Jimmy Carter and Bush Admin National Intelligence Council Chairman Robert Hutchings: Converging Views on Cuba


While I think that post-Fidel Cuba is going to look a lot like Fidel’s Cuba unless the US opens the spigots to travel and trade, Jimmy Carter‘s perspective on US-Cuba relations is useful to read. He thinks that we have undermined any chance of organic democratic movements taking hold inside Cuba.
Perhaps — but I think that the complete and utter failure of decades long American sanctions are harming our interests — regardless of how liberal or illiberal the Cuban government is.
Compare it to what Robert Hutchings has recently said on Cuba. Hutchings is former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council in this Bush administration and is now Diplomat-in-Residence at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School.
First, Carter’s thoughts as shared with the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ.com: Is there enough grass roots interest in Cuba to spark a democracy after Fidel Castro’s regime ends?
President Carter: I think so. There is a small identifiable group working on that, which I describe in the book. The main thing is that the U.S. has been so heavy-handed that it makes it seem that anyone who criticizes Castro is in bed with the Bush administration and is being disloyal. If we had kept unlimited travel to Cuba and pursued diplomatic relations, we would have had democracy there by now. But when you condemn people and impose a punitive embargo on the people who live there, it turns them against the U.S. It also lets him [Mr. Castro] blame his own problems on the ogre in the north.
WSJ.com: In this book you express support for opening channels to Cuba. If the Democrats win in 2008, will this become a reality?
President Carter: Absolutely. There is a majority right now in the House and Senate that approves removing restrictions on commerce and travel. It’s only because of the threat of a Bush veto that this hasn’t happened. There aren’t enough votes to override it.

hutchings left.jpgIn a Q&A that WWS News (of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) recently did with Robert Hutchings, he posits that Latin America is waiting for some sign that American foreign policy is going to move on a more positive course — and that a more enlightened approach in US-Cuba relations is perceived to be one of the key tests.
From the interview:

WWS: What do you think the number one prioirty should be on the part of the United States for helping Latin America?
Hutchings: I think to promote hemispheric free trade and to help solidify fragile democracies. The forces of globalization, though positive in many ways, have conspired to make many of these countries less stable and more vulnerable, and we could wake up in a few years time and find a much more volatile region. I’m not arguing for putting Latin America as number one on our list of priorities, but at least back somewhere on the list.
WWS: Is there anything beyond free trade that you believe would be helpful?
Hutchings: One thing we heard in all three stops was that U.S. policy toward post-Castro Cuba will be an important test. I think there was a fear of some reversion to American meddling in Cuban affairs, allowing Miami-based interests to take over that aspect of our foreign policy, which would put the United States at odds with other countries within the region.

Hutchings is on target — and while I don’t want to speak for him, I think he would probably subscribe to the notion that modifying the vector of US-Cuba relations is probably the “lowest hanging fruit” in American foreign policy. For remarkably little effort, the US could both send the world a signal that we are on a more rational global course as well as build as a template for ‘engagement’ over ‘isolation’ in the terms we set with problematic countries we are trying to constructively influence.
— Steve Clemons


10 comments on “Jimmy Carter and Bush Admin National Intelligence Council Chairman Robert Hutchings: Converging Views on Cuba

  1. samuel burke says:

    regardless of whether its called the bush administration or the clinton administration, the monetary policy of america is bankrupt and the war on terror is part and parcel of what the military complex and its intelligence entities want done and will be done. but we think we control the direction in which we are driven. the govt is our protector and we need them to protect us from terror of all types.. islamic terror, enviromental terror, economic terror.
    terror, coming to a theatre near you.
    we americans like to look outwards and condecendingly talk about other “little nations” or “banana republics” but we fail to notice how we are viewed by other nations because the picture isnt as pretty as we like to think it is. they dont hate us because we are free.


  2. Kathleen says:

    Chuck… my sentiment’s exactly. Our relations with Cuba are completely illogical. They are throughly emtional.
    We have never gotten over having that tiny island throw big Uncle Slam out of their backyard. With all the American investments in Cuba, this was a big humiliation, when the end game was the same as what we did in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Phillipines. The story was not supposed to come out this way. We had other plans for Cuba.
    Battista was no saint.
    Many years ago a good friend who was a journalist/historian, interviewed Fidel Castro in the mountains a week before he took over the island. Then when Castro flew into New York to address the UN General Assembly, my husband was a newscaster in NYC. so I asked him to get press passes so we could go out to Idlewild airport and watch Castro get off the plane. He was quite an impressive figure. You have to admire a person who takes his own country back.
    The friend/journalist co-authored a book, Revolution in the Phillipines: The U.S. in a Hall of Mirrors, by Max Vonzi and Frederick King Poole, about the Aquino assassination, a very good read.


  3. john somer says:

    You guys forget Cuban history way before Castro that colored their “Weltanschaung”. The US helped liberate Cuba but then imposed the Platt amendment on the island. How would you have reacted if the French had imposed a similar one on the US in, say, 1801 ? Later cam a series of “our SOB’s” ending with Fulgencio Batista. So you wonder why the Cubans had a jaundiced view of the US even before Castro came to power ?


  4. Steve Clemons says:

    Chuck — good question. The real reason is that Cuba does not have the consequential global political weight anymore than China has — and thus America could afford to disregard it and those in the White House could get disproportionate political benefits by isolating Cuba. Today, I think the situation is a bit different. Also, for a lot of those years — Cuba was a key part of the Soviet challenge. When the Soviets disappeared however, we missed a key opportunity.
    On the email..not sure why it bounced. Email me at clemons@newwamerica.net if that happens again. On the comments posting, I hate the troubles folks have — but it’s the only way right now that I can keep comments open because of the ten thousand spam messages a day that were hitting my site.
    To conbrio….”irregardless” is noted as informal usage of regardless — but you are right that I should have used the other and fixed it.


