The story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about the American missile that allegedly ended up in Cuba, lost in Air France's baggage, speaks poorly of the Department of Defense. Not everything that comes out wrong from the Pentagon is a product of espionage or ill-will. Negligence does exist.
There is no evidence to date indicating that Cuba has any responsibility whatsoever in the affair but there are those who want to make political hay out of an unfortunate situation. Of all who are using the story to attack engagement with Cuba none other than Elliot Abrams has been the concertmaster.
Abrams, you will remember, was in the center of the Iran-Contra, arms-for-hostages scandal during the Reagan Administration. His insistence on being in this story speaks volumes about his incapacity for shame or a naïve belief in amnesia among concerned adults in Washington. Yet, he launched an effort including journalist Maria Anastasia O'Grady, Senator Marco Rubio and congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, affirming ahead of the fact that Cuba will share the missile technology with China, Russia, North Korea and according to O'Grady "even with other terrorist organizations". The Miami Herald made up its own insinuation posting the story together with a video about the 1962 Missile Crisis. How sloppy!
Elliot Abrams does not have a shred of objectivity as an analyst about Cuba. While Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs during the Reagan administration, Abrams had hidden a Cuban diplomatic communication in favor of negotiating an honorable solution to the conflicts in the Southern Cone of Africa that was favorable to the strategic interests of the U.S. It took a professional diplomat, Jay Taylor, chief of the U.S. Interests Sections in Havana from 1987-88, to circumvent Abrams and pass the information to Chester Crocker, American Assistant Secretary for African Affairs under Secretary of State George Shultz. Crocker convinced Shultz of the convenience of using that Cuban overture, and the U.S. mediated a solution in which the dominant forces in the region now, Nelson Mandela's ANC, the SWAPO in Namibia and the MPLA in Angola, who were Cuba's allies against the apartheid regime, ended up as Washington's allies. The agreements bolstered American interests in the whole African continent.
It is well know that Cuba became closely connected to America's rivals in Moscow and Beijing. Over the decades of the Cold War, the greater the hostility Cuba received from the U.S., the more Cuba relied on other great powers and anti-American allies. That is the logic of realism in international relations. As it has broken from the policy practices of previous administrations toward Cuba, the Obama administration has cleverly understood that its island neighbor is in the middle of a generational transition. A well-timed engagement policy before the final retirement of the Castro brothers would open relations with the new post-revolutionary elites with a clean slate.
Amidst increasing indications that President Obama planned to visit Cuba in the final year of his presidency, a symbolic yet important step in advancing the process of normalization, this missile has rolled into the laps of his strongest critics. If Cuba has the missile, it should simply return it to the U.S. Nothing that Havana can get from the already used weaponry outweighs Cuba's national interest in improving its relations with its powerful neighbor. This would be consistent with the tone of respect announced at the meetings of presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama in Panama City and the United Nations.
But if Cuba doesn't return the missile, that is not a reason to cancel the rapprochement approach. The U.S. shift in its policy towards Cuba was predicated not on a sudden conversion of Raul Castro to liberal democracy or an alliance with the United States but on its alignment with American national interests and democratic values.
One year of engagement with Cuba has brought already important recognition and good for U.S. hemispheric policy from the region and the rest of the world. Every visitor to the island in the last year saw an explosion of sympathy for Obama among the Cuban people with the exception of a minority among the dissidents who profited for decades from the status quo of hostility. American and Cuban government are discussing or cooperating in almost every issue of the bilateral ties. All this is happening despite inaction by Congress, which refuses to repeal the outdated embargo, as the president asks, in order to move this issue beyond the Cold War.
On Friday, Ben Rhodes, deputy director of the National Security Council mentioned several initiatives that the Obama Administration is studying to accelerate the rapprochement with Cuba. Politically this should happen in the first quarter of the year because it will set in motion virtuous cycles to encourage new dynamics and constituencies in business, security and international cooperation between the two states and societies. Cuba and the United States should speed up the process of normalization and launch initiatives for cooperation between their Armed and Security Forces so that when these types of incidents occur then the two nations have a mechanism to apply so that they are easily solved.
The case in favor of engagement with Cuba is simple. It was proudly expressed by president Obama before the American Congress in the State of the Union Address:
Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America. That's why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. You want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere? Recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo.