Last Thursday, in a move that further cheapened the Bush administration’s already tawdry Latin American policy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the creation of a new State Department staff position to implement recommendations of the U.S. Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, a body which hopes to “accelerate the demise” of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s government. Caleb McCarry, a Republican Party warhorse, and former Vice President for the Americas program at the Center for Democracy (a USAID-funded “non-partisan” organization that works to “promote the democratic process in the United States and abroad”), as well as a veteran staffer at the House International Relations Committee, was her choice to hold the Cuba Transition Coordinator job. The position was first concocted in the “Free Cuba Commission’s” 2004 report, which was not meant as much to be a vehicle for a high minded review of stagnant U.S.-Cuba relations, than as a one-sided White House manipulated cabal composed mainly of anti-Castro Miami hardliners. Nor was there any pretense made that the group was balanced or even qualified to do the job.
As a result of the commission’s formulations, a series of strategies was outlined whereby the U.S. would be prepared to help along the demise of the Castro regime as well as search for his successor. With perhaps visions of prime private waterfront condos for Miami militants running the breadth of Cuba, the report, issued under the direction of then Secretary of State Colin Powell and dominated by anti-Castro zealots, included a plan to prevent his brother, Raul, from coming to power. Rice asserted that the commission, with a $59 million budget, “is speeding progress along many fronts.” In fact, the one tangible result of the Secretary of State’s announcement is that the slush fund to be awarded to an array of anti-Castro causes will now be almost doubled, with much of the funds scheduled to be distributed through the USAID, the State Department agency that is increasingly indistinguishable from the CIA in its bankrolling of murky causes. These endowments together with previous handouts awarded by the Helms-Burton Act and the Cuban Democracy Act before it, are now approaching the $100 million mark, including funds coming from the ill-reputed National Endowment for Democracy, with some of it not being closely audited. With scores of anti-Castro organizations receiving big budgets on Washington’s payout pad, some Cuba-based anti-Castro human rights groups receiving similar payments may be gaining a big financial boost, but at the price of having their legitimacy among fellow Cubans undermined by appearing to be working for the Yankee dollar.
Rice’s Diplomacy: Skillful Used Car Salesmanship
In reality, the Bush administration’s self-satisfying purported policy successes regarding Cuba are a misrepresentation of the facts and are meant to cover up its utter failures in terms of not being able to uphold an intelligible and appropriate foreign policy that respects the sensibilities and good opinions of the rest of the hemisphere. Further demonstrating the White House’s bargain basement attitude toward diplomacy when it comes to Latin American issues, on the same day Rice made her announcement regarding Cuba, U.S. officials in Beijing were actively seeking to establish a cooperative and constructive dialogue in denuclearization talks with communist North Korea. While Rice was chastising Cuba for its oppression of political liberty, the U.S. was making a concerted effort to use relatively gentle language regarding North Korea, which has a human rights record tenfold more tarnished than that of Castro’s. It would seem that the Bush administration only takes concern with human rights when it comes to Cuba, where it senses that it has much to lose in terms of votes and campaign donations from anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Florida who had helped to secure Bush’s 2000 and 2004 electoral victories. Even here there is a bottom line factor, because for every one million dollars that the Bush campaign has collected from ultra conservative Miami Cubans, their cause has received five times the amount in federal financing by U.S. taxpayers for various anti-Castro private projects.
In the inadvertent words of the State Department’s information officer, “for some, Cuba is an issue to be managed; for others, it is a policy to be implemented. But for all of you, it is more than that. It is a cause to be championed.” Such spirited ideological gobbledygook aside, Cuba all along has been, for President Bush and his political operatives in Washington, a sacred cause to be dragged through the ideological gunnels of Washington’s hemispheric policymaking. But these operatives have completely missed the mark by further radicalizing U.S. diplomacy. By dispensing with all standards of propriety and respectability, Washington’s policymakers have also managed to make the U.S., rather than Cuba, into the most marginalized nation in the hemisphere by bringing in such notorious figures from the past as John Bolton, Roger Noriega, Elliot Abrams and Otto Reich to be the administration’s big-gun policymakers on hemispheric issues. These men and their like-minded colleagues like Dan Fisk, have given the U.S. a reputation for being thugs, bullies, brigands and political hustlers, but not genuine diplomats. Such officials vend ideological snake oil to be served up with redneck rhetoric to a disbelieving audience that has learned not to respect the U.S. marque or bother to search for any high ground.