  5. JohnH says:

    Since when is the US interested in democracy in Cuba? If the US were sincerely interested in democracy, it would embrace the will of the people as expressed by recent elections in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Instead it routinely villifies these regimes that have won the popular vote, because they might threaten “US interests.” Cuba will be the same. When the interests of the US collide with the interests of the people of a sovereign foreign nation, the US government always supports US (mostly corporate) interests, pure and simple. There is nothing mysterious going on here, except for the obvious hypocrisy of the US claiming to support democracy while acting to support interests that are anything but democratic.
    For democracy to flower in Cuba, it will have to carve out a space for itself and protect itself from US meddling in pursuit of its own parochial interests at the expense of Cuba’s best interests.


  6. ej says:

    It seems to me, and this goes with the Middle East as well but they have oil so fat chance on this changing, that the more we’ve attempted to intervene in Cuban affairs the more our government has caused discontent in Cuba. Our politicians have seen Cuba as another Puerto Rico for just about ever. Sometime in the late 1850’s Jeff Davis made a speech on the Senate floor calling for the annexation of Cuba to the US. He was not alone in our history to see this hemisphere as US owned. Monroe Doctrine anyone?
    The century following that speech saw the US stick its dirty nose into Cuban politics time and again only for it to go sour time and again.
    What I’d like to see is something along the lines of what Ron Paul has suggested be our FP for all nations. (Yes, I’m sick of reading on the net how he’s the greatest man since Jefferson too. The man is a nut on a number of levels, this is not an endorsement. But in this instance the reference is apt.) Trade with them, exchange diplomats, and stay the hell out of their affairs.
    No good can come from direct US government involvement in the political affairs of Cuba, especially if it means the attempted enforcement of Helms-Burton. I can see no more proof that US FP arrogance is a political-spectrum-wide US conceit than Helms-Burton (which Clinton signed): to sue to regain sovereign Cuban territory because generations ago US companies had a deal with the criminal Batista government to own the land.
    (The H-BA also tries to enforce land claims of US companies that once owned land in Cuba, btw)
    I dislike Castro, he’s a despicable brute, but he is another powerful man I hope outlives the Bush administration because I know what their policy will be. With a new team in the White House, there may be some hope that we will finally leave the Cubans be their own masters.
    One good place to start, I would think, to foster positive relations with Cuba and its citizens is to give the land the Guantanamo Bay Base sits on back. It has no strategic usefulness anymore except as a concentration camp. The lease is null and void already, give it up and gain immeasurable credibility with a nation that could be a great ally if only we would act like one.


  7. Chris Brown says:

    “How is it that US leadership has consistently, over nearly five decades, chosen illogically despite consistent negative feedback from reality?”
    USA Cuban policy has been driven for over 45 years by the Florida’s 27 electoral college, as well as those of New Jersey, and the inordinate influence wielded by the expatriate Cuban oligarch, through their campaign contribution largess.
    A fact understood by a retired military Cuban friend, who also knows exactly how many electoral college votes Florida has.
    It’s really quite simple. As with all such matters, follow the money.


  8. rapier says:

    Why doesn’t anyone talk about Helms Burton? The stink bomb ready to go off the moment change comes. It demands that the US must try to enforce the land titles held by US Cubans, which means most all of Cuba. This is the road to disaster and violence.
    On the bright side maybe some congressmen can again go to Havana to see girl and donkey shows.


  9. conbrio says:

    irregardless? can’t find it.


  10. Chuck Dupree says:

    Steve, I’ve got a comment (an agreement, really), and two questions, one about the substance of your post, the other purely procedural.
    I agree that the US should drastically change, perhaps even reverse, its decades-old failure of a Cuban policy.
    Personally I think President Carter is on the money when he says that if we’d had a rational policy for the last couple of decades, Cuba would be much more democratic than it is. It’s reminiscent of our relations with Iran, where we continually help the factions we dislike the most while hurting those who would prefer better relations with us, issuing threats and rattling sabers. I’m reminded of that famous quote from Henry Stimson (from memory, but something like this): “The surest way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to mistrust him and show it.”
    This, it seems to me, is one of those cases where a formula that works at the level of individuals also works at the level of nations. As Carter suggests, we “incentivize” rallying around the leadership we’d like to see the end of, rather than encouraging dialog and cultural exchanges. If we really had confidance in our ideals, we’d let them seep in gradually and be adopted as appropriate, rather than attempting to bomb them into foreign consciousnesses.
    Here’s my substantive question. Given the history of the US with Castro’s Cuba, going back to the Bay of Pigs invasion, it seems that we’ve chosen “isolation” over “engagement” at every opportunity, despite the fact that it’s never done a bit of good, and theoretically makes no sense.
    How is it that US leadership has consistently, over nearly five decades, chosen illogically despite consistent negative feedback from reality? Chomsky talks about the threat of a good example: if we were friendly to Cuba, and Castro-style socialism didn’t fail economically, it would prove that alternatives to our system are viable. So we try to make it fail economically, but the result is that we look like the bad guys and Castro’s regime can get away with a lot more bad stuff because they can legitimately point to us as a threat. I’d love to read your thoughts on that.
    Finally, procedural question: I tried to email this to your address on the contact page but my email was bounced. I understand the need for verification of personhood for commentors (at Bad Attitudes we were DoS’d and spam-commented to the point that we had to switch server companies and we lost a bit of our traffic). But do you need to verify it every time I preview, plus when I finally actually post? That seems to penalize people who check their spelling and formatting before hitting the final button. (For example, I’m about to enter my third code.)
    Thanks for all you and your colleagues are doing to inform us!


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