Showing posts with label Foreign Policy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Foreign Policy. Show all posts

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Cuban Humanitarian Crisis in the Making

The Cuban people have been pursuing the benefits of becoming more of a capitalist society.  This was evolving even before President Obama made it possible for Americans to once again visit the island.  Since then it has been accelerating, particularly in the tourist related industries with cruise lines being able to dock there.  The Cuban tourist industry had been dependent on European and Canadian visitors, but after Obama’s effort at detente more Cubans secured governmental licenses to work as private entrepreneurs, mostly in the tourism and related industries. 

The Trump administration has been diligently working on dismantling anything remotely connected with Obama.  It had been slowly reversing détente with Cuba and last week suddenly, without warning, went into high gear by eliminating “people to people” visits, including those by American cruise lines.  In one fell swoop, it cruelly damaged our relations with the Cuban people.   I underscore “people” as they are the ones who will mostly suffer this action.

Here was a golden opportunity to further win over the Cuban people, neighbors only 100 miles off shore. Instead, we could have undertaken a humanitarian effort to address food shortages (don’t our farmers have an excess of food capacity because of the China trade war?).  In part these shortages are due to the Trump administration’s U.S. trade embargo, as well as poor central planning by the Cuban government, and the decline in aid from Venezuela because of its political turmoil.  The confluence of all three has hastened a serious food shortage.

The Bolton hardliners see isolating Cuba as a way of punishing the Cuban government for helping keep Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro in power.  But the US clearly has another agenda and that is to overthrow the Cuban government.

So much more could be won by continuing to help the Cuban people on their path to democratization by supporting their ability to make a living through entrepreneurship.  Many Cuban’s now make their living as guides, taxis drivers, managing B&Bs and running restaurants. 

We were among the 800,000 who have visited the island via a cruise line, and as we had booked it before the first of the Trump reprisals went into effect, we were able to engage independent Cuban guides and tours without any effort. 

Our guide in Havana said his main income now was from being a guide rather than work as a well educated engineer.  Our guides in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba were now full-time guides, working for Cuban companies which would not have been possible only a few years before.  Each guide enlisted a driver for one of the old 50s cars for the day.  These men diligently and proudly keep up these old automobiles.  They cleverly fabricate parts which haven’t been available in decades.  They too have become victims of this ill conceived decree as well. Entrepreneurship is burgeoning in Cuba and we are helping to kill it.  

To put a face on this argument, here are the guides pictured with Ann:

 Our Havana Guide:

   Our Cienfuegos guide:

   Our Santiago de Cuba guide:

A strategy of working with the Cuban people on the one hand, and negotiating with the government on the other would seem to be preferable.  It certainly was bearing fruit under the Obama administration.  It is yet another failure of the cold and compassionless Trump administration; I feel for the Cuban people.  Those we met had such high hopes that American tourism would lead them all into greater prosperity and increase the chances of repairing relations between governments.  I can imagine how this cruel act will be turned into anti-American fodder by the Cuban government.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Who Holds Whom Hostage?

For decades North Korea has crafted a delicate balance, building a nuclear capability while promoting nationalism to perpetuate the Kim Jong-un regime. American Presidents during those years were willing to accept the status quo which was preferable to a military confrontation.  Even with conventional weapons, , on a first strike North Korea could kill up to a million people in Seoul, only a few dozen miles from the DMZ.  That potential has held the world hostage all these years.

Pressure on North Korea’s trading partners, particularly China, to enact stiff sanctions on North Korea has, until recently, been futile.  Here China holds the U.S. hostage, owning a portion of our debt and more significantly knowing the American public’s insatiable demand for cheap imported goods would prevail over any economic retaliation against China.  China was content to have North Korea as a buffer zone until it, too, has been startled by NK’s nuclear ambitions.

Indeed, a delicate balance, and then Trump’s opening day message at the United Nations, where he threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.”   We all know what that is code for – the use of nuclear weapons.  An American President has said he would use this country’s nuclear force as a first strike.

