ELLIOTT ABRAMS: OBAMA BACKS THE CASTROS, NOT THE CUBAN PEOPLE
BY ELLIOTT ABRAMS ON 10/17/16 AT 7:28 PM
This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.
Moving fast in his waning months, President Barack Obama concluded he
had not done enough to overturn U.S. policy toward Cuba and ensure that
his new policies will survive. So he has issued a new “Presidential
Policy Directive” that goes even further.
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Two things are striking about it. First, what the United States gets in
return from the Castro regime is exactly and precisely nothing. This is
not a bargained-for exchange; Castro makes no promises, allows no one to
get out of prison, does not even make a vague allusion to reform. Nothing.
This is because Cuba policy is, for the president, less an exercise in
statesmanship than the true product of ideological politics. This policy
is a remedy, a medicine and an apology to make up for what he sees as
decades of American sin toward Cuba.
Of course, in Obama’s imagination “Cuba” means “Castro”; the Cuban
people are really not an actor here. The benefits of all the commerce
will now grow go directly to the regime. For example, the hotels that
Mr. Obama wishes to fill with American tourists are owned by the Cuban
military. No matter, it seems.
One can see glimpses of all this in the actual text of the directive.
For example, take these lines: “We are not seeking to impose regime
change on Cuba; we are, instead, promoting values that we support around
the world while respecting that it is up to the Cuban people to make
their own choices about their future.”
Later in the text we see this again: “We will not pursue regime change
in Cuba. We will continue to make clear that the United States cannot
impose a different model on Cuba because the future of Cuba is up to the
This is blindness, because the real problem facing the Cuban people is
precisely that the future of Cuba is not up to them but is under the
control of a tyrannical Communist regime. They are not permitted “to
make their own choices about their future,” and when they try they are
beaten and jailed.
Obama’s failure to recognize and admit this is at the heart of the moral
abdication that is his Cuba policy. And it is at the heart of his
administration’s broader failures in human rights policy: When he sees
“Iran,” he sees the regime, not the people, so he remained silent in
June 2009 when they rose up in the Green Revolution. In truth, the
people of Iran were getting in the way of his Iran policy, so they had
to be ignored. This is the precise phenomenon we see as well in Cuba.
In fact, the Cuban people have been suffering from a human rights
crackdown since the signing of the first agreement with the regime. (See
this report, or this, for example.) American newspapers have reported
this very widely, and one might have expected Obama to hold back on
further concessions until the crackdown was lifted.
One might, that is, if one had not been paying attention. For Obama,
this is another “legacy item,” and it has nothing to do with the actual,
real-world human rights situation in Cuba. Human rights and democracy
activists there are on their own.
The second striking aspect of the Obama Cuba policy is found in these
lines in the directive:
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will support
broader United States Government efforts to normalize relations with
Cuba, with Intelligence Community elements working to find opportunities
for engagement on areas of common interest through which we could
exchange information on mutual threats with Cuban counterparts.
This is nothing short of amazing. The Miami Herald has correctly
Since Fidel Castro seized power in January 1959, and over the next five
decades, Havana built one of the world’s most active intelligence
services—one that dispatched spies and agents to penetrate the highest
levels of the American government and some of the leading Cuban exile
The Cuban regime is an enemy of the United States and an ally of Russian
intelligence. Now Obama is ordering the DNI to cooperate with the
Cubans, which can only have them licking their chops.
Once again, ideology takes precedence over all else—in this case,
including national security. To force the U.S. intelligence community
into cooperation with Cuban intelligence is insult and injury in equal
Here is a part of an article about Cuban intelligence from The National
Interest in 2013:
According to the long-standing PCC [Partido Comunista de Cuba]
narrative, the United States is the principal threat to the revolution,
and so U.S.-related intelligence collection is likely to remain a Cuban
Intelligence supports other Cuban official interests. U.S. intelligence
specialists have long assumed that Cuba provides other countries in the
anti-U.S. firmament—such as Iran, China, and North Korea—with
information, including commercial and technical data, collected by its
No country (including the United States) shares intelligence for
nothing. “Intelligence liaison,” as it is known, is a transactional
relationship, and the Cubans can reasonably expect to receive
information, money and commodities in return. Cuba will probably try to
expand its market for intelligence about the United States.
The new presidential directive, ordering the DNI to cooperate with the
Cuban intelligence services, will help this along.
Obama has sided with the regime against the Cuban people, and when the
regime has cracked down, he has remained silent. He has pushed democracy
in Cuba further away and refused to use American leverage to stop the
abuse of dissidents. He is enriching and strengthening the regime and
lengthening the tyranny under which Cubans live.
This is the true Obama legacy in Cuba.
Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the
Council on Foreign Relations.
Source: Elliott Abrams: Obama Backs the Castros, Not the Cuban People –