Cuba Libre II: Wishful Thinking About Cuba

by Henry Louis Gomez | August 29th, 2008 | |Subscribe

What a wonderful world it would be if we could only wish our troubles away as Michael Landweber thinks we can.  He wants the United States to declare victory over Cuba’s Castro regime while at the same time making concessions to it and bestowing the legitimacy that the dictatorship has craved for the better part of fifty years.

Mr. Landweber mistakenly characterizes U.S government’s policy toward Cuba as one based on animus toward a single person, Fidel Castro, rather than on a thorough understanding of the system that he has forced upon his countrymen.  Though it’s now Raul Castro and not Fidel at the helm, the dictatorship remains unchanged.  Just ask Cuban dissident punk rocker Gorki Aguila who was arrested on Monday for “precriminal dangerousness.”  The repression continues despite the fact that Cuba is free to trade with every other country in the world.  Apparently Landwber thinks that American trade has some mystical power to do what trade from other countries hasn’t been able to, bring down an intransigent totalitarian dictatorship, but he doesn’t explain exactly how that would happen.  He can’t.


Cuba Libre: What If Castro Didn’t Matter?

by Michael Landweber | August 29th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Apparently, Fidel Castro is not dead.

He watched the Olympics and he’s not happy about what he saw. Castro said that Cuban boxers were “robbed” by corrupt officials and he defended the Cuban Tae Kwon Do athlete who kicked a referee in the face.

We’ve been listening to this kind of blather from Castro for five decades now. Maybe it is finally time for the U.S. to stop paying attention to the incoherent ramblings of an ailing former dictator. Granted, the comments about the Olympics lend themselves to ridicule. But unlike the speeches and proclamations that Castro has spouted throughout the years, we now have the luxury of ignoring his words completely.

Maybe it is time to stop basing our Cuba policy on Castro altogether.


McCain or Obama: Who will best reach across the aisle?

by David Isenberg | August 28th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Keep in mind that the Partnership for a Secure America is dedicated to recreating the bipartisan center in American national security and foreign policy. As its mission statement says, “the United States is being ill-served by the growing partisan divide surrounding its national security and foreign policy. Although partisan rancor has traditionally stopped “at the water’s edge,” this tradition of bipartisan cooperation has eroded significantly in recent years in negative and harmful ways.” 

Thus, let us look at presidential candidates Barrack Obama and John McCain. Forget for the moment their positions on various issues, Iraq, Iran, Georgia, war on terror etcetera. Let’s just simply consider how well receptive they would be to reaching out and working with members of the other party. I have not seen that much written on this so the article by Ronald Brownstein in the current issue of Atlantic Monthly caught my attention. 

He writes that because both men are balancing their daily criticisms of the other with these inclusive signals, each may succeed more than Bush did at keeping a foot in the door to those who ultimately prefer the other candidate. That would allow either to emerge from this election with the opportunity to build broader coalitions than Bush has done or than Bill Clinton managed to do after 1997.

But will they?

To reach agreements that attract support beyond their own party, politicians usually must make concessions that antagonize interests within it. In the Senate, McCain has often passed that test, partnering with Democrats on several intensely controversial issues, including the “patient’s bill of rights,” campaign-finance reform, preserving the filibuster for judicial appointments, comprehensive immigration reform that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and global warming. In each of those fights, he accepted severe criticism from conservatives in and out of Congress as the price of building legislative alliances with Democrats.


Power & Harmony Part 4: Faith in Private Property

by Devil's Advocate | August 28th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Although Mr. Eckel makes an attempt to clarify his position, his rebuttal leaves more questions unanswered. He first argues that he is not advocating for, nor defending, klepto-socialism or centralized planning. Conversely, he asserts that he is advocating for “the development of global institutions that take into account not just traditional measures of economic health like per-capita GDP, public debt, balance of trade etc, but also the manner in which that health can be sustained.” But, to demonstrate the importance of taking into account nontraditional measures of economic health, he cites China as an example of economic growth leading to environmental damage. China is a peculiar choice to represent this thesis.

China, although it has uplifted millions of people out of poverty as a result of free market and capitalist reforms, has created environmental damage not because of the positive changes it has made, but because of the communist authoritarianism it has not yet abandoned. While China is beginning to create a system of De Jure private property rights, its government nevertheless plans much of the infrastructure displacing millions of people from their homes without adequate compensation. Almost all of the environmental devastation, like the former USSR, results from this centralized planning.


Power and Harmony Part 3: Rationalizing Global Markets and US Military Spending

by Matt Eckel | August 28th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Taking into account some of the arguments made by Devil’s Advocate in response to my previous post, I’d like to expand on some of my original points as well as clear up a few inconsistencies and misunderstandings that seem to have emerged in this exchange. I’ll return to the question of defense spending and America’s geostrategic position in a moment, but I’d like first to clear the debate of some straw arguments that Devil’s Advocate makes, likely due to my incomplete exposition of some of my original ideas.