Unthinkable.  There were so many other ways to signal our resolve, to further pressure North Korea to the negotiating table.  He went on to call Kim Jong-un ‘Rocket Man,’ --in front of the United Nations, schoolyard name-calling.  Then, further undermining the dignity of the Office of the Presidency, he continued those threats and name-calling in Tweets.

Surprise.  Tensions have ratcheted up, Kim Jong-un responding with new threats, including testing a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.  Unlikely, but to even utter that is giving as good as one gets.

There has been much criticism levied at Trump for worsening an already incendiary environment between the two countries, so what does he do?  -- he turns on the NFL.  He has a reptilian instinct for survival.  In so doing, he wrapped himself in the flag, the one that belongs to us all.  “Fire the sons of bitches” referring to NFL players who went to one knee during the playing of the National Anthem.

I come from a generation which would never do that, but I would defend another person’s right to protest that way over such weighty issues as “Black Lives Matter.”  Of course all lives matter in this country and to be born black should not be an impediment, but look where Trump brought President Obama – to the point of producing his birth certificate to prove his legitimacy as the President.  If Obama was white, no such argument would have been made. 

Now, if anyone is an illegitimate President, it is Trump.  And he knows it -- how he got to be President, by his actions and Russia’s and astonishingly by those of the head of the FBI.  Even his ignorance of American history, and his divisiveness seemed to work in his favor.   He did not win by popular vote and although some of his marginal supporters say they would not vote for him now, he still has a solid 30 -35% base enamored by his strong-arm tactics, convinced he can do no wrong.  And it is HE who is holding the rest of America hostage.

He knows his tenure as President is precarious, with the possibility of impeachment or the invocation of the 25th amendment, which provides for the removal of the President if “disabled” and unable to perform the duties of the office.  One could argue that we are already there, but it is a high bar to achieve and it has to be set in motion by the Vice President and ultimately have the backing of 2/3 of Congress if the President objects. 

With his pathetic response to the Charlottesville show of power by white supremacist groups and his attack on NFL players, mostly black (although he disavows that as being an issue), he dog whistles to his hard-core followers, many probably NRA diehards, and thereby creates a hostage situation.  I can see clearly, now, the “strategy:” “remove me as your President and suffer the consequences of a new Civil War. “  He has his army, he has the means of communication, he exhibits sociopathic thinking, and his politics of divisiveness have created such an environment.  He would even risk nuclear war.

So, North Korea holds the world hostage, China holds us hostage, and Trump holds the majority of the American people hostage.  Never has there been such a President who disrespects the very ideals which makes the American flag so sacred.  He has done more than take a metaphoric knee to fortify his fragile ego.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Credit Where Credit is Due

The killing of Osama bin Laden brings back the memories of that terrible day of 9/11 and a feeling of closure and admiration for the persistence of our intelligence community and brave men and women in the military. Ironically at the White House Correspondents' Dinner traditional "roasting" over the weekend, President Obama was joking about Trump's decision to fire a "celebrity apprentice" as the kind of thing that would keep him up at night, while this operation was being planned. It was a daring one, and not involving Pakistan was a calculated risk. Can one imagine if it had failed, as Carter's rescue of the Iranian hostages did, and the ensuing invectives that would have been launched at Obama? President Obama inherited a decade of overspending, tax cuts, wars on multiple fronts, an elusive bin Laden, and continuing unrest in the Middle East. What a lousy hand he was dealt, but, as that Correspondents' Dinner showed, he has managed to retain a sense of humor while his intelligence never fails to shine through.

It remains to be seen whether bin Laden's death will have an effect on future Al-Qaeda efforts or, more importantly, the unrest sweeping the Middle East where Al-Qaeda is conspicuous by its absence. If anything, there are signs that self government, even along democratic lines, is being valued more than Muslim extremism. It's almost as if our electing our first biracial President, one who lived in a Muslim country briefly as a child, was a symbolic call to the world of "tear down these walls" -- no less potent than President Reagan's challenge to Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Conservative Media Goes Rogue

Recently I was trapped in traffic in my car, channel surfing for news on the Egyptian revolution, and came across a Fox funny person, Glenn Beck. I should have surfed on by, but was fascinated by his off the wall comments -- which admittedly I am probably taking out of context as I only listened to him for a couple of minutes -- but if I understood the thesis correctly, Obama's secret agenda ( as a "community organizer") is to organize the youth of the world (evidence: Obama appealing to "the youth of Egypt" during the crisis) in an attempt to encourage some sort of a new Industrial Workers of the World? Did I hear that correctly? And what does Beck have against youth?

