- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The Washington Post mothership has put up a very interesting piece from CFR’s Julia Sweig scheduled for this Sunday’s Outlook section which proposes a novel idea for breaking the U.S. stalemate with Cuba, giving them back Guantanamo Bay:
Whatever Guantanamo’s minor strategic value to the United States for processing refugees or as a counter-narcotics outpost, the costs of staying permanently — with the stain of the prisons, the base’s imperial legacy and the animosity of the host government — outweigh the benefits.
The time to begin this transition is now. By transforming Guantanamo as part of a broader remaking of Washington’s relationship with Cuba, the Obama administration can begin fixing what the president himself has decried as a “failed” policy. It can upend a U.S.-Cuban stalemate that has barely budged for 50 years and can put to the test Raul Castro’s stated willingness to entertain meaningful changes.
Returning Guantanamo Bay to full Cuban sovereignty and control is a win for the United States: Aside from the boon to America’s credibility with the Cuban people and throughout Latin America, these first steps would probe the Cuban government’s apparent disposition to use the base as a point of contact with the United States — and gauge the regime’s willingness to move the ball forward even more.
“As a president, I say the U.S. should go. As a military man, I say let them stay,” Raul Castro quipped last year. It’s hard to know exactly what he means. Floating these proposals would be a good way to find out.
I don’t completely understand Sweig’s desire to “test” or “guage” Raul Castro’s intentions. The Obama administration’s recent moves to lift some restrictions on Cuba could be viewed as a test as well, and Raul Castro has dismissed them as minimal and indicated no intention of reciprocating with political reforms. Following up minor concessions on travel and money transfers with something as big as closing Guantanamo would be a bit like handing a teenager the keys to a Porsche after he crashes the family station wagon.
The best case for engagement with Cuba is not that it will turn the island into a democarcy (it most likely won’t) it’s that after five decades we can fairly safely say that not engaging them isn’t accomplishing a whole lot. Likewise, if, as Sweig argues, the U.S. presence in Guantanamo has outlived its strategic usefulness and serves only as a diplomatic and public relations liability, that alone seems reason enough to close it.
In any event, I’d be interested to see the military’s case for why the base remains necessary.
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