In disputing my diagnosis of likely causes of twenty-first century instability, Devil’s Advocate makes the following argument:

Mr. Eckel attributes 21st century instability to “poor resource management, unresolved tensions between political institutions and political identity, [and] governments that are unresponsive to the needs of their people.” The exact opposite in fact is true: The instability in the world is directly caused by governments that attempt to manage their resources and economies (Pre-1995 India, Soviet Union, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Cambodia, Indonesia, Maoist China, Vietnam, etc.) Planned economies create much more instability than ones that rely on the free market and capitalism.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating the reintroduction of central planning as the guiding principle of global economic management. I’m certainly not advocating for, nor defending, the kinds of klepto-socialism practiced by the leadership of Zimbabwe, Vietnam, Maoist China or the now-defunct U.S.S.R. When I talk about “managing” the global economy, I’m talking about using market-based institutions to guide global development. This isn’t a new idea, nor is it a particularly leftist one. The I.M.F. manages the global economy by ensuring that individual government insolvencies don’t lead to the systemic collapse of global finance. The W.T.O. manages global trade. The World Bank attempts to manage economic development. None of these institutions are particularly socialistic, and they certainly aren’t back doors to central planning. (more…)

When Russia Holds All the Cards…

by Matthew Rojansky | August 26th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Amidst the din of expert commentary following Russia’s invasion of Georgia, two basic interpretations of the US-Russia relationship have emerged. The first focuses on Russia as a strategic competitor to the US, and calls for a tough line against the Kremlin’s consolidation of power at home and expansion of Russia’s so-called “sphere of influence.” The second acknowledges the United States’ own responsibility for policies that exploited Russia’s weakness in the 1990’s, and favors offering more conciliatory treatment now in exchange for cooperation on key US goals.

Both schools of thought presume that Washington is still the center of gravity in the US-Russia relationship, and that a change in US policy will yield a direct and predictable response from Moscow. But today it is the US which faces an economic and geostrategic “time of troubles,” and Russia which enjoys a position of relative strength, security and prosperity. Thus, for the first time since the Cold War, the balance of power in the US-Russia relationship favors Moscow, leaving the initiative for closer ties in the hands of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. Although Russia’s long term interests should favor partnership over confrontation, its immediate incentives to cooperate are much weaker.


Dogs of War: Blackwater as Wal-Mart

by David Isenberg | August 22nd, 2008 | |Subscribe

Say whatever you want about Blackwater Worldwide – and hardly a day goes by when something isn’t being said about it—it does not put all its eggs in one basket. Long before the company’s recent announcement that it would seek to de-emphasize its personal security work in the future, it had created a diversified corporate structure. To use military terminology, it is a combined arms operation.

While most attention is focused on Blackwater Security Consulting, the unit that provides contractors for work in Iraq and elsewhere, there is far more to it than that. Blackwater has long sought to be a one-stop shopping center, a sort of Wal-Mart for all the U.S. government’s military outsourcing needs, and a review of its business units shows it has gone a long way toward meeting that goal. (more…)

Power and Harmony Part 2: The Need for a Big Stick

by Devil's Advocate | August 19th, 2008 | |Subscribe

The role that America should play with the rest of the world has been debated since its founding. Regardless of our ultimate decision of whether to follow a policy of non-intervention or to be the world’s peace-keeper, one fact is indisputable: Peace and security in the world rely on our willingness to step in to prevent, or help defend against, abusive regimes. Nevertheless, the role that America will play with the rest of the world is an extremely amorphous topic that must be bifurcated into two questions in order to bring clarity to the discussion: 1) How large should America’s military be?; and 2) When should America use force to protect its interests? (more…)

Power and Harmony Part 1: America in the Twenty-First Century

by Matt Eckel | August 19th, 2008 | |Subscribe

This past July 4th, former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev penned an op-ed for the International Herald Tribune in which he expressed concern over “the size of America’s defense budget and the militarization of its foreign policy.” Without going into the details (just read the piece; it’s short), Gorbachev questions what role the United States will play in the world of the twenty-first century, stating that “the next president… will have to decide and state clearly whether America wants to be an empire or a democracy, whether it seeks global dominance or international cooperation. They will have to choose, because this is an either-or proposition: The two things don’t mix, like oil and water.” Putting aside Mr. Gorbachev’s specific motivations – he is, after all, Russian, and, as he chose to remind us in a more recent piece likely has the interests of his own country at heart – he raises some important questions that U.S. leaders have yet to answer with any coherence or unanimity: What role should the United States play in the world of the twenty-first century? How does the U.S. military fit into that role? Can America remain prosperous, free, safe and hegemonic all at once? (more…)

In favor of a little gray

by Brian Vogt | August 13th, 2008 | |Subscribe

Commentators and politicians have drawn a variety of conclusions from the recent conflict between Georgia and Russia. Most of them have strongly condemned Russia’s actions, as they rightfully should. However, I believe that there is a lesson to be learned that has not received sufficient attention.

Our foreign policy has recently placed an overemphasis on the perceived benevolence, goodwill, or support of particular leaders and has failed to sufficiently take into account the self-serving motivations of those leaders and the broader environment in which they operate. The current administration has also tended to present foreign policy issues in simple black and white terms. This focus on individual leaders and portraying them simplistically as “good guys” and “bad guys” has not served us well.

Of course, President Bush’s special relationship with Vladimir Putin continues to be the source of much dismay among many commentators and fodder for many comedians’ jokes. Describing Putin back in 2001 Bush said, “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue….I was able to get a sense of his soul.” Of course, that was well before Putin’s authoritarian crack down on the media, human right abuses, and Russia’s recent attack on Georgia. I wonder what Bush actually saw in his soul. This pattern of placing our faith in questionable foreign leaders extends to those such as the soon to be impeached President Musharraf of Pakistan or President Karimov of Uzbekistan. Bush told the world, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Those who were with us were the “good guys.” (more…)

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.