Between Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh (BP&R), a flood of bizarre assertions have been made about Obama's motivations, and the conservative media is drowning in their spewed sewage. It is one thing to call Obama incompetent, or having the wrong priorities (neither true for the most part, at least in my opinion), but to foster these conspiracy theories is quite another. No American president has been so reviled by conservatives and, frankly, I can't figure out why and how the conservative movement thinks it can benefit from this kind of extremism, other than selling more newspapers, books, and media time.

No doubt, there is a buck to be made by BP&R and conservative leaning media, particularly Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation which now owns Fox, the Wall Street Journal, and the book publisher HarperCollins, just to name a few. This media giant can now create persuasive circular arguments, hiring Sarah Palin as a Fox News Contributor, having HarperCollins publish "her" book, the Wall Street Journal and other media quoting the wacky output of this celebrity politician, and, then have Fox News quote the WSJ. Murdoch began turning the UK's newspaper industry into sensational tabloids at the end of the 1960s (with the kind of blaring headlines as seen here in Piccadilly Circus when we first visited London after we were married) and some of the same methodology seems to be migrating to more recent ventures.

However, to my surprise, I read Michael Medved's opinion column in yesterday's Wall Street Journal discussing this very issue of the demonization of Obama -- and a "fair and balanced" one as well (maybe I'll keep my subscription after all) -- Obama Isn't Trying to 'Weaken America'.

Of course, as a conservative commentator, Medved fears that the BP&R's fixation on Obama as an evil-doer will ultimately be the ruination of Republican chances in the 2012 election. He rightfully points out that while the history of the presidency is fraught with mistakes, essentially the office has been occupied by people of good intentions. I could argue that although Nixon's presidency might have begun there, it ended in the office's worst betrayal, but I agree with Medved that the presidency's history "makes some of the current charges about Barack Obama especially distasteful—and destructive to the conservative cause."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Inspirational Diplomacy

I am an early riser so was able to see President Obama’s entire speech today as he delivered it at Cairo University. If a main criterion of being a successful President is to be inspirational, Obama passed that test.

It was not a speech of diplomacy per se but its prelude, setting a tone and putting forth ideals. I fear progress on the broad objectives President Obama set out in the speech will be delayed, another victim of our economic malaise. This dilutes the energy that can be focused on international goals and until domestic issues such as the deficit and unemployment are under control, the ability to make significant progress abroad will be impaired.

Nonetheless, the speech is one that realizes the hope I expressed more than a year ago in an open letter to then Senator Obama: “Some people have pointed to 9/11 as a manifestation of the clash between the Muslim and Christian worlds. Given your personal background, you have what may be a unique opportunity to establish a dialogue between these two worlds and in so doing begin to restore our international standing. Just electing you will demonstrate to the world that we can put our ideals into action.”

President Obama’s made several references to the need for honesty, putting forth some very sensitive key issues to his Egyptian audience, such as the future security of Israel and the need for Palestinian statehood, and Iran’s place in a nuclear world.

And if I am to be honest, during my lifetime the American Presidency sometimes has been a source of embarrassment, culminating in President George W. Bush having to duck shoes thrown at him. When I traveled the world I would occasionally feel the undercurrent of anti-Americanism, the stereotype of the “ugly American” that President Obama has asked the Muslim world to renounce as he has said we must “fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

During my adult lifetime I can think of only two comparable speeches as noteworthy as Obama’s: President Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” June 26, 1963 speech (ironically three days before my first marriage) in West Berlin and President Reagan’s June 12, 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate, proclaiming “Tear down this wall!” a challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall. I was in Frankfurt Germany on October 3, 1990 when Berlin was united into a single city-state and East/West German unity was achieved, the words of Kennedy and Reagan resonating in history.

