Self-styled diplomatic troubleshooter Bill Richardson deserves at least some credit for yet another attempt to free U.S. aid worker Alan Gross from a Cuban state security prison. But his recent strange foray into Cuba should make it pretty clear to any sentient being of the futility of trying to negotiate anything with the Castro regime. It’s the diplomatic equivalent of bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Richardson insists he was invited by Cuban officials to discuss the Gross case once Cuba’s kangaroo court proceedings against him were complete. Since Gross was sentenced in August to 15 years in prison for the crime of bringing internet equipment to a small Cuban Jewish group, Richardson made the trip.
However, once he arrived in Havana, he was told in no uncertain terms that Gross was going nowhere, that he couldn’t even meet with him, and that Richardson would not be granted a de rigueur audience with current Cuban figurehead Raul Castro.
At first, a defiant Richardson said he wouldn’t leave Cuba until he saw Gross, but then — evidently reconsidering the implications of an extended stay in the Castro brothers’ Stalinist paradise — he unceremoniously returned to the United States.
Apparently, what had upset the Castro brothers was that Richardson had committed the egregious faux pas of actually speaking the truth while in Cuba, referring to Gross as a "hostage" in an interview. In this, Richardson did indeed slip-up, forgetting that in totalitarian societies language is perverted, white is black, and Alan Gross is not a hostage, but a "criminal" convicted of grave crimes against the State.
Upon his departure from Cuba, Richardson said, "Unfortunately after this negative experience, I don’t know if I could return here as a friend." But in a subsequent interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, it wasn’t clear what Richardson learned from this experience.
He said that at a "delightful" and "wonderful" three-hour lunch with Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, he was "dramatically snubbed" and "slammed" with the news that the Gross issue was off the table. He went on to blame his failure to see Gross on "hard-liners" within the Castro regime who oppose improved U.S.-Cuban relations, even as he considered Raul Castro a "moderate."
Such comments betray a supremely facile understanding of the nature of the Castro regime or recent events in Cuba. If Raul Castro is a moderate, then Fidel Castro is positively a liberal, since the human rights situation under Raul’s tenure has measurably worsened, with the arrests and persecution of Cuban dissidents exceeding anything in years prior.
Secondly, the claim that unnamed "hard-liners" in the regime are out to torpedo improved U.S. relations again misunderstands Cuban reality. The Castro regime is perfectly willing to normalize relations with the United States — the issue is they are not willing to make any concessions to achieve it. In their minds, they have done nothing wrong; it is the United States that is the guilty party and it is the United States that must rectify the situation by unilaterally changing policy.
As far as the case of Alan Gross, the effort to free him has been botched from the start. It was a tragic miscalculation to believe that "quiet diplomacy" and relying on the good will of the Castro regime had any chance of success. The notion that his case has frozen progress in U.S.-Cuba relations means nothing to the Castro brothers, since you can’t miss something you never had. It is only when the administration starts driving up the real cost to the regime of Gross’s continued incarceration by rolling back U.S. travel and other economically beneficial policies to the regime will it begin to truly reassess the value of their hostage.
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.| Passport |
Yochi Dreazen is a Managing Editor for News at Foreign Policy. He is also writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security. His book about military suicide was published by Random House's Crown division in 2014.
Prior to joining Foreign Policy, Dreazen was a contributing editor at the Atlantic and the senior national security correspondent for National Journal. He began his career at the Wall Street Journal and spent 11 years at the newspaper, most recently as its military correspondent. He was born in Chicago, and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he edited the award-winning daily campus newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with degrees in History and English. He was hired by the Wall Street Journal immediately after graduation. Dreazen arrived in Iraq in April 2003 with the Fourth Infantry Division, and spent the next two years living in Baghdad as the Wall Street Journal's main Iraq correspondent.
Dreazen has made more than 12 lengthy trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and has spent a total of nearly four years on the ground in the two countries, mostly doing front-line combat embeds. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dreazen received the Military Reporters & Editors association’s top award for domestic military reporting in a large publication for a series of articles about military suicide and the psychological traumas impacting veterans of the two long wars. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tablet and the New Republic and he appears regularly on TV and radio programs such as NPR's Diane Rehm Show and PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Dreazen gives frequent lectures about journalism, the wars and current events to both civilian and military audiences.
Dreazen lives in Washington with his wife, Annie Rosenzweig Dreazen, and their beloved Golden Retriever, Charlie.| Report |