US Military Leaders Issue Statement on America’s Cuba Policy


Generals Letter Cuba page 1.jpg
Generals Letter Cuba page 2.jpg
Yesterday, the New America Foundation and the National Security Network delivered the following letter to the White House, signed by some of the most respected former senior officers of the United States Armed Forces.
In the document pasted above and offered in text below, these senior officers urge the President to go beyond his initial statement, issued yesterday, repeal the full travel ban on all Americans and engage the Cuban government in dialogue on key bi-lateral security issues.
Click here to view the letter in pdf format.
General James T. Hill (Ret.)
General Barry R. McCaffrey (Ret.)
General Johnnie E. Wilson (Ret.)
Lieutenant General John G. Castellaw (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Daniel W. Christman (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard (Ret.)
Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy (Ret.)
Major General Paul D. Eaton (Ret.)
Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter (Ret.)
Rear Admiral John D. Hutson (Ret.)
Brigadier General John Adams (Ret.)
Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (Ret.)
The Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States
As former senior officers of the United States armed forces, we are writing today to encourage you to support the Congressional initiatives to end the ban on travel to Cuba for all Americans.
The current policy of isolating Cuba has failed, patently, to achieve our ends. Cuba ceased to be a military threat decades ago. At the same time, Cuba has intensified its global diplomatic and economic relations with nations as diverse as China, Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, and members of the European Union. It is hard to characterize such global engagement as isolation.
Though economically weak, the Castro government has kept the broad support of its people by responding to economic shocks and providing universal access to health care and education. There will be no counter-revolution any time soon.
Instead, the current embargo serves more to prop up the Castro regime and shows no sign of triggering a popular uprising against the communist government it runs. When hard times fall on the Cuban people, inevitably, the Cuban government blames the U.S. ―bloqueo‖ for the suffering. And the people, with a strong sense of national sovereignty, rally to their flag.
Even worse, the embargo has inspired a significant diplomatic movement against U.S. policy. As military professionals, we understand that America’s interests are best served when the United States is able to attract the support of other nations to our cause. When world leaders overwhelmingly cast their vote in the United Nations against the embargo and visit Havana to denounce American policy, it is time to change the policy, especially after 50 years of failure in attaining our goals.
The congressional initiative to lift the travel ban for all Americans is an important first step toward lifting the embargo, a policy more likely to bring change to Cuba. It begins to move the United States in an unambiguous direction toward the kind of policy–based on principled engagement and proportional and discriminate action that was the hallmark of your presidential campaign. Combined with renewed engagement with Havana on key security issues such as narcotics trafficking, immigration, airspace and Caribbean security, we believe the U.S. will be on a path to rid ourselves of the dysfunctional policy your administration has inherited.
It is a clear cut case. During the Cold War, the U.S. encouraged Americans to travel to the Soviet bloc resulting in more information, more contact, and more freedom for captive peoples, and ultimately the end of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War itself. This idea of engagement underlies our current policies toward Iran, Syria and North Korea all much graver concerns to the United States – where Americans are currently free to travel. By sending our best ambassadors–the American people–to engage their Cuban neighbors, we have a much better chance of influencing the eventual course of Cuban affairs. Broader economic engagement with the island through additional commercial and people-to-people contacts will in time promote a more pluralist and open society. And, by actually striking down an element of the embargo, that signal will be sent to the government in Havana.
Mr. President, around the world, leaders are calling for a real policy shift that delivers on the hope you inspired in your campaign. Cuba offers the lowest-hanging fruit for such a shift and would be a move that would register deeply in the minds of our partners and competitors around the world.
— Patrick Doherty


15 comments on “US Military Leaders Issue Statement on America’s Cuba Policy

  1. David says:

    Good on these gentlemen. US Cuba policy hasn’t made good strategic or sociopolitical sense pretty much ever, and has generally been based on deceptions, misrepresentations, and the most callous sorts of “national interest.” The past half century certainly qualifies for a Geopolitical Bonehead award. I won’t even bother to comment on Teddy’s fallacy-based conquest of Cuba (gotta love those conquistadors of all national stripes).


