5]

  • “My answer was correct. As I noted in my public statement on March 2, 2017, I was surprised by the allegations in the question, which I had not heard before. I answered the question, which asked about a “continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government,” honestly. I did not mention communications I had had with the Russian Ambassador over the years because the question did not ask about them.”
  • “As I discussed publicly on March 2, 2017, I spoke briefly to the Russian Ambassador at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in July 2016. This was at the conclusion of a speech I had made, when I also met and spoke with other ambassadors. In September 2016, I met with the Russian Ambassador at my Senate office in the presence of members of my professional Senate staff. I do not recall any discussions with the Russian Ambassador, or any other representative of the Russian government, regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasion.”

Sessions then responded to two questions posed in a March 3 letter by the Democratic members of the committee. The first asked why he had not supplemented the record to note any contact with the Russian Ambassador before its public disclosure. Sessions said, “Having considered my answer responsive, and no one having suggested otherwise, there was no need for a supplemented answer.” The second question asked why he had not recused himself from “Russian contacts with the Trump transition team and administration.” Sessions said the scope of [his] recusal as described in the Department’s [March 2] press release would include any such matters. This should not be taken as any evidence of the existence of any such investigation or its scope. Suffice it to say that the scope of my recusal is consistent with the applicable regulations, which I have considered and to which I have adhered.”

After the submission of this Sessions’ letter, Committee Chair Grassley released the letter as an attachment to a press release announcing that there “are no plans to ask Sessions to come before the committee before an annual oversight hearing, as is customary.” Grassley also stated, ““I appreciate Attorney General Sessions’ quick action to clear up confusion about his statement and I look forward to confirming the team who can help him carry out the functions of the department, like going after sex offenders, protecting Americans against terrorists and criminal activity, and stopping drug traffickers.”  Grassley added that Sessions had recused himself as he said he would in his hearing testimony in sharp contrast to the failure of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to do so with respect to investigation of Hillary Clinton’s personal email server and classified information found on it.[6]

A Suggested Different Procedure

The squabble over Sessions’ testimony regarding contacts with Russians could have been eliminated by a procedure whereby an attorney on the committee staff with experience of interrogating witnesses would do the questioning on selected topics, rather than having only the senators on the committee do so. The following is a better way of asking Sessions about whether he had any contact with Russian officials:

  • On February 28, 2016, you endorsed Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.[7] Correct? (Sessions: Yes.)
  • On and after February 28, 2016, to the present, have you had any communications, oral or written, with any Russians? (Sessions: Yes.)
  • Identify all such communications by their date, location and the names of the Russians.
  • For all such communications, identify any other persons present, the length of the communications or meetings, state the substance of the communications and identify all documents (including, but not limited to, letters, memoranda, agendas, notes, audio and/or video recordings) regarding or reflecting the communications.

Conclusion

Although this Senate procedure is flawed and should be changed, a prominent New York Times’ columnist, Nick Kristof, asserts, “there has been too much focus on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, not enough on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager” with respect to connections between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. Instead Kristof identifies specific facts or “dots” to support his suspicion “that Trump’s team colluded in some way with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election” and supports a full and fair investigation to determine whether that suspicion is validated.[8]

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[1] Carroll, In context: What Jeff Sessions told Al Franken about meeting Russian officials, PolitiFact (March 2, 2017).

[2] U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Nomination of Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, to be Attorney General (Feb. 28, 2017).

[3] Entous, Nakashima & Miller, Sessions met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose, Wash. Post (Mar. 1, 2017); Franken, Sen. Franken’s Statement on Report That Attorney general Jeff Sessions Misled American Public under Oath During Confirmation Hearing about His Contact with Russian Officials (Mar. 2, 2017); Demirjian, O’Keefe, Horwitz & Zapotosky, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will recuse himself from any probe related to the 2016 presidential campaign, Wash. Post (Mar. 2, 2017).

[4] Dep’t of Justice, Attorney General Sessions Statement on Recusal (Mar. 2, 2017).

[5] Letter, Sessions to Grassley & Feinstein (Mar. 6, 2017); Assoc. Press, Sessions Clarifies Testimony on Russia, Says He Was Honest, N.Y. Times (Mar. 6, 2017).

[6] Grassley, Grassley: Attorney General Clears Confusion on Hearing Testimony (Mar. 6, 2017).

[7] Stokols, Sen. Jeff Sessions endorses Trump, Politico (Feb. 28, 2016).

[8] Kristof, Connecting Trump’s Dots to Russia, N.Y. Times (Mar. 9, 2017).

Senate Confirms Nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State

On January 23 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a straight party-line vote, 11 to 10, approved the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State. [1]  On February 1 the full Senate did the same, 56 to 43, which was the largest negative vote for confirmation for this position in the Senate’s history. [2]

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Senator Bob Corker (Rep., TN), the Chair of the Committee, said the following:[3]=

  • “I personally have no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well-qualified. He’s managed the world’s eighth largest company by revenue with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world.”
  • “The other absolute standard we apply to each of these nominees who come before us is to ensure they have no conflicts of interest related to their position.”
  • “The non-partisan director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) recently stated that Mr. Tillerson is making ‘a clean break’ from Exxon and is free of these conflicts. He has even gone so far to say that Mr. Tillerson’s ethics agreement ‘serves as a sterling model for what we would like to see from other nominees. He clearly recognizes that public service sometimes comes at a cost.’”
  • “I believe inquiries into Mr. Tillerson’s nomination have been fair and exhaustive. His hearing lasted over eight hours, and he’s responded to over 1,000 questions for the record. I’m proud of the bipartisan process, which is in keeping of the tradition of this committee that we pursued this, regarding his nomination, and I think that while our opinions and votes today may differ, that the process has been very sound.”

Senator Benjamin Cardin (Dem., RI), voting against confirming this nomination, said the following:[4]

  • “I believe Mr. Tillerson’s demonstrated business orientation and his responses to questions during the confirmation hearing could compromise his ability as Secretary of State to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years. I will therefore not be supporting his nomination with my vote in Committee or on the Senate floor.”
  • “The United States plays a unique and exceptional role in world affairs.  Our values are our interests, as I said at Mr. Tillerson’s hearing. And our leadership in supporting democracy, universal human rights, unencumbered civil society, and unabridged press and religious freedoms is indispensable if these ideas and ideals are to be real and tangible in the world.”
  • “Mr. Tillerson equivocated on these self-evident truths under direct questioning, repeatedly prioritizing narrow business interests ahead of these core national security interests.  The power of the Secretary of State to call out wrong, to name and shame, and to fight each day on behalf of the American people and freedom-seeking people the world over is an enduring symbol to the oppressed and the vulnerable that the United States has their back.”
  • “Mr. Tillerson was unwilling to characterize Russia and Syria’s atrocities as war crimes, or Philippine President Duterte’s extrajudicial killings as gross human rights violations. And he was not willing to dismiss with unqualified clarity a registry for any ethnic or religious group of Americans.”
  • “I also believe Mr. Tillerson misled the Committee regarding his knowledge of ExxonMobil’s [well documented] lobbying on U.S. sanctions [against “some of the worst human rights abusers in the world such as Sudan, Syria, and Iran”]. Additionally, ExxonMobil’s stance on U.S. sanctions against Russia for their illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine in 2014 was well known at the time . . . . This is why it is particularly concerning that Mr. Tillerson indicated during questioning that he was not willing to recuse himself from matters relevant to ExxonMobil for the entire duration of his term.”
  • “While I was pleased that Mr. Tillerson said that he would support the laws I have written to hold accountable human rights abusers globally and in Russia specifically, and that America should have a seat at the table when discussing climate change with the international community, merely being willing to uphold the law or being willing to participate in global diplomacy are simply the necessary prerequisites for the job, not sufficient cause for confirmation.”
  • “On Russia more broadly, I am concerned as to whether Mr. Tillerson would counsel President Trump to keep current sanctions in place. . . . He showed little interest in advancing the new Russia sanctions legislation I’ve introduced with Senator McCain and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Russia attacked us through cyber warfare and has committed even greater atrocities in Ukraine, Syria, and Eastern Europe. They must be held accountable and our bipartisan legislation is an important tool to do so.”
  • “Strangely, he was quick to caution about easing sanctions on Cuba because it would benefit a repressive regime, but seemed indifferent to doing business with Russia knowing that that business helped finance their ongoing violations of international norms.”
  • “Finally, America deserves a Secretary of State who will take advantage of every smart power tool in America’s diplomatic arsenal before recommending the use of force. I was therefore disturbed when Mr. Tillerson signaled during the hearing he would have recommended using force sooner when asked about real-world scenarios. The Secretary of State must be the consistent voice in any Administration that ensures the President has exhausted all diplomatic efforts before we put our brave men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