Noriega’s Resignation: A Dim Light at the End of a Very Dark Tunnel
In what could have been one of the rare bright moments for U.S.-Cuba relations under the Bush administration, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega made it known on July 29 that he will end his troubled tenure as the U.S. government’s premium if flawed, Latin Americanist this September. He announced his resignation with some drama, one day after McCarry’s appointment was announced and two years to the day after his own appointment to the Western Hemisphere Bureau. According to The New York Times, Noriega proclaimed that “this seemed like a good time to make a change,” and that he would be moving to the private sector. Much guesswork about the precipitating cause of Noriega’s decision has hovered around McCarry’s surprise promotion, which jurisdictionally stripped Noriega of one of his favorite pastimes -- Castro bashing. This left Noriega at the State Department without an organ to crank out his tune, and perhaps brought him to the realization that this was less a resignation than an expulsion. Given that the irrationality of U.S. policy toward Cuba is systemic and not merely descriptive, McCarry’s replacement of his “friend and mentor” appears unlikely to clear stale air. At the Bureau, Thomas Shannon, a National Security Council Latin America expert, is Noriega’s most likely successor.
Noriega on Haiti
Noriega opined on March 10, 2004 before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s resignation “may eventually be considered his finest hour.” Ironically, this statement may apply with far greater accuracy to Noriega’s shrill and destructive trajectory from OAS gopher to a staffer for former Senator Jesse Helms, to bully pulpit heckler of his chief opponents of choice, Hugo Chávez, Castro and Aristide. At every step of his career, he successfully substituted political fawning before the influential, for what he lacked in talent. “[Chávez’s] record is apparent and speaks for itself,'' Noriega told the Miami Herald, when pressed as to how precisely Chávez was causing ferment in Bolivia, but ultimately this turned out to be just another sloppy charge by Noriega, who never spent much time researching issues or getting his facts straight. Any left-leaning cause or leader has good cause to be threatened by his stern admonition aimed at hemispheric dissidents.
The Ideologue’s Guide to International Relations
In Noriega’s uninspired synthesis of rightwing doctrine, Castro was the Platonic form of evil to which Aristide and Chávez both aspired. According to his vision, Castro and Chávez are using their combined forces to undercut and “destabilize” democratic impulses across the hemisphere. As for Aristide, he is ingeniously engineering the downfall of Haitian democracy from his South African exile. Rather, it was Noriega who whispered to journalists that the U.S. would allow for regime change in Haiti at the same time that Secretary Powell was insisting that the U.S. would not allow for the extra-constitutional ouster of the Haitian president.
Throughout his career, Noriega has never flinched from an opportunity to spread such simple-minded extremist dogma. There was little mystery here, because Noriega’s distinguishing characteristic was that he quickly took on the political coloration of those he was serving. He did so whether he was emulating the particular zealotry of Helms or that of another single-minded, anti-Communist Cuba basher, Otto Reich, whose prior career was so controversial that President Bush had to bypass the Senate in 2001 to grant him a one year recess confirmation as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Noriega’s badmouthing has not relented in recent months. His comments in a June 24 Miami Herald article provoked demands for his removal from office. In those remarks, he ignored his active role in Aristide’s coup to assert that, “as a longtime observer of Haiti and a longtime consumer of information about Haiti, it is abundantly clear to me . . . that Aristide and his camp are singularly responsible for most of the violence and for the concerted nature of the violence.” Given the wide media circulation and even acceptance that such billingsgate has when it comes from a “high State Department official,” such targeted bile from Noriega is not to be underestimated. The August 1 edition of the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper, offers as its misguided thesis on Haiti that international forces need to step up their aid because “many observers” attribute the present violence to attempts “by gangs loyal to Mr. Aristide to destabilize the country and prevent municipal, legislative and presidential elections from going ahead this fall.” This charge by the Globe and Mail blatantly disregards the scores of individual accounts and miles of footage that have documented a rather different picture in Haiti.