  2. Pacos_gal says:

    Don Bacon, you are right. My step-daughter (who is canadian) loves Cuba, she said they have the best beach, some of the nicest people and she loved the food more than any place she has traveled. I was thinking about this yesterday while browsing through some pictures my friend took a few weeks ago on her trip to Cuba. She was in Havana, in a high rise, having an espresso and drinks, looking out over the city. She said she had a wonderful time.
    Another friend was there in January with 20 other relatives for a wedding and couldn’t stop talking about the wonderful coffee bar by the beach, where they would walk to in the morning and evenings to have their choice of coffees, from a menu that was lengthy.
    It certainly gives a different impression to listen to these friends talk than anything I’ve read in the news from the states.


  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Put light on the shadows of exclusion.
    How about a thank you note for offering assitance during Katrina, as a way of higlighting the fact that Cuba is ready to embrace an era of good will to neighbors, as is America?


  4. STRATFOR_Kyle says:

    In a recent analysis on American obsession over Cuba, STRATFOR published that:
    “Though the Soviet threat expired long ago, easing the embargo on Cuba has always held limited value to American politicians with ambitions. For them, Florida is more important than Cuba.” Click here for the complete analysis:


  5. bangzoom14 says:

    I bet much of the reason for keeping this ridiculous embargo is to “save face” and to avoid eventual questions like.. ‘what took us so long’ or ‘exactly what were you trying to prove’? Isn’t that why the Vietnam War went on for so long after public opinion turned against it? This “saving face” thing is usually something children do when they try to put off some kind of authoritarian scolding in the hopes that the whole situation will somehow just “go away”. Well, in most matters it just doesn’t go away. End the entire embargo now and let’s deal with the eventual questions and comments like the adults that we appear to be.


  6. Don Bacon says:

    Cuba is already hosting tourists from many countries. Our friends to the north have traveled there for years, via charter flights, Air Canada and Cubana Airlines, and they don’t get all anal about it. Cruise ships too, I presume.


  7. Zathras says:

    I appreciate the response upthread from Steve Clemons.
    I invite him to consider that relations between the United States and Cuba going forward will involve a great many difficult issues. Though not all of them are easy to foresee, some are obvious. We’d want assurances from the Cuban government as to the rights of American citizens traveling in Cuba. We’d want appropriate arrangements made with respect to the property rights of American citizens and businesses in Cuba. The Cubans would want assurances that American citizens in visiting in Cuba would not make efforts to overthrow the government or create civil disorder. The two nations have mutual interests with respect to controlling the drug trade, establishing rules of the road for commercial navigation and civil aviation; Cuba is likely to have a serious problem with the American import quota for sugar. The salient political issue, post-embargo, may well turn out to be the same one we have with Mexico: controlling immigration to the United States.
    All of this stuff will need to be negotiated. There are, in addition, issues related to Cuba’s police state government and our interest in changing the character of that government. I am frankly less interested in this subject than I would have been 20 years ago, since I regard maintenance of the Communist security state, post-embargo, as something the Cubans would have a very hard time managing even without explicit American pressure to reform it. That doesn’t mean I don’t think the issues won’t come up, especially in the first few years.
    In this world, I care about reciprocity with everyone. Regardless of what one thinks of the embargo as American policy — and I agree it ceased to serve whatever purpose it had originally when the Soviet Union collapsed almost twenty years ago — its relaxation and eventual removal would promise very substantial economic benefits for Cuba. These are benefits for which the United States is in a position to demand a price from the Castro regime: not necessarily an exorbitant price, nor one that puts the regime or its principals in mortal peril or anything close to it, but a price nonetheless.
    We don’t have an interest in our future relations with Cuba; we have many interests, the pursuit of which begins with the terms the Obama administration is able to negotiate with Havana for its relaxation.


  8. Don Bacon says:

    Americans able to travel freely to Cuba and returning with stories about how hospitable and friendly the Cuban people are, and what a good time they had in Cuba, would seriously undermine the US position that Cuba is an enemy of the US.
    Rick Steves, whom I mentioned above, is doing a PBS special on Iran highlighting its people. Steves: “Most important, you’ll meet the people of this nation whose government so exasperates our own.”
    I bet the government hates this sort of thing. After all, it is the government that should determine who our friends are, right?


