Putin in Cuba

In the midst of the controversy over Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to put troops in Cuba. Put them where? Close to the U.S. coastline? What is he thinking, or does he recall such an effort in the not too distant past – the Cuba missile crisis of 1962 in the middle of the Cold War, an event that brought the two powers – the U.S. and the Soviet Union – the closest they ever came to a direct clash, even possibly a nuclear exchange.

What a fearful memory, surely best forgotten. That Putin would raise it suggests the seriousness of the occasion, at least for the Russian ruler. He considers Ukraine the equivalent of Cuba, a neighbor that cannot be conceded to the enemy. That was also the opinion of President John Kennedy, who was alarmed and frustrated by the takeover of Cuba by the communist Fidel Castro, clearly and dangerously allied to Moscow.

Kennedy’s first response was a dismal failure. He backed an invasion of anti-Castro rebels that foundered at the Bay of Pigs, largely because a doubtful President failed to provide air cover. That emboldened Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, a reckless and ardent communist who had participated in Josef Stalin’s mass murders and then turned on the dictator after his death. Sensing an opportunity, Khrushchev began to place nuclear missiles in Cuba to prevent another U. S. attempt on his communist ally. Khrushchev still dreamed of world revolution.

