Obama's Cuba appeasement
By Jennifer Rubin
Last week, the newly confirmed undersecretary of state, Wendy Sherman,
let it be known that the United States was considering a potential
prisoner swap with Cuba to free imprisoned American Alan Gross. The
Daily Caller reported:
The spy swap was set in motion by former New Mexico Governor Bill
Richardson, who traveled to Cuba last month to seek Gross's release. He
told Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez that the Obama
administration would be willing to consider the release of a convicted
Cuban spy, Rene Gonzales along with other concessions.
Hernandez is serving two life sentences for sending information to
Havana which enabled Cuba to shoot down two Miami-based civilian
aircraft with warplanes in 1996. All four Americans on board were
killed. The victims were members of the Brothers to the Rescue
At the State Department briefing the spokeswoman left just enough wiggle
room in her denials to make clear that some sort of discussions were
The blowback was swift. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put out a statement
that read: "It's deplorable that the U.S. government offered several
unilateral concessions to the Castro regime in exchange for the release
of a man who was wrongfully jailed in the first place. Rather than
easing sanctions in response to hostage taking, the U.S. should put more
punitive measures on the Castro regime. Until Secretary Clinton answers
for this, the nomination of Roberta Jacobson to be the next assistant
secretary of state for the western hemisphere will be in question."
The chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee, Rep. Ileana
Ros-Lehtinen was equally irate: "According to news reports, the
Administration attempted to barter for the freedom of wrongly imprisoned
U.S. citizen Alan Gross by offering to return Rene Gonzalez, a convicted
Cuban spy who was involved in the murder of innocent American citizens.
If true, such a swap would demonstrate the outrageous willingness of the
Administration to engage with the regime in Havana, which is designated
by the U.S. as a state-sponsor of terrorism. Regrettably, this comes as
no surprise as this Administration has never met a dictatorship with
which it didn't try to engage. It seems that a rogue regime cannot
undertake a deed so dastardly that the Obama Administration would
abandon engagement, even while talking tough with reporters. Cuba is a
state-sponsor of terrorism. We should not be trying to barter with them.
We must demand the unconditional release of Gross, not engage in a
quid-pro-quo with tyrants."
As bad as a prisoner exchange would have been, the administration
actions didn't stop there. The Associated Press reported, "The
Gross-Gonzalez swap was raised by former New Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson, as well as by senior U.S. officials in a series of meetings
with Cuban officials. Richardson traveled to Cuba last month seeking
Gross' release. He also told Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez that
the U.S. would be willing to consider other areas of interest to Cuba.
Among them was removing Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of
terrorism; reducing spending on Cuban democracy promotion programs like
the one that led to the hiring of Gross; authorizing U.S. companies to
help Cuba clean up oil spills from planned offshore drilling; improving
postal exchanges; ending a program that makes it easier for Cuban
medical personnel to move to the United States; and licensing the French
company Pernod Ricard to sell Havana Club rum in the United States."
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams explained, "It is
especially offensive that we were willing to negotiate over support for
democracy in Cuba, for that would mean that the unjust imprisonment of
Gross had given the Castro dictatorship a significant victory. The
implications for those engaged in similar democracy promotion activities
elsewhere are clear: local regimes would think that imprisoning an
American might be a terrific way to get into a negotiation about ending
such activities. Every American administration faces tough choices in
these situations, but the Obama administration has made a great mistake
here. Our support for democracy should not be a subject of negotiation
with the Castro regime."
The administration's conduct is all the more galling given the behavior
of the Castro regime. Our willingness to relax sanctions was not greeted
with goodwill gestures, let alone systemic reforms. To the contrary,
this was the setting for Gross's imprisonment. So naturally the
administration orders up more of the same.
Throughout his tenure, President Obama has failed to comprehend the
cost-benefit analysis that despotic regimes undertake. He has offered
armfuls of goodies and promised quietude on human rights; the despots'
behavior has worsened. There is simply no downside for rogue regimes to
take their shots at the United States.
Whether it is Cuba or Iran, the administration reverts to "engagement"
mode when its engagement efforts are met with aggression and/or domestic
oppression. Try to murder a diplomat on U.S. soil? We'll sit down and
chat. Grab an American contractor and try him in a kangaroo court? We'll
trade prisoners and talk about relaxing more sanctions. Invade Georgia,
imprison political opponents and interfere with attempts to restart the
peace process? We'll put the screws on our democratic ally to get you
into World Trade Organization. The response of these thuggish regimes is
entirely predictable and, from their perspective, completely logical.
What is inexplicable is the Obama administration's willingness to throw
gifts to tyrants in the expectation they will reciprocate in kind.
By Jennifer Rubin | 10:00 AM ET, 10/18/2011