Thursday, March 11, 2010

Who's a Terrorist Now?

The Havana Note

Posted by Lawrence Wilkerson on March 10, 2010 10:46 AM

From my time at the State Department (2001-2005), first as a policy planner and later as Secretary Powell’s chief of staff, I came to understand some of the politics of the U.S. terrorism list (State Sponsors of Terrorism—see the Export Administration Act of 1979).

These politics existed prior to 9/11 and took on, understandably, a decidedly more aggressive tone afterward.

“One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” and vice versa—so well laid out in modern terms by Welsh journalist Phil Rees in his Dining With Terrorists: Meetings with the World’s Most Wanted Militants—is operable here but not fully explanatory.

I found that, with regard to the United States, one has to dig deeper to discover the motivation behind that formulation. And the motivation is not, for example, that Ronald Reagan thought the Contras the descendants of the patriots of the American Revolution and Hezbollah the spawn of the devil (and we know today that he chose to deal with both).

The motivation, more often than not, is wrapped up in the traditional paraphernalia of politics—money, power, influence, and greed. That it occasionally touches U.S. national security interests is a stunning thing because it almost always does so serendipitously and not by intent.

While it may seem to the average American quite unnerving that the U.S, composes lists that have considerable impact on hosts of other peoples but very little to do with the publicly stated purpose of those lists, it is nonetheless true.

One example with respect to the terrorism list that immediately comes to mind is Cuba.

I selected Cuba because Cuba is an especially egregious example. In fact, if it were the case that Cuba maintained such a terrorist list, Cuba would have more legitimate right to place the United States on that list than the United States has to place Cuba on one.

Simply stated, we, or those whom we have paid and supported, have killed far more Cubans through actions clearly meeting the definition of terrorist actions than the Cubans have killed through similar means.

So why is Cuba on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism?

First, because the infinitesimally small group of Cuban-Americans who hate Field Castro and all that he represents, want Cuba to be on the list. Their arrogance, money and consequent political pull is such that no one dares defy them in meaningful ways.

Second, because we want to hide our own perfidy and, as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove taught us so well, the best way to do that is to accuse others of what you are doing.

Third, because no one really cares about Cuba and so all manner of heinous activities are possible in that environment of apathy. If power loves a vacuum so does perfidy.

The truth is that Cuba has not sponsored a terrorist activity in over 20 years, if, strictly speaking, it ever did.

Draconian government, dictatorial policies that impoverish the many and enrich the few, holding prisoners for political reasons, and ignoring the abject economic circumstances of a vast number of its farmers and workers, all indict Cuba’s leadership.

To be balanced, exporting medical care of the highest caliber to impoverished peoples is also a characteristic of the Cuban government, and for that praise is due. Also for raising the literacy of the Cuban people to an unprecedented level of around 99%.

But no terrorism.

On the other hand, the U.S. continues to either dither over, or indirectly protect, terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles. Carriles was involved in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner (Cubana Flight 455) which killed more than 70 people. In addition, he is strongly suspected of involvement in the hotel bombings in Havana in 1997 that resulted in the death of at least one individual.

This is how we disguise our own crimes by railing at others. And we don’t just rail, we put them on lists. After all, we can’t possibly be condoning terrorism if the Cubans against whom we’re acting are terrorists. As Stephen Colbert has termed it, this “truthiness” is our new guidepost. If our gut tells us it’s OK, it’s OK.

And the terrorist list is another arrow in the quiver of the tiny group in Florida that wants U.S. Cuba policy frozen forever in its current failure mode. The strategy there is, simply, pile on every draconian measure imaginable and hold the fort. Let no one intrude. In particular, do not let common sense, decency, and U.S. national interests come into play.

What of the apathy quotient?

Colin Powell used to tell me that it was amazing what you could accomplish if you didn’t care who got the credit. The tiny group of Cuban-Americans with Cuba policy in its iron grip has turned that laudable principle on its head.

It is amazing what you can get away with if no one cares.

That should be the sign hanging above the offices of Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Robert Menendez, and a host of other Cuban-American zealots.

Perhaps one of the most enlightening statements I ever heard issue from the lips of Ricardo Alarcón, the head of Cuba’s National Assembly, was when, late one evening in a protocol house outside Havana, he sipped a scotch, looked at me, and said that he knew “how wily and smart those Cuban-Americans in Florida are. “He knew”, he repeated for emphasis. He knew, he said, because “After all, they’re Cubans.”

Year after year, the U.S. Department of State continues to place Cuba on its terrorist list, making a mockery of the list and the country that keeps it.

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JG: Hear! Hear!

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