Hillary Clinton On Cuba Questions: I Give Her a “C+”


clinton cuba.jpg
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) submitted quite a number of written questions (pdf here) to Hillary Clinton to answer as part of the process of the Senate considering her nomination as Secretary of State.
I’ve always been impressed by Lugar’s shrewd sense of the geostrategic order and what the opportunities for action and change are — and aren’t. During the first round of Petraeus/Crocker hearings about the surge in Iraq, it was Lugar’s opening statement that was the most compelling critique of the Bush administration’s absence of strategy. In fact, it was Lugar who essentially implied that the surge was more tactic than strategy and demanded to know more about the other moving parts of America’s foreign policy game plan in the Middle East.
If folks have time, they should read through this instructive document as it provides a quick and comprehensive lesson in American foreign policy and national security issues.
The Cuba questions posed by Lugar interest me today. He had several, and I’ll provide Senator Lugar’s questions and Hillary Clinton’s responses here (page 58-59):

101. The fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 2009, presents an auspicious moment to reexamine the contentious US-Cuban relationship. Please provide your views on reviewing all elements of Cuba policy.
There are many ways that we can send a message to the Cuban people that the United States intends to play a positive role in their future. President-Elect Obama believes the Cuban-Americans especially can be important ambassadors for change in Cuba. As such, he believes that it makes both moral and strategic sense to lift the restrictions on family visits and family cash remittances to Cuba. We do not currently have a timeline for the announcement of such a new policy, and the Obama-Biden Administration will consult closely with Congress as we prepare the change.
President-Elect Obama also believes that it is not time to lift the embargo on Cuba, especially since it provides an important source of leverage for further change on the island.

102. Despite the official embargo, agricultural trade represents a significant area of interaction between the United States and Cuba. Since the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (TSRA) of 2000 lifted sanctions on sales of agricultural commodities and medicine, the U.S. has become Cuba’s most important food provider, although many restrictions and licensing requirements remain in place. Please provide your view on expanding trade with Cuba.
We anticipate a review of U.S. policy regarding sales of agricultural commodities to Cuba and look forward to working with members of the Committee and other members of Congress as we move forward in the consideration of appropriate steps to take to help advance U.S. interests and values in the context of relations with Cuba.

103. The United States has pursued cooperation with Cuba in drug interdiction on a very limited case-by-case basis. Please provide your views on a broad formalized agreement or Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Cuba in order to improve coordination of anti-drug efforts and provide for exchange of information.

Given the threat posed by narcotics trafficking, it is important to cooperate with Cube where such cooperation is effective in stopping trafficking.

104. Cuba has been on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list since 1982. Please provide your views regarding why Cuba should or should not remain on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

We anticipate a review of US policy regarding Cuba and look forward to working with members of the Committee and other members of Congress as we move forward to the consideration of appropriate steps to take to help advance US interests and values in the context of relations with Cuba.

105. Please provide your views on US-Cuban cooperation on energy security and environmentally sustainable resource management, especially as Cuba begins deep-water exploration for potentially significant oil reserves.

We anticipate a review of U.S. policy regarding Cuba and look forward to working with members of the Committee and other members of Congress as we move forward in the consideration of appropriate steps to take to help advance US interests and values in the context of relations with Cuba.

First of all, Senator Lugar’s questions themselves imply a plea for a common sense pivot in US-Cuba relations. He acknowledges that 50 years of contentiousness have not produced policy results that seem impressive. Without showing all of his cards, Lugar seems to be telegraphing that the time has come to end the last place in the world where the Cold War is still raging.
Kudos to Lugar for doing this.
On Hillary Clinton’s front, her answers were conventional and largely unimpressive in a geostrategic sense — with the single exception that she has promised a “full review” of US-Cuba relations.
In answering Lugar’s first Cuba question, Clinton missed an opportunity to frame US-Cuba relations in a broader geostrategic setting.
Because George W. Bush strangled contacts too tightly, even right wing Cuban-Americans are asking for parts of the embargo to be lifted — and recently most Latin American states including Mexico and Brazil asked the US to end the embargo of Cuba. Clinton didn’t need to agree with these appeals — but not to look at the echo effects of US-Cuba relations elsewhere in the region, and the world, was an error.
Also, Hugo Chavez and Venezuela have been attempting to ideologically succeed Castro and essentially to colonize the Cuban people as part of his platform. I have been to Cuba — and the Cubans generally detest Chavez’s pretensions about them and their country. Clinton should have given some hint that she is aware of the competition with Chavez in Latin America and that the easing of sanctions and the promotion of people to people exchange could be a smart strategy similar to what the US has done with other Communist countries, particularly Vietnam.
I hope someone in the press corps asks Hillary Clinton and/or Barack Obama whether they “feel” it is constitutional and morally acceptable to distinguish between different ethnicities and lineages of AMERICANS.
Clinton and Obama both support lifting restrictions on “Cuban-Americans” who want to travel back and forth between the US and Cuba. I find this discriminatory and repulsive. It was wrong for any US President to ever impose opportunities for some classes of Americans divided from others. But essentially, can either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama face the cameras and say YES, I favor a discriminatory approach to travel.
As Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has repeatedly said, it is a human right to travel — and he will not abide by a US government that tells any US citizen where he or she can travel. Communist governments are the ones that are supposed to be about restrictions on freedoms — not the United States of America — and yet that is what Hillary Clinton is promulgating.
And on the question of lifting or maintaining the embargo, I think Hillary Clinton’s answer is wrong-headed and divorced from the simple truth that it doesn’t matter except that it harms American interests and leverage. 183 other nations have voted against the United States in the United Nations on the embargo. Cuba is enjoying investment from abroad — and more of our allies are reestablishing and beefing up their diplomatic missions there. To have leverage in Cuba, America needs to be engaged.
Hillary Clinton would be wise to listen to Brent Scowcroft’s words on the US-Cuba embargo:

My answer on Cuba is Cuba is not a foreign policy question.
Cuba is a domestic issue.
In foreign policy, the embargo makes no sense.
It doesn’t do anything.
It’s quite clear we can not starve Cuba to death.
We learned that when the Soviet stopped subsidizing Cuba and they didn’t collapse.
It’s a domestic issue.

I am glad to see that Hillary Clinton may be deferring on some questions, particularly the question of Cuba’s status on the US roster of state sponsors of terrorism, until a “full review” of the relationship is done. It is great to hear that something comprehensive may be ordered — so as to move this relationship forward.
But essentially — as Secretary of State and Barack Obama’s most important envoy — it is essential that Hillary Clinton realize that Cuba should no longer be treated like a domestic policy problem of this country and be dealt with as a realistic foreign policy challenge and opportunity.
Cuba is actually the lowest hanging fruit for America to quickly make progress with and show a different side to America’s character and a willingness to end the Cold War once and for all.
Clinton can improve her grade a lot by seeing and speaking to this opportunity.
— Steve Clemons


15 comments on “Hillary Clinton On Cuba Questions: I Give Her a “C+”

  1. Tony Juncale says:

    To all your honest comments:
    There is a small detail everyone seem to miss and have overlooked throughout this past 50 years:
    Cuba was slaved by the United States right after the Spanish-American war, at the turn of last century. Governments were “arranged” and “place” in the island by the U.S. Political coups, disturbances, blood, etc. was unnecessary spiled on the streets of the island, preciselly because of this dictatorship policy implemented by the special interest of the U.S. With that in mind, what kind of record the United States has left in the island? The same exact policy of brutality used in Iraq. Although Cuba has struggled with the economy for the last five decades, their relationship with European countries, China, Venezuela, Russia, Argentina, Brazil and The Mother Land, Spain has had the strong effect of stabilization in the island’s economy. In other words, has helped Cuba to survive through all these past years. Now, to deal with the United States, one most consider, is very difficult: every four or eight years this country becomes a different animal, like a camaleon, with a different color, a different philosophy, a different political intention. A very difficult task, indeed, to sustain during normal relationships, specially when these relations have been destroyed through nonsense embargos, isolation, etc. Think about it.


  2. John McAuliff says:

    It was also disturbing that Sen. Clinton said there was no timeline for family travel, which during the campaign the President Elect said would be immediate and unlimited.
    Of even greater concern is the counterproductive and misleading spin they give to the role of Cuban Americans as a subversive force.
    Obama should use his power to authorize general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist travel right after taking office, and challenge Congress to finish the job.
    I post on these points in greater detail at http://www.thehavananote.com


  3. Raul P. Murguia says:

    Steve, you agree with the Conventional Wisdom on Senator Lugar, specifically, that he has “shrewd sense of the geostrategic order and what the opportunities for action and change are — and aren’t.”
    I’d love to see some specific evidence of that.
    On the biggest foreign policy question of his tenure – the invasion of Iraq – he voted ‘yes’.


  4. alan says:

    Agree with temoc94. In an odd way Cuba is not an issue in the list of things that need immediate attention. If the Cuban lobby wants to argue for a relaxation of the travel, investment and trade embargoes then they will find someone at State ready to hear them out. Yep, Elian Gonzales is history; as is Fidel.


  5. temoc94 says:

    While I agree with your mixed review of her
    answers, we all know that a congressional
    confirmation hearing isn’t the place to announce a
    bold “Nixon-goes-to-China” shift in foreign
    policy. So let’s see what the Obama
    administration actually does once in office.


