Bill Richardson Should Be Special Presidential US-Cuba Envoy


bill richardson horse.jpgAnyone who knows New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson knows he can be a handful, can be complicated, and can too often want the story about him more than others. Those are characteristics of most who aspire to the presidency.
However, this week during his trip to Cuba allegedly for agricultural trade promotion reasons, Governor Richardson demonstrated why he is such a vital national asset in America’s diplomatic game.
Richardson has a knack for dealing with the harder challenges in international affairs — often extracting American captives from totalitarian regimes but also understanding that in some cases what the game is about is not getting some journalist or innocent released from a gulag but rather using that engagement to create “possibilities” in America’s engagement with that nation that did not exist before.
My devout Republican friend Phil Peters writes at his blog, The Cuban Triangle, about RIchardson’s recent diplomatic foray to Havana very positively.
Peters reports (and here is a good CBS News clip of some of this in Richardson’s press conference):

1. Governor Richardson concludes his visit by saying he will report to President Obama and by offering to set up a dialogue between the Cuban government and Cuban Americans.
2. Richardson urges Cuba to act, “especially in the humanitarian area,” and wants both Washington and Havana to ease travel restrictions. “Normalizing relations is going to take time, it is a complicated thing and there are a lot of issues to address…It will take time, but we have to do it,” he said.
3. Richardson said that the United States has suggested that the two governments drop restrictions on their diplomats’ movements, and he urged Cuban officials to agree to the idea.

If its reporting is correct, Mexico’s La Jornada stated that Richardson offered a “plan of reciprocal actions to normalize relations with Cuban authorities.”
Let’s call this “The Richardson Plan.”
From the Cuban Triangle report on what we are now calling “The Richardson Plan”:

The plan would defer larger and more contentious issues and start with the two sides taking humanitarian steps.
The United States would put into effect the announced Obama policy ending restrictions on family travel and remittances; allow greater sports, cultural, scientific, academic, and business exchanges; and allow Americans in general to travel to the island.
Cuba would end “bureaucratic restrictions and high fees” that make family visits more costly, accept a U.S. proposal to end the restrictions that limit both sides’ diplomats to the Havana and Washington capital areas, and start an “informal dialogue” with Cuban Americans.

Regarding his own role:

Richardson also said that he sees no need for a U.S. special envoy and doesn’t think he will have a role in U.S. diplomacy toward Cuba.

A couple of quick reactions from TWN‘s corner.
First of all, Bill Richardson is the right guy to upend the institutional inertia at the Department of State and the House Foreign Affairs Committee in charting a new, more constructive course in US-Cuba relations. He gets this issue better than any other major player in US politics and made this clear as well during the presidential debates and his campaign for the White House.
His modest statement that America did not need a “special envoy” — and did not need him — for this challenge is incorrect.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “promised” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar a “full policy review” during detailed responses to written questions (pdf) posed by Lugar to the then nominee Clinton.
Nothing at all of consequence has happened with this review. There is no broad re-assessment of opportunities and challenges in the US-Cuba relationship, nor a new assessment of what was achieved or not regionally and internationally from Obama’s recent Summit of the Americas outreach to Cuba and his efforts to lighten travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans.
At this point, Secretary of State Clinton has a State Department that is in “non-compliance” with the oversight committee of the US Senate that measures and observes the administration’s actions because of the failure to perform this promised “policy review” — behind which Clinton hid when not responding to a number of important questions.
That is why Bill Richardson is needed.
There are many decades of institutionalized neglect and built in inertia in the US-Cuba relationship that prevent the State Department from not only “seeing what is possible” in a restructured relationship — but in deploying a strategy that moves us squarely and definitively in a new direction.
Travel for Cuban-Americans is not enough. That is a discriminatory executive order that creates a class of action and opportunities for one class of ethnic Americans and denies equal treatment for other Americans. Obama should know better.
But despite Richardson’s own references to Cuban-Americans in his commentary in Cuba, he has frequently endorsed the removal of travel restrictions for all Americans. That is the policy that an American democratic government should embrace.
jeff flake.jpgAs Republican Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) said on one occasion at the New America Foundation:

Communist governments are supposed to be the ones that restrict the travel of their citizens — not the government of the United States of America where people are supposed to be free. But it is our government — the United States government — that is imposing restrictions on American citizens. This is wrong.

Barack Obama should take a step back from the US-Cuba question and realize that changing US-Cuba relations much more than he has remains the lowest hanging fruit among foreign policy possibilities for him. US-Cuba relations has always mattered far beyond the relationship itself and had important “echo” impacts on broader world affairs.
It’s time that Obama realized that this one is easier than it looks. People to people exchange. Travel. Scientific, cultural and educational exchange. All of these are the pathway to taking the US-Cuba relationship in a new and healthy direction.
Drop the counterproductive, compulsive obsessiveness with “conditionality.” It does not work and undermines American interests.
Those who wanted conditionality have achieved nothing the last five decades except freezing the relationship in a Cold War status quo that must be shattered.
And the best way to shatter it is to incrementally pull out the foundations of the “theory of the embargo” and to rebuild some degree of trust between regimes that may not learn to like each other for a long time — but who nonetheless could demonstrate a practical kind of engagement that few thought possible even a few years ago.
Obama should ask Bill Richardson to be his envoy, sherpa and nudge to drive US-Cuba relations beyond the anachronistic Cold War trap they have been in towards new terms of engagement fit for the 21st century and Obama’s eventual foreign policy legacy.
— Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
Extra reading: For those interested, my colleague Patrick Doherty’s work on a set of humanitarian protocols tied to hurricane diplomacy with former State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson is gaining some real traction.


16 comments on “Bill Richardson Should Be Special Presidential US-Cuba Envoy

  1. Daniel says:

    PS-Other than that, great post. Most people don’t seem to grasp
    that Obama’s proposal is still conditional and, therefore, just a
    variation of the original logic of imposing the embargo in the first
    place. You hit the nail on the head with that one.


  2. Daniel says:

    Please note that “Cuban” is not an ethnicity.


  3. Outraged American says:

    Correct link to Giraldi on Sibel Edmonds. But we all need to know
    the weather in Gainsville.
    Tiny URL is a Mossad front.


  4. Zathras says:

    It’s only a matter of time before Steve Clemons is asked whether he’s for pulling the plug on Granma.


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    OA, your link is to the weather for Gainsville, Virginia.


  6. DonS says:

    We are spending the Summer here in Nova Scotia (may send a ‘view from my window’ over the harbor) where our neighbors travel freely and frequently to Cuba; no fuss, no muss, just a good time. Like, normal. They think a lot of what passes for ‘normal’ in the US is paranoid and just plain crazy. Ditto for the whole health care disgrace that the US is captive to. Oh, except for the neighbors who are Repubs from Florida, and even he is having second thoughts because his business can’t afford to provide health insurance to employees any more.
    Obama still has a lot of good will around here, but folks are beginning to wonder if he is really about anything but appearance.


  7. samuelburke says:

    the american corporate/military govt continnues to bully the world.
    Reflections of Fidel
    It is the hour of reckoning and
    a united march
    (Taken from CubaDebate)
    THIS reflection is not directed at governments but at the sister peoples of Latin America.
    Tomorrow, August 28, the UNASUR Summit meeting, whose significance cannot be ignored, begins in Argentina. Within it the concession of seven bases on Colombia territory to the U.S. superpower will have to be discussed. The prior talks of both governments have been kept rigorously secret. The agreement had to be presented to the world as a consummated fact.
    In the early hours of March 1, 2008, the Armed Forces of Colombia, trained and armed by the United States, attacked with precision bombs a group of guerrillas who had entered a remote area of Ecuadorian territory. At dawn, men from the Colombian elite troops transported in helicopters occupied the small encampment, killed the wounded and seized the body of the guerrilla chief, Raúl Reyes whom, it would appear, was meeting at that time with young visitors of other nationalities who were interested in the experiences of the guerrilla movement which, since the death of the liberal leader Jorge Elicier Gaitán more than 50 years ago, have maintained the armed struggle. Among the victims were university students from Mexico and Ecuador who were not carrying any weapons. The method was brutal, in the yanki style. The Ecuadorian government had received no warning whatsoever of the attack.


  8. Outraged American says:

    Philip Giraldi talking about Sibel Edmond’s recent testimony.
    9/3/09 5 PM Central, 6 PM Eastern, 3 PM Pacific. That’s this
    Stream it at on the right hand side.
    And call in!
    Giraldi, former CIA counterterrorism, has written extensively on
    many foreign policy issues, so you can ask him about anything
    that’s on your mind.
    He’s going to also talk about this post at the American
    Conservative, in which he discusses Sibel Edmonds and the
    deafening silence.


  9. ... says:

    i agree with poa.. this is just a distraction to the main show that has been left off ”’main street.”’ steve, a better cuba/usa relationship is something you’re attached to…i admire you for that and hope your work in this area achieves some results… having someone speak the language is helpful…


  10. Carmen says:

    Richarson should be sent to Cuba to live like a Cuban.
    A bolivian Fidel Surco is in Miami to get medical treatments for his comon law wife, both are Castro followers, are coca/cocaine producers. Surco with President Morales blamed the US for letter bombs but instead of going to Cuba he was given a visa for the Miami, a hater of the US, are we nuts? Go to Cuba and see how is to live in a prision ,same as Bolivia.