  9. Steve Clemons says:

    Zathras – Thanks for your note. I have been in a whirlwind as of late and not able to follow as much of the discourse here and at TPM Cafe as I’d like (and thanks for posting responses in both places).
    In a pure world, I don’t care about reciprocity with Cuba. I am interested — if I had control over all factors (which I don’t of course) in doing things that are good — rather than counterproductive — for US interests. I don’t believe that the embargo has in any way helped us achieve either our interests — or a changed political, economic and human rights environment inside Cuba. The linkage of the embargo to human rights changes makes no sense to me because it doesn’t work.
    I do hope that things improve on a variety of fronts in Cuba — but I am not using that as the lens through which to suggest changes in US posture. I think that things will improve with more contact, more exchange, more transparency, more travel — as they have in China, Vietnam and elsewhere.
    But am I demanding changes in exchange for changes here….absolutely not. But I imagine we are going to go through a dance of that sort of exchange with Cuba any way — and I can live with that even if I don’t like it.
    But to be clear — I think you and I probably do disagree on the efficacy of using relaxation of the embargo to achieve specific ends inside Cuba. I think this is a completely failed policy.
    all best — and look forward to more thoughts from you — but be patient as my plate is super full at moment.
    best, steve


  10. bob h says:

    We just demean ourselves with this vindictive, petty policy towards a harmless neighbor. Start acting like the great nation we are. Just end it, all of it, now.


  11. WigWag says:

    I would be happy to see the embargo/sanctions against Cuba lifted especially if the Cuban leadership can be induced to ameliorate their awful behavior towards dissidents. But American relations with Cuba don’t have significant military implications so why should we care what a bunch of retired military officers think? And given the propensity of many retired generals and admirals to join lobbying firms or corporate boards (e.g. General Barry R. McCaffrey)shouldn’t there be some disclosure about any potential conflicts of interest that the signatories to this letter may have?


  12. Zathras says:

    I gather from Steve Clemons’s posts on this subject that his position is that the embargo and travel restrictions with respect to Cuba should be lifted immediately without asking anything of the Castro government.
    If this is unfair, Clemons should say something, but his view on this subject appears to be substantially the same as Fidel Castro’s. Putting it that way is surely mean and uncharitable, but is it wrong?


  13. theCardinal says:

    Listen, I’m all for lifting the restrictions and the embargo but let’s not sugarcoat the whole thing. What is implied in the press release is if travel restrictions are lifted that any American can go to Cuba. Is that negotiable? What happens if I want to go to Cuba but may have written an op-ed that said Castro was a murderous thug? Will they let me in? Do you worry about my rights then or only the rights of those who support Fidel or want to hook up with cheap Cuban pros or get drunk? And trust me having worked in travel and tourism for my whole life the WORST ambassadors for America are tourists.


  14. Pacos_gal says:

    Isolationism leads to ignorance. Ignorance of other cultures, other thoughts and ideas. I was doubly mindful of this while reading what a reader of Andrew Sullivan wrote of his conservative family gathering over Easter. They Only watch Fox News, only read conservative newspapers, only, only, only. It is a lack of knowledge that is truly hurtful to a people and to a nation.
    If you are never allowed the opportunity to interact with other cultures and people, then how can you ever understand them, work with them, or grow with them as a society.
    Living up here in Canada, I can honestly say that Cuba is a much loved place for Canadians to travel to on vacation. I recently saw someone write on one of the websites, that visitors don’t interact with Cubans, or see anything other than the resort they stay at. Not true. Most Canadians interact with Cubans, talk with them, travel to Havana, or stay in Havana, it all depends on what you want to do and what type of a traveler you are.
    So while reading an article that really made no sense, and that was advocating a continuation of the years old policy, I had to think to myself, what ignorance, and the people who read and believe it, will only perpetuate the ignorance.
    We can do better, but it takes putting aside old myths, old ideas and embracing new.


  15. Don Bacon says:

    Those of us that love travel can relate to an essay by Rick Steves, the travel guru: How Travel Changed my Perspective and Politics
    with nuggets like:
    Travel shows me exciting struggles those without passports never see. . .Good travel is thoughtful travel . . .Travel teaches the beauty of human fulfillment. . .Travel helps us celebrate differences and overcome misunderstandings . . .etc.


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