Senate Debate and Vote

During the debate, supporters stressed Tillerson’s qualifications and the importance of confirming the president’s choice or this important position.

The affirmative vote of 56 was recorded by all 52 Republican senators plus three Democrats (Heitkamp (ND), Manchin (WV) and Warner (VA)) and Independent King (ME).

The negative vote of 43 was registered by  the other 42 Democrat senators and Independent Sanders (VT).

Conclusion

In the meantime, there have been at least four major developments linked to the future role of the State Department and its new Secretary.

First, a White House post, “America First Foreign Policy,” has no specific references to Cuba. But it does have this helpful general statement: In “pursuing a foreign policy based on American interests, we will embrace diplomacy. The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends, and when old friends become allies.”

Second, the White House has informed at least 13 career Foreign Service officers in charge of the State Department’s bureaus responsible for policy, security and other matters that they will not be retained in those positions. A Department spokesman said, “These positions are political appointments, and require the president to nominate and the Senate to confirm them in these roles. They are not career appointments, but of limited term.” However, as Nicholas Burns, former under secretary of state for political affairs during the George W. Bush administration and a longtime diplomat, said, “Normally the outgoing person would stay in the job until his or her successor is confirmed. What you don’t want to have is a vacuum without senior leadership.”[5]

Third, the Trump Administration on January 27 issued an executive order banning admission into the U.S. of all refugees worldwide and all immigrants from seven states with majority-Muslim populations while simultaneously welcoming Christian immigrants from those same countries. This immediately prompted lawsuits in federal courts across the country with a federal court in Seattle on February 3 issuing a temporary restraining order against implementation of the executive order and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit the next morning denying the Government’s motion to stay the lower court’s order.[6]

Fourth, in another immediate reaction to that executive order, over 900 State Department diplomats prepared and submitted a dissent cable objecting to that same executive order because of its impact on “green card holders, visa holders, visa seekers, the young, the old, and the sick.” [7]

On the periphery perhaps of the above turmoil is whether the Trump Administration will abandon or alter the Obama Administration’s pursuit of normalisation of relations with Cuba. As noted in a prior post, the Administration recently stated it has commenced an overall review of U.S. policies regarding Cuba, which in the abstract sounds like a reasonable thing to do. Previous statements by President Trump and Mr. Tillerson, however, suggest that a significant retreat is on its way, a development that would be very troubling to this blogger and other supporters of normalisation.[8]

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[1] Flegenheimer, Mike Pompeo Is Confirmed to Lead C.I.A., as Rex Tillerson Advances, N.Y. Times (Jan. 23, 2017); Schor, Senate panel approves Tillerson nomination, Politico (Jan. 23, 2017); Cama, Senate panel votes to confirm Tillerson, The Hill (Jan. 23, 2017); Demirjian & Sullivan, Tillerson approved by Senate panel as secretary of state, Wash. Post (Jan. 23, 2017).

[2] Harris, Rex Tillerson Is Confirmed as Secretary of State Amid Record Opposition, N.Y. Times (Feb. 1, 2017); Assoc Press, Senate Confirms Tillerson To Be   Secretary of State, Wash. Post (Feb. 1, 2017); Assoc. Press, Senate roll vote for Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, Wash. Post (Feb., 1, 2017).

