Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fareed Zakaria, Get a Compass. The GPS is Broken.

CNN, by some it stands for "Communist News Network".  It's an attempt at slander that should be chuckled at.  A more fitting jab at the name would be something like "Certainly Not News".  But nonsense aside, despite all of the visually pleasing technological displays that they provide viewers, their GPS seems to be broken.  Fareed Zakaria's GPS seems to have led him to a place that can't be explained.  He would have been better off using a compass.

Mr. Zakaria never struck me as one of the boisterous TV personalities who foams at the mouth while being offensive to his guests.  And he has always been a gentleman in his defense of capitalism and the imagined rights of the powerful nations to impose on others their own ideas about how things should be.  While his recent view supporting the idea of changing US policy towards Cuba is welcome, his interpretations and characterization of Cuba's economic difficulties are severely off.

"Let's begin by asking whether the existing policy is working. In 1960, the United States enacted an embargo against Cuba. Its purpose was simple and explicit: regime change. Did it work? Well, until he retired from the presidency in 2008, Fidel Castro was the longest serving head of government in the world. Surely that's about as powerful evidence as one can get that the policy did not work and is not working."  He is sincere in pointing out the reason behind the US policy and certainly Fidel Castro was the man in Cuba who could have borrowed a sign for his desk from an American president which said 'The Buck Stops Here'.  Then the man with a GPS goes on to say "The truth is that Cuba's miserable economy is almost entirely its own fault."  Had he been holding a compass, he would have been led to a much different analysis.

The suggestion that the main problems are Cuba's own fault is one of those half-truths that leads an honest attempts of analysis astray.  Certainly Cuba chose its own course and decide upon creating a particular economic system.  But it did so at a time when there were two major blocs of international trade.  Being forced out of one by the imposition of an embargo, it made the logical decision to form itself in a way that maintained its newly won independence and became integrated in to the socialist trading bloc.  Not only was it based on survival and independence, but it allowed the nation to achieve what so many others couldn't in regards to education and medical advances.  Since the disappearance of the socialist bloc, Cuba found itself in a very difficult spot having an economy set up for a world which no longer existed.  So yes, it is how it is because of their own decisions.  But the bulk of the problems it faces now, along with transforming its system, is the set of obstacles created by laws, extra-territorial laws, created in Washington with the precise reason of trying to strangle the Cuban economy.  In that sense, US policy has been quite successful.

Surely Mr. Zakaria understands the effects of sanctions as he has explained them so well in regards to the damages they have caused to Iran's economy.  To ignore or overlook them in the case of Cuba is either sloppy analysis or just dishonest.

He wants the US to "give capitalism a chance".  I think the US should give capitalists a chance, but they would have to do so by playing by the rules that Cuba chooses if the are to participate there.  Also more importantly, Cuba has not asked for capitalism to be given a chance.  What they have asked for is a chance for free trade.  Commercial exchanges to be allowed in practice, not in name only like the many "free trade" agreements that we like to tout.  Businesses would be allowed to operate according to the laws of the places in which they do business.  That's all and it shouldn't be too much to ask. Free trade between nations is impossible if the US maintains its current and long standing policy of preventing it.  The vengeful policy has long worn out its welcome and even its goals are recognized by many as offensive.

He sticks with his imperialist attitude by saying that Washington should offer some relaxations in the policies but only if Cuba does what the United States thinks it should do.  That just simply wouldn't be any fundamental change in the current policy!  He must truly believe that the US has the right to judge another nation's political system.  That just isn't a right, it's an assumption, but one that isn't even applied uniformly, only in some cases arbitrarily.  Has the United States demanded political reforms in all countries?  Of course not.  It only make those calculated demands of some nations and it's almost always based on a strategy that hopes that reforms would lead to a political system subservient to US interests.  There is nothing humanitarian or idealistic about it.

So Fareed Zakaria's GPS has led him to the same place he started, some sort of glitch in the technology that may have been avoided by using a simple old fashion compass.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

From Shaking Hands to Shaking the Past

Coverage of the passing of the South African revolutionary, Nelson Mandela, filled the airwaves this past week.  But at his memorial, a handshake between Presidents Obama and Castro caused another news flurry which almost competed for space in the press.

Now at a high profile memorial service being broadcast worldwide, it would make sense that etiquette and common courtesy would be the main reason for this Obama/Castro handshake.  It really shouldn't be a controversial situation and despite the inflammatory rhetoric of folks like John McCain, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and company.  One-time Cuban exile Marco Rubio (who never really was an exile) went as far as saying that he would have taken the opportunity to pose idiotic questions to Raul Castro had he found himself in that situation.  I find that hard to believe that he would ever find himself in that situation and if he ever was in the presence of a true revolutionary, given the amount of water Rubio is known to drink, he would probably piss in his pants.

