May 20, 2002
Seattle P-I idiocy

Today's blast of idiocy comes from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Pacific Northwest's answer to pre-1990 Pravda. It concerns Jimmy Carter's recent trip.

Si to Carter, no to Bush

Making sure we know what their aim is, right up front.

Today in Miami during a re-election fund-raiser for his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, President Bush is expected to announce even more stringent measures to isolate Cuba.
If he does, it will be a mistake.
It's well understood that the Bush brothers' political fortunes are dependent on keeping the good will of Florida's expatriate anti-Castro Cuban community. But issues of more import are at stake here: It is in this nation's self-interest to normalize relations with Cuba.

It must be simple vote-counting. It could not possibly be that the Bushes agree with the Cuban-American view on sanctions.

President Bush should exhibit the risk-taking statesmanship shown by former President Jimmy Carter on his historic visit to Cuba last week and adopt a more enlightened and productive strategy for improving U.S. relations with that country.

Risk-taking? Isn't the left still pissed at Bush for his "reckless" diplomatic honesty for admitting that we were not going to ratify the Kyoto Treaty (which still has not been ratified by any industrialized nation), or that we were not going to participate in the International Criminal Court (aka the "Israelis are Criminals Court")? I thought that they were upset at Bush's "cowboy" risk-taking, but apparently I was misinformed.

Speaking in Spanish during an unprecedented live television address to the Cuban people, Carter said:
"Our two nations have been trapped in a destructive state of belligerence for 42 years, and it is time for us to change our relationship and the way we think and talk about each other. Because the United States is the most powerful nation, we should take the first step."

Why? Other than feel-good rhetoric, Carter provides no justification for why we should drop sanctions.

He made clear the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba is not the cause of that country's economic woes, but he rightly urged that it be abolished as a sign of good will.

If he felt so strongly about this, why did he wait until *22 years* after his term in office had expired? Why did he keep silent during the eight years of the Clinton administration, where his arguments might have been seen as a suggestion to the administration? What is the good will we are attempting to generate by lifting the embargo? Does he expect Bush and Castro to embrace like long-lost brothers if the embargo is lifted? Please...

It's regrettable that the administration rejected Carter's pleas with the tiresome bromide that free trade with Cuba would "prop up an oppressive regime."

Apparently it is only a tired bromide when it is employed by conservatives. I am sure the Post-Intelligencer supported Carter's boycotting of the 1980 Moscow Olympics (an embargo in all but name), the sanctions placed on South Africa until the transition to black-majority rule, the sanctions Clinton slapped on Yugoslavia (the Serbian part) when that country disintegrated, and so forth. All of these sanctions were imposed to send a message to the regime in power, and to deny them the use of US monies to further their oppressive policies.

Speaking in Havana with Cuban President Fidel Castro at his side, Carter bluntly, and quite correctly, criticized the Cuban government's failure to allow democracy in Cuba. And he endorsed Project Varela, a grass-roots movement seeking a voters' referendum on whether to grant Cubans the right of free speech, free assembly and the freedom to create a business. Carter also acknowledged that Cuba's socialist revolution had in some respects brought improvements for Cubans compared with life under corrupt former regimes.

Does anyone that that Project Varela will actually succeed in pushing Castro into allowing Cubans the right to free speech? No communist regime (and very few dictatorships of any kind) have survived the right to a free press; Castro knows this, and will ignore Project Varela, which will quietly vanish, as have other movements in Cuba and elsewhere.

As to Carter's discovery that Cuba's dictators were corrupt—Duh! Cuba has never had a free government. What Castro has done is level out the misery so that virtually nobody lives well; everybody lives in abject poverty. Whether or not that is an improvement is debatable.

But he pulled no punches in deference to his host. Democracy, he told Cubans, "is based on some simple premises: All citizens are born with the right to choose their own leaders, to define their own destiny, to speak freely, to organize political parties, trade unions and non-governmental groups and to have fair and open trials. Your constitution recognizes freedom of speech and association, but other laws deny these freedoms to those who disagree with the government."

Carter actually said something sensible. The only reason this part of the speech was aired was for the propaganda value of a former US president speaking against his country. Carter would never have been able to say this if it had not been squeezed into his denunciation of US policy.

Carter wisely acknowledged that, "My nation is hardly perfect in human rights," citing among examples this country's high rate of incarcerating its citizens and its lack of universal health care. But he stressed that "guaranteed civil liberties" offer U.S. citizens the opportunity to legally change injustices.

GIVE ME A BREAK! Our high incarceration rate is due to a high crime rate; the drop in crime seems to track fairly closely with the longer sentencing that began during the Reagan administration. Cuba had plenty of criminals in jail, too, until Castro sent them to the US in 1980, during (what a coincidence!) the Carter administration. And a lack of universal health care is not a human rights crime, despite what the left-wing extremists in the Democratic Party would have us believe.

Bush's prescription for changing Cuba is to do more of what has not worked. Carter's strategy for bringing democracy to Cuba has far more promise of success.

When has what Carter suggested ever worked?

The biggest gripe that I have about Carter is the fact that he won't shut up. Unlike LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan (for obvious reasons) and Bush I, Carter seems to think it is his duty to be a "diplomat without portfolio", heedless of the views of the current administration. His trip to Cuba was very wrong. I won't call it treasonous, but it borders perilously close. Carter is a private citizen now, and it would do him well to follow the example set by his predecessors in office, who stayed out of the political arena once they were out of office. If Carter wants to play politics, he can run for office and see if anyone in the US really wants him representing them. I would tell Clinton the same thing, lest he get the urge to play hero, which appears to be the direction he is heading.

posted on May 20, 2002 07:43 PM


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