  6. RAB says:

    Two thoughts on the issue, first, while I agree that the embargo is
    dated and useless at this point, it does serve as a symbol for many
    Cuban Americans who were driven from their homes by the flames
    of Communism. Second, any President, especially one as reliant on
    latino voters in South Florida as Obama, would not be well advised politically to do anything that might upset that balance. While I
    agree that relations with Cuba will eventually need to normalize, I
    also believe that frankly there are much bigger issues of
    foreign/domestic policy to be addressed. At this point in time I
    don’t believe it prudent for Obama and the State Dept. to waste
    political capital on the issue of Cuba


  7. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    History reserves and stores in it some policy- precepts for the US-Cuba relationship,particularly with reference to J.F.Kennedy’s policy of “graduated response”, hopefully the next US administration under the auspices of Barack Obama,would adopt a US’s Glosnost policy toward Cuba.


  8. TonyForesta says:

    Way back when the Soviet Union was the great evildoer and mightily armed, and Cuba was aligned with and dependent on the Soviet Union for it’s existance, there may have been some reason for American leadership to isolate Cuba out of strategic necessity. Fast forward to the 2009, – and I can see no reason why Cuba should be viewed in the light of the 1950’s and 60’s.
    Does Cuba pose some threat to America or American interests?
    Does isolating Cuba economically and politically advance any America interest or policy?
    What logic or reason is there in continuing to punish the Cuban people and Cuba as nation, and the benefits Americans and America could reap from welcoming Cuba into trading and access arrangements in 2009?
    Can someone please explain why Cuba is treated with the mindset of the 1950’s? What is the logic or reason for this oldworld policy?
    I can’t see it.


  9. Dan Kervick says:

    Steve’s post is briefly noted over at Foreign Policy’s odd new Madam Secretary blog, featuring the former Wonkette lobbyist-turned-blogger Megan Carpentier and “devoted to all things Hillary”:
    Ok, it could be entertaining. But at Foreign Policy? It doesn’t seem to fit.


  10. dalivision says:

    To open Cuba would be a door to Latin America that Bush never addressed except for the Free Trade Agreement. It may be small relative to other parts of the world but a step in the right direction.


  11. S Brennan says:

    I hate to inform you…Hillary lost the nomination, she’s not even secretary of state yet.
    BTW, in our government the excecutive branch is run by the President. So, if Hillary is going against orders it’s Obama’s place to say so.


  12. Zathras says:

    It is certainly possible to take an issue long treated as important in American domestic politics and begin treating it as if the constituencies that made it important did not exist.
    I can conceive of issues important, or rather urgent, enough to deal with in this way. Cuba is not one of them. I am not an admirer of President-elect Obama’s choice for the State Department, but expecting any nominee to telegraph a major change in strategy on a second-rank issue so salient in domestic politics is not realistic. It wouldn’t be prudent for a nominee to the State Department to do so, and only a few of the Secretaries of State we have had in the recent past would be able to do this persuasively.
    I am sympathetic to the case for a change of course with respect to Cuban policy, but there is time to deal with this issue. Clinton’s answers to Sen. Lugar’s questions left the door open for the actions that will define any such course change — later, when Obama’s administration is in place and he is able to deal with the domestic political fallout. That is all she needed to do.


  13. Brigitte N. says:

    Hillary Clinton, whom I supported, spoke eloquently about the need of “smart” power–a mix of hard and soft power but with the weight on diplomacy.
    Since the new administration plans to talk to Tehran, it is difficult to imagine that there wouldn’t be diplomatic contacts with Havana as well–and soon. The Bush administration engaged Libya and North Korea but refused to talk to Cuban officials. I hope that the new administration does not follow the example.


  14. Chris Brown says:

    “But essentially, can either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama face the cameras and say YES, I favor a discriminatory approach to travel.”
    Thus far, no.
    I share your disgust with both relative to this issue.


  15. WigWag says:

    “But essentially — as Secretary of State and Barack Obama’s most important envoy — it is essential that Hillary Clinton realize that Cuba should no longer be treated like a domestic policy problem of this country and be dealt with as a realistic foreign policy challenge and opportunity.”
    Many foreign policy issues are treated like domestic policy problems. It’s not just Cuba policy and the Israel-Palestine issue but to a lesser extent other foreign policy problems like Northern Ireland and the question of the Armenian Genocide. Before the United States entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the question of whether we should enter the war (and on which side) was colored by domestic politics; there were still large numbers of self-identified German Americans who had strong opinions on the subject.
    I think the deal with Cuba is this. We have two years to treat Cuba policy as a foreign policy issue. Any progress to be made will have to be made in the first two years of Obama’s Administration. After that, Obama will be focusing on his reelection campaign and domestic considerations (especially in view of the electoral importance of Florida)will become increasingly consequential.
    Progress on Cuba not achieved during Obama’s first two years will have to wait for his second term (assuming there is one).
    The two years starts Tuesday.


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