  11. Tahoe Editor says:

    Too much baggage.


  12. John McAuliff says:

    Great post Steve. Comments so far are missing the point. My guess is that Richardson was referring by “humanitarian” to policies Cuba could undertake that were not consequential political steps, e.g. the US ending all travel restrictions could be responded to by Cuba ending exit visas and fees. This is a reform publicly advocated by leading mainstream Cubans.
    On a lesser level, if President Obama listens to Richardson, and the Catholic bishops who visited Cuba two weeks earlier, he will finally use his authority to allow unlimited non-tourist travel. The Cubans, in the same spirit, could permit their students to study in the US.
    My further thoughts on the opportunities offered by Governor Richardson’s visit can be found at the sister blog
    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development


  13. Zathras says:

    Specific questions about policy toward Cuba (and Gaza) apart, I take it from this post that the concerns Steve Clemons expressed here — — are concerns no longer.
    It is probably superfluous to wonder whether Gov. Richardson’s appointment as “Cuba Czar” would be promoted by touting his record of negotiations with “the world’s worst thugs,” since the new paradigm for bold foreign policy leadership now seems to require bypassing Senate confirmation altogether, rendering promotion irrelevant. Maybe President Obama could cite his record of “engagement with the world’s most outstanding peace-loving peoples,” just to strike the appropriate tone and get us off on the right foot with the people we need to ingratiate ourselves with — sorry, sorry, to engage with — the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party.
    If George Bush had been a little more creative, he could have saved himself some trouble by naming John Bolton Special Envoy for Coordination of UN Affairs. Sure, it would have meant thumbing his nose at his Secretary of State, but then Sec. Rice got that treatment more than once anyway and never seemed to have a problem with it. The Senate didn’t seem to object either, something that evidently hasn’t changed.


  14. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Seeing Richardson invoke the “humanitarian area” in Cuban diplomatic efforts while we IGNORE the war crimes in Gaza, and refuse to prosecute the war criminals in our own midst, and bury stories such as the Sibel Edmonds deposition, kind of shoots the existence of a contingent of “realists” in the foot. If they exist, where are they? Or is their “realism” just as self serving and narrowly focused as the motives, goals, and world view of the neocons were?


  15. DonS says:

    Obama is beginning to look more and more like cardboard, and his mantra of change a laughable joke, if it wasn’t so tragic. As we move towards midterms and later, the forces for taking bold action become less probable, especially for this contemplative president who seems to prefer words and images over action and keeping promises.
    Action, or rather none, on Cuba may be a bellweather.


  16. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “2. Richardson urges Cuba to act, “especially in the humanitarian area,” ….”
    Well, just call me uninformed, but, uh, what EXACTLY is he talking about?
    Is Cuba engaged in torturing prisoners? Rendition? Selling white phosphorous and cluster munitions to nations that use them against civilians? Giving financial aid to countries that thumb their noses at UN resolutions?
    I really don’t get it. Now that Netanyahu is telling Obama to go fuck himself, are we shifting our demands to an arena that is going to be easier to maintain the illusion of an American “power tank”?
    Exactly WHAT aspect of the “humanitarian area” does Richardson think Cuba needs to address? Has Cuba murdered a million or so muslims lately, in a war founded in lies? Cooked anyone in white phosphorous lately? Shot any American citizens in the head? Kidnapped anyone off the high seas?
    Watching Cheney on the news this weekend, its hard to fathom where we get off lecturing anyone about the “area” of “humanitarian” concerns.
    And what if the Castro regime mimics Netanyahu, and tells us to go fuck ourselves? Will Obama exhibit the same kind of diplomatic cowardice he is showing towards Israel, or is Cuba a much safer nation to bully? Somehow I doubt Reid and Hoyer will launch a mutiny here, as Cuba isn’t such a gravy train for them. And this nut Huckabee doesn’t have a wackjob religious stake in it, so he’ll keep his hands off. After all, Armegeddon ain’t gonna start in Cuba.
    I wonder, how many people can we rendition, kill in Iraq and Afghanistan, and assist Israel in starving and stealing the land from, while Cuba addressses its “humanitarian issue”?
    If our leaders gave a shit about “humanitarian issues”, a huge segment of them would be standing before the Hague, and Holder would be doing something other than running his mouth and constructing another sham “special prosecutor” charade that is preconditioned and narrowly focused towards finding scapegoats.


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