Neither the Western Hemisphere Bureau nor the Americas could have fared much worse than they did under Noriega’s leadership, whose disservice to the country can only be compared to that of Reich. It would be nice to believe that Noriega’s departure could signify a new, more dignified and rational direction in U.S.-Latin American diplomacy, but this is clearly not meant to be, given Rice’s new $59 million anti-Castro boondoggle.
John Bolton: If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Like Otto Reich before him, John Bolton reached his post as United States ambassador to the United Nations through the back door, by means of a recess appointment. This exigency was due, as with Reich, to his notorious reputation, his habitual prevarication and outlandish behavior. Any questions that remained as to whether or not the White House was finally prepared to take a more responsible approach to diplomacy in consideration of Bush’s presidential legacy evaporated with the appointment of Bolton, the former State Department Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security. This appointment represents yet another example of the ideological intransigence that has become a hallmark of the administration’s foreign policy. Many Republicans are eager to commend the President for “sticking by his man,” but one must doubt the wisdom of selecting Bolton in the first place to represent the United States during a time in which the UN needs to undergo fundamental reform. In fact, it is unlikely that the President could have found a more divisive candidate for the post, even if he had been challenged to do so. The choice is analogous to inviting Nick Leeson, the man who bankrupted Barings Bank, to replace Alan Greenspan as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
Bolton’s penchant for loud-mouthed criticisms against the UN and his dismissive attitude toward multilateral cooperation scream out that he is patently ill-suited to foster the consensus necessary to advance American interests. It seems as though the President has decided that Bolton’s cavalier, take-no-prisoners style will serve as the impetus necessary to reform a UN whose Security Council refused to sanction his intervention in Iraq. A “bull in a china shop” approach to diplomacy might yield results in unilateral dealings with countries that lack the political or economic clout to stand up to the U.S., but the same cannot be said for operations at the UN. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched, President Bush has publicly endeavored to repair frayed ties that he brought about with traditionally steadfast allies, but his selection of Bolton seems unlikely to do anything to endear the U.S. to the international community. It is beyond doubt that the UN needs to be reformed in order to function effectively in the post-Cold War 21st century, but by appointing Bolton, Bush displays his utter contempt and suggests that the U.S. wants to orchestrate the gutting of the UN rather than its renaissance.
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the Bolton saga is that allegations that he politicized intelligence reports to conform to his policy objectives remain unresolved. By dispatching Bolton to New York, without allowing the Senate to fully review his State Department file, the President sends the message that loyalty to the partisan ideology of the administration is more important than ascertaining the truth or serving the highest interests of the nation. Despite the fact that the number of dead American soldiers and Iraqi civilians continues to climb, the President has yet to admit to the peril of allowing “group think” to form the basis of his operational intelligence. One wonders exactly how Bolton, a man inextricably linked to the faulty evidence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, will be received should he have to warn the UN of a genuine threat to international security.
Recess appointments are hardly considered novel in contemporary Washington as President Bush has made in excess of 100 of them since taking office and the same tactic was also employed by President Clinton, if to a lesser extent. The President justified his action on the grounds that the post of UN ambassador is far too important to be left unfilled for any longer than the current impasse. However, acknowledgement of how vital the position is suggests that Senate confirmation, and the accompanying air of legitimacy that it would provide, would be imperative for any candidate. Bolton may only serve at the UN until January of 2007, but he certainly does not deserve to follow even for a day in the footsteps of such revered figures as Adlai E. Stevenson who previously represented Washington’s interests at the organization. Bolton at the UN is simply an absurdity.
Sarah E. Schaffer is a Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA). Kathryn Tarker and Phil Morrow are Research Associates at COHA. COHA is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization based in Washington, DC: www.coha.org.
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