Hopefully President Obama’s Cairo speech similarly will be recognized as an inspirational turning point sometime in the future. Words and leadership make a difference.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

When a man is tired of London…

...he is tired of life. Samuel Johnson uttered those famous words to his biographer James Bosewell some two hundred and thirty years ago. I’m still basking in the glow of President Obama’s and First Lady Michelle’s London visit to attend the G-20, replaying in my mind the images of London, our President’s news conference and Michelle’s moving visit to a girls school in Islington, north London.

If I could live in any place other than where we have, I would choose London. I often visited there during my career usually to confer with our distributor, Eurospan, run by
my late dear friend, the charismatic Peter Geelan. I would also see numerous UK publishers with whom we traded copublications, or go to the London Bookfair, or stop by London on my way to the Frankfurt Bookfair.

Frequently Ann would accompany me for the London part of the trip so we managed some
vacation time there as well. After staying at several London hotels, including the Dorchester where we had to nearly pole vault into our bed at night, we sort of settled at The Cavendish, which in the Edwardian era was run by Rosa Lewis, the infamous “Duchess of Duke St.” Located across from Fortnum and Mason on the corner of Duke and Jermyn Streets, it is ideally situated near Trafalgar Square, St. James and Piccadilly Circus, the heart of London’s great theatre district where we went as often as our schedule allowed. So it was at this hotel where I would meet Ann during my business travels, and later, we brought Jonathan as well, the first time as young as 14 months old. Here Ann is stepping out of a London taxi having just arrived for one of those visits.

We were at the Cavendish when a young British policewoman was killed in 1984, shot by someone from the nearby Libyan Embassy on St. James Place. Between the Irish Republican Army threats and other clouds of terrorism, traveling in London was sometimes filled with anxiety, but the British people take such adversity in stride. The Cavendish became an armed camp during the standoff with the Libyan Embassy and right outside our window, which had a view to the Embassy, there were police sharpshooters. We slept on a mattress on the floor that evening, along with 8-year-old Jonathan, all of us anxious to stay out of the line of fire. We were leaving the following morning and that standoff lasted at least a week longer.

I treasured going to Eurospan’s offices at 3 Henrietta Street facing the venerable Covent
Garden. This area is rich in literary tradition. Number 3 had housed the publishing home of Gerald Duckworth, Virginia Woolf's stepbrother and no doubt Henry James and John Galsworthy had visited as well, as Duckworth published both. Jane Austen’s brother Henry, a banker, lived at 10 Henrietta Street and she had stayed there when in London, saying the house was “all dirt and confusion, but in a very interesting way.”

The scenes from My Fair Lady that were filmed in Covent Garden were right outside the door of 3 Henrietta Street and, according to Peter, a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's 1972 film Frenzy was made in the building itself. As per Wikipedia, “much of the location filming was done in and around Covent Garden and was an homage to the London of Hitchcock's childhood. The son of a Covent Garden merchant, Hitchcock filmed several key scenes showing the area as the working produce market that it was. Aware that the area's days as a market were numbered, Hitchcock wanted to record the area as he remembered it….The buildings seen in the film are now occupied by restaurants and nightclubs, and the laneways where merchants and workers once carried their produce are now occupied by tourists and street performers.”

Of course, I remember when Covent Garden was a public square mainly devoted to the fruit and vegetable market, but in its transformation to today’s tourist attraction, its character was mostly retained. Eliza Doolittle might still recognize it while selling flowers from the portico of St Paul's.

While meetings with Eurospan
would easily last the entire day, there was always time for fun in the evenings, sometimes a party at the offices itself, or at Peter’s flat, typically ending in a crowd moving on to dinner at a nearby favorite restaurant. And in those days, and since, London has some of the best food in the world if you’re the guest of someone in the know. When I retired, Peter’s son, Michael who took over the business with his partner, Danny, who was in charge of finance, presented me with a montage of photos of those years, which I proudly display on my bookshelf next to my desk.

When Jonathan was along, Ann and I made it a point to journey by underground to Pinner in west London to visit Danny and his family. Over the years we became close to them and they visited us in the US as well. When my older son Chris, who was a superb high school soccer player, was invited to play in Europe, he stayed with their family and visited English football clubs with Danny, who played competitive amateur football.