I don't think that as some of the right-wing has suggested that the handshake was a propaganda coup by Cuba.  If there is any coup it would be one against the folks who tremble at the idea of engagement between Cuba and the United States.  To me, the handshake was a mere diplomatic courtesy and not much else.

But if we put the handshake in the context of the President's recent statements about needing to find a more logical way of dealing with the Cuba issue, it could be in essence a metaphorical doorway.  Obama finds himself standing at the doorway of a neighbor who has invited him over for coffee but the past frictions make him unsure if he should knock or turn and walk away.  He has the invitation, he would have support, and if he were to strike up a conversation with the neighbor he would likely find out that all those fears that kept him away for so long were unjustified.

A lot depends on what the Presidents decides to do at the doorway.  Separated people would begin to reconnect, even more than they are already.  The sugar that one neighbor could ask the other for could be shared and conversely the other neighbor could use the other's tools to help repair his house.  The neighbors could cooperate in ways they haven't in decades. 

Not to mention that the same fears that have prevented any polite conversations in the past could be confronted to easily bring home an elderly American to his family and four Cubans home to theirs.

By pure chance so much weight has been placed on this handshake when it was never probably meant to be anything more than a courteous gesture at a memorial service for a giant of world history.  An unexpected occurrence can sometimes be among the most meaningful. Or opportunities can be squandered.

President Obama, have the coffee.  Go inside.  Both neighbors have a lot of catching up to do.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Consistently Inconsistent

So President Obama has decided to send to prisoners from GITMO to their home country of Algeria.  It's nice that he seems to be doing something about the population in that prison since he couldn't deliver on his stated desire to close it down, right?

The two Algerians had been imprisoned in that black hole without charges for over 11 years by the government which likes to prance around the globe touting the sanctity of human rights and uses the issue as a political tool in its little box of propaganda that is employed against those whose "standards" just aren't the same as Washington's.  Never mind that the Guantanamo base is basically a piece of occupied territory in a nation which has made it clear that it does not want the base there.  Its use in the supposed war on terror was cleverly devised as some sort of loophole to the US Constitution so that lawyers could construct arguments somewhat along the lines that it somehow is outside the reach of the judicial branch.  That alone isn't a "standard" that anyone should be proud of.

The United States in this situation hasn't failed its own standard of being consistently inconsistent.  The US certainly strives to be a world leader in hypocrisy.  The two men were sent against their will to Algeria where they feared persecution by militants.  No big deal since they must have been terrorists since we decided to keep them in GITMO for so long and who thinks that prisoners should get to decide on their place of retirement, right?  But it's not that simple.  The United States had other options.  Luxembourg was willing to accept them and allow them to resettle there.  They would likely be safer in that country since it really hasn't been known as a hotbed for militant groups.  But alas, that would make too much sense so off to Algeria they go.

But here's the kicker.  The State Department's report on Algeria claims that their are many concerns that may cause Washington to reconsider it as a destination for these deportees.  The report states Algerian security forces operated "unrecognized detention centers where detainees were at risk of torture or other ill treatment."  It's no secret that throughout this war on terror that the US has sent people to countries known to employ torture so that information could be extracted by others with "lower standards" for Washington's benefit.  But this all leads to the inconsistencies of US actions, consistently.

US actions are far removed from the lofty declarations about human rights, democracy, and everything else beautiful.  Luis Posada Carriles, an boastful terrorist who has bombed civilian airliners and hotels and has been involved in countless other unconscionable acts, is living freely in Miami although his extradition has been requested by Venezuela.  To its credit, the US government has allegedly sought to send him somewhere, anywhere, but not to the country that is requesting him!  Why not Venezuela one might ask?  The obvious reason is international politics and the fact that Venezuela's independent government isn't willing to bend to the will of Washington and has pursued its own path.  (You could make the argument that Washington is tortured by this fact!)  Posada Carriles is not eligible for asylum since the US doesn't grant it to terrorist suspects so he should be deported to Venezuela, but the US has refused to do so citing their concern that he might be tortured there by Venezuelan authorities.  The same State Department that claims that torture goes on in Algeria also claims that torture is carried out in Venezuela.

I personally don't put full faith in the State Department since it is highly politicized.  But wouldn't the US government have faith in its own departments?  If the US finds it too risky to send a man, ineligible for asylum based on him being a terrorist suspect, to a country that it claims employs torture, how does it decide to send two men  who it must have believed to be terrorist suspects (having imprisoned them for 11 years for just that) to another country that it claims employs torture?

The only logical explanation for such a decision would be the unwavering US policy of consistent inconsistency.