[3] Corker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Nomination of Rex Tillerson to Be Secretary of State (Jan. 23, 2017).

[4]Cardin, Cardin Statement on Tillerson Vote (Jan. 23, 2016).

[5] Gearan, Trump administration choosing to replace several senior State Department officials, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2017); Schwartz, Facing Replacement, Top State Department Officials Resign, W.S.J. (Jan. 26, 2017).

[6] E.g., Full Executive Order Text: Trump’s Action Limiting Refugees Into the U.S., N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2017); Ländler, Appeals Court Rejects Request to Immediately Restore Travel Ban, N.Y. Times (Feb. 4, 2017).

[7] Reuters, Trump’s Early Moves Spark Alarm, Resistance, N.Y. Times (Feb. 1, 2017); Biddle, New Memo from State Department Dissent Chanel Describes Anguish of Spurned Refugees, The Intercept (Jan. 31, 2017).

[8] These posts to dwkcommentaries.com have discussed preliminary indicators for the future of U.S.-Cuba relations: The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under the Trump Administration (Dec. 22, 2016); Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson Addresses U.S. Policies Regarding Cuba (Jan. 12, 2017); Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State Nominee, Provides Written Responses Regarding Cuba to Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Jan. 23, 2017).

Increased Risk of Nuclear War

The increased risk of nuclear war was the sobering conclusion of remarks at a January 24 Global Minnesota event by Tom Hanson, the Diplomat in Residence at the Alworth Institute for International Affairs at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and a retired Foreign Service Officer.[1]

According to Hanson, we are now engaged in a extremely dangerous new arms race with a high risk of nuclear war. The U.S. is developing what it calls the Prompt Global Strike (PGS), which is a hypersonic, precision-guided, controllable-yield nuclear missile that can be delivered anywhere in the world within one hour.[2]

Moreover, just this past December, the U.S. confirmed that Russia has developed an undersea drone that can carry an enormous nuclear warhead that is capable of traveling underwater at speeds up to 56 knots to distances of to 6,200 miles and of submerging to depths of 3,280 feet. Russia calls the system “Ocean Multipurpose System ‘Status-6.” [3]

Others have sounded this alarm.

William J. Perry, U.S. Secretary of Defense (1994-97), last July said, “Today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the Cold War and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.” One of the many reasons for his assessment is both the U.S. and Russia are enhancing their existing nuclear arsenal and developing long-range cruise missiles that can be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads.[4]

General Sir Richard Shirreff, who served as Nato’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe between 2011 and 2014, said that an attack on Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia – all Nato members – was a serious possibility and that the West should act now to avert “potential catastrophe”.[5]

On January 26, 2017, the Union of Nuclear Scientists advanced its doomsday clock 30 seconds to make it only 2.5 minutes to midnight, the closest it has been to that fateful hour since 1953. Two of the group’s officials said, “In 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come to grips with humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change.”[6]

“Making matters worse,” they said, “the [U.S.] now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts. . . . Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security.”

Other reasons for the change in the clock are the following:

  • “North Korea’s continuing nuclear weapons development, the steady march of arsenal modernization programs in the nuclear weapon states, simmering tension between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, and stagnation in arms control.”
  • More specifically, “Russia is building new silo-based missiles, the new Borei class of nuclear ballistic missile submarines and new rail-mobile missiles as it revamps other intercontinental ballistic missiles. The [U.S.] is moving ahead with plans to modernize each part of its triad (bombers, land-based missiles and missile carrying submarines), adding capabilities, such as cruise missiles with increased ranges.”
  • “Doubt over the future of the Iran nuclear deal . . . in the Trump administration.”
  • “Deteriorating relations between the [U.S.] and Russia, which possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.”

Conclusion

I was unaware of these recent technological reasons to be more fearful of a nuclear war. But I share the Union of Nuclear Scientists’ concern about Donald Trump’s having his finder on the nuclear button. As expressed in other posts, I believe that he is so uninformed about so many issues and so temperamentally impulsive and insecure that he could push the nuclear trigger at the slightest perceived personal or national insult.[7]

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[1] Hanson’s analysis of the world order will be covered in a subsequent post.

[2] Prompt Global Strike, Wikipedia; Cong. Research Service, Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues (Feb. 24, 2016).

[3] Mizokami, Pentagon Confirms Russia Has a Submarine Nuke Delivery Drone, Pop Mech. (Dec. 8, 2016); Gertz, Russia has tested a nuclear-capable drone sub that could pose a strategic threat to US, Bus. Insider (Dec. 8, 2016).

[4] Hallin, The World, at the Brink of Nuclear War: “It is Only by Chance that the World has Avoided a Nuclear War,” Global Research (July 27, 2016).

[5] Cooper, Nato risks nuclear war with Russia ‘within a year,’ warns senior general, Independent (May 18, 2016).

[6] Krauss & Titley, Thanks to Trump, The Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight, N.Y. Times (Jan. 26, 2017).

[7] Why Is Donald Trump Disparaging the Intelligence Community?, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 9, 2017); Comment: Other Observers Identify Trump’s Character Flaw, dwkcommenataries.com (Jan. 9, 2017); Comment: Another Columnist Nails Trump’s Character, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 10, 2017); Conservative Columnist George Will Condemns Donald Trump, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 8, 2016). Now New York Times’ columnist Charles Blow makes this explicit by calling Trump a compulsive liar: Blow, A Lie by Any Other Name, N.Y. Times (Jan. 26, 2017).

Why Is Donald Trump Disparaging the U.S. Intelligence Community?   

Last week I watched with dismay the discussion on the Charlie Rose Show about the ongoing fight between President-elect Donald Trump and the U.S. intelligence community. Rose and his guests (David Ignatius of the Washington Post, Michael Shear of the New York Times and Jeffrey Goldberg, the Editor of The Atlantic Magazine) kept trying to identify substantive (and erroneous) reasons for Trump’s denigration of the intelligence community and his apparent admiration of Russia and Vladimir Putin.

The real reason for Trump’s disparagement, in my judgment, however, is his fundamental character flaw that has been identified by Michael J. Morell, the acting director and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2010 to 2013. In his January 6 New York Times article, Morell, wrote that Trump’s disparagement was damaging the intelligence community and would continue to do so. But it opened with this statement, “When I wrote in August 2016 . . . that Donald J. Trump’s character traits posed a national security threat, I didn’t imagine that the first manifestation of that dynamic could play out” with the CIA.[1]

Morell’s August 2016 article directly made the character flaw point.[2] He said, “the character traits [Mr. Trump] has exhibited during the primary season suggest he would be a poor, even dangerous, commander in chief.” Morell added, “These traits include his obvious need for self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law.”

These character flaws, according to Morell’s earlier article, were obviously seen by Mr. Putin who was “a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.”

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[1] Morell, Trump’s Dangerous Anti-C.I.A. Crusade, N.Y. Times (Jan. 6, 2017).

[2] Morell, I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton, N.Y. Times (Aug. 5, 2016).

The Future of U.S.-Cuba Normalization Under The Trump Administration

Many U.S. citizens who welcomed the last two years of U.S.-Cuba normalization are worried about whether that policy will be continued by the future Trump Administration. Therefore, examination of past comments about Cuba by prospective members of that future administration is appropriate. Here is such an examination.

A prior post recounted the responses to the death of Fidel Castro from President-elect Donald Trump, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, prospective White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Trump aides Kellyanne Conway and Jason Miller. The basic conclusion of their remarks was that Mr. Trump would be seeking a better deal with Cuba than the Obama Administration had negotiated.

More recently, at a December 16 “thank You” rally in Orlando, Florida, Trump told the crowd, “America will also stand with the Cuban people in their long struggle for freedom. Their support has been unbelievable. The Cuban people. We know what we have to do, and we’ll do it. Don’t worry about it.”[1]

Additional negative views about U.S.-Cuba rapprochement are found in comments by others in the prospective Trump Administration.

The most negative words came from Cuban-American Mauricio Claver-Carone, transition team member for the Department of the Treasury. After the election in an op-ed article in the Miami-Herald he argued,“Obama’s new course for Cuba has made a bad situation worse.” It concluded with this statement: “There’s no longer any rational strategy behind President Obama’s ‘Cuba policy.’ It has gone from what it initially portrayed as a noble purpose to pure sycophancy in pursuit of ‘historic firsts. Unfortunately, those Cuban dissidents who recognized Obama’s intent from the beginning and labeled it ‘a betrayal’ of their fight for freedom have now been proven correct. Their foresight has come at a terrible cost.”[2]

A similar hostile analysis of rapprochement come from Mike Pompeo, a Congressman from Kansas and the nominee for Director of the CIA.[3] Here are two examples. Immediately after the December 17, 2014, news of the release of Alan Gross from Cuban prison, Pompeo said, “Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has once again taken the opportunity to appease America’s enemies by releasing convicted spies, reviewing Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terror, and attempting to re-establish diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. In March 2016 Pompeo said, Obama’s trip to Cuba was “misguided for the flawed Cuba policy it represents,” including the dropping “ Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, . . . [loosening] sanctions, and . . . [opening] a U.S. Embassy in Havana while there has been zero needed political reform, no increase in freedom, and inadequate loosening of Castro’s grip on power.”

General Michael Flynn, the proposed White House National Security Advisor, sees Cuba as an enemy. Promoting a book he co-authored (The Field of Fight), Flynn stated his belief that the U.S. is in “a global war, facing an enemy alliance that runs from Pyongyang, North Korea, to Havana, Cuba, and Caracas, Venezuela. Along the way, the alliance picks up radical Muslim countries and organizations such as Iran, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Islamic State.” (Emphasis added.) Another Kelly article says the world is divided into two sets of enemies. First, there are the radical Islamists, whom he sees as America’s principal foes. Then there is a constellation of hostile anti-democratic regimes that he calls “the alliance” that includes both Islamists and non-Islamists that collaborate against the West because we’re their common enemy. The alliance includes Russia, Syria, North Korea, China, Iran, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua.” (Emphasis added.) [4]

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, however, has not expressed an opinion on U.S.-Cuba relations. Only tangential clues turn up. [5] For example, Tillerson has negotiated multi-billion dollar deals with Putin and Kremlin-confidant Igor Sechin, the head of a Russian state-owned oil company who has negotiated oil deals with Cuba. But at ExxonMobil’s May 2014 annual stockholders’ meeting, Tillerson said the company had no plans to participate in Cuban deposits development by Russian oil major Rosneft because of U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

Guardedly positive comments about Cuba have been made by General John Kelly, the nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security, who recently served as the U.S. military’s Commander of the Southern Command with responsibility for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Last January Cuba was a first-time participant in the Caribbean Nations Security Conference, when Kelly said, “We’ve normalized now and, regardless of how we think of each other in terms of politics, we have very, very common challenges.” Kelly also said that the Naval station at Guantanamo Bay is “strategically valuable” and should remain open after the detention facility is closed and possibly jointly operated with Cuba employing Cubans. At an earlier Pentagon briefing he said, “the Guantanamo Naval Base is a hugely useful facility to the United States.”

In an October 2015 interview, Kelly said that the U.S. “Coast Guard has worked with the Cubans over the years, but mostly in terms of rescue-at-sea and humanitarian activities. But the other four services – Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines – have had zero relationships with the Cubans. There is a meeting called the “fence-line meeting” at Guantánamo where the Base Commander, a U.S. Navy Captain, meets about weekly with a counterpart on the other side. They talk and chat a little bit, but it’s not much of a relationship.’ In addition, “There are no drugs in Cuba.” [6]

As Kelly neared retirement as Commander of the Southern Command in January 2016, he said, “What tends to bother [terrorist groups and rights activists] . . . is the fact that we’re holding them [at Gitmo] indefinitely without trial … it’s not the point that it’s Gitmo. If we send them, say, to a facility in the U.S., we’re still holding them without trial.” If “ it were agreed Guantanamo should be closed, logistically it wouldn’t be hard, and remaining detainees could be held in the U.S.— “They’re not going to escape, for sure.”

One advocate for rapprochement in the Trump team is (or has been?) Kathleen (K.T.) McFarland, named as Deputy National Security Advisor. She has publicly backed open relations with Cuba. In 2014, she wrote “We must take steps now to ensure that Cuba doesn’t become a Russian or Chinese pawn, and thus serve as a launch pad to threaten America’s security were they to establish a military presence.” [7]

Basic Internet searches about the following members of Trump’s team failed to find any comments about Cuba: General James Mathis (Secretary of Defense), Vincent Viola (Secretary of the Army), Steven Mnuchin (Secretary of the Treasury), Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), Todd Ricketts (Deputy Secretary of Commerce), Nikki Haley (U.N. Ambassador) and Jeff Sessions (Attorney General).[8]

Conclusion

The above analysis of commentaries by members of the Trump team regrettably suggests a dim future for continuation of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. Those of us in the U.S. who believe that this is an erroneous move need to continue to advocate for normalization and to share that opinion with our Senators and Representatives, the Trump Administration and our fellow U.S. citizens.

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[1] Lemmongello, Trump thanks Florida at Orlando rally, Orlando Sentinel (Dec. 116, 2016).

[2] Claver-Carone, Obama’s Cuba policy makes bad situation worse, Miami Herald (Nov. 16, 2016).

[3] Pompeo, Rep. Pompeo Responds to Shift in Policy with Cuba (Dec. 17, 2014); Pompeo, Independent Journal Review: Mr. President, There Is A Reason No U.S. President Has Visited Cuba for 88 Years (Mar. 21, 2016).

[4] Carden, The Real Reason to Worry About Gen. Michael Flynn, Nation ( Nov. 18, 2016); Totten, How Trump’s General Mike Flynn Sees the World, World Affairs (Nov. 30, 2016).

[5] Schoen & Smith, Why Rex Tillerson would be a disaster as Secretary of State, FoxNews (Dec. 13, 2016); ExxonMobil says not to cooperate with Russia’s Rosneft in Cuba, Prime Bus. Net (May 29, 2014). Tillerson’s close relationship with Sechin is covered in MacFarquhaar & Kramer, How Rex Tillerson Changed His Tune on Russia and Came to Court Its Rulers, N.Y. Times (Dec. 20, 2016) and Kashin, Rex Tillerson’s Special Friend in the Kremlin, N.Y. Times (Dec. 22, 2016).

[6] Assoc. Press, Cuba to attend security conference with US for first time (Jan. 12, 2016); U.S. Dept Defense, Department of Defense Press Briefing by General Kelly (Mar. 12, 2015); Lockhart, A Conversation with General John F. Kelly, SOUTHCOM Commander (Oct. 15, 2015); O’Toole, Here’s What America’s Longest-Serving General Most Fears, Defense One (Jan. 11, 2016).

[7] Ordońez, Trump’s been inconsistent on Cuba. Will Castro’s death make a difference? McClatchy DC (Nov. 26, 2016).

[8] As always I invite comments pointing out errors of commission or omission. No similar searches were done for Ryan Zinke (Secretary of Interior), Rick Perry (Secretary of Energy), Andrew Puzder (Secretary of Labor), Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development), Tom Price (Secretary of Health and Human Services), Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education), Scott Pruitt (Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency), Linda McMahon (Administrator of Small Business Administration), Seema Verma (Administrator of Center for Medicare and Medicaid), Stephen Miller (Senior Advisor to President for Policy), Gary Cohn (Director of National Economic Council), Mick Mulvaney ( Director of Office of Management and Budget) and Don McGahn (White House Counsel).