Here we are with Mum (Danny’s mother), his wife, Pat, and their two beautiful daughters, Claire
and Lisa. I can still see them all in my mind’s eye, as they were in the photograph here skipping down the streets of Pinner, so reminiscent of the streets of Kew Gardens near where I grew up, obviously modeled after these London environs. One year I hand carried Cabbage Patch dolls for his girls so they would be the first in the UK to have the “prestigious” dolls. When they were introduced in the early 1980’s around Christmas time in the US, there were long lines and even fistfights to get one. Ann was not to be messed with though when she waited on line for them at a local toy store before we journeyed to London.

So I watched the Obama news coverage with a mix of nostalgia and pride, reminded not only of the special kinship the United States has with the United
Kingdom but also of my own close personal ties. It was my fervent hope that as President, because of his political views, his multicultural background, and his leadership abilities, Obama would help repair what, by any objective measure, was diminished respect for the United States abroad.

What better place to start than London town? I had not anticipated what First Lady Michelle would bring to the table. Her speech to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, her genuine, heartfelt emotion, and the outpouring of love to her resonates with reciprocal devotion. And who could not be impressed by the arm in arm embrace with the Queen?

Repairing a tarnished reputation takes time, it takes mutual respect; and if the G-20 accomplished nothing else, it seems to have established the right direction. Perhaps a new sense of confidence begins to percolate the world economy as well because of agreements made at the G-20. So much remains to be seen on that score and I have been pessimistic by the accelerating debt that is being incurred. But as economics relates to trust, in the system, and between nations, this may be a start to break the vicious cycle of gloom and doom.

I was struck by President Obama’s news conference, where he seems so much at ease, affable, and his responses clearly belie the attacks by some of his critics as his being teleprompter dependent (as if his predecessor was not). I conclude with the question that was posed by Jonathan Weisman, the Washington Post Congressional reporter, about America’s standing in the world and our President’s reply. It’s the kind of truth that does inspire the “hope” that became a campaign mantra.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. During the campaign you often spoke of a diminished power and authority of the United States over the last decade. This is your first time in an international summit like this, and I'm wondering what evidence you saw of what you spoke of during the campaign. And specifically, is the declaration of the end of the Washington consensus evidence of the diminished authority that you feared was out there?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, during the campaign I did not say that some of that loss of authority was inevitable. I said it was traced to very specific decisions that the previous administration had made that I believed had lowered our standing in the world. And that wasn't simply my opinion; that was, it turns out, the opinion of many people around the world.

I would like to think that with my election and the early decisions that we've made, that you're starting to see some restoration of America's standing in the world. And although, as you know, I always mistrust polls, international polls seem to indicate that you're seeing people more hopeful about America's leadership.

Now, we remain the largest economy in the world by a pretty significant margin. We remain the most powerful military on Earth. Our production of culture, our politics, our media still have — I didn't mean to say that with such scorn, guys ... you know I'm teasing — still has enormous influence. And so I do not buy into the notion that America can't lead in the world. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think that we had important things to contribute.

I just think in a world that is as complex as it is, that it is very important for us to be able to forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions. Just a — just to try to crystallize the example, there's been a lot of comparison here about Bretton Woods. "Oh, well, last time you saw the entire international architecture being remade." Well, if there's just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy, that's a — that's an easier negotiation. But that's not the world we live in, and it shouldn't be the world that we live in.

And so that's not a loss for America; it's an appreciation that Europe is now rebuilt and a powerhouse. Japan is rebuilt, is a powerhouse. China, India — these are all countries on the move. And that's good. That means there are millions of people — billions of people — who are working their way out of poverty. And over time, that potentially makes this a much more peaceful world.

And that's the kind of leadership we need to show — one that helps guide that process of orderly integration without taking our eyes off the fact that it's only as good as the benefits of individual families, individual children: Is it giving them more opportunity; is it giving them a better life? If we judge ourselves by those standards, then I think America can continue to show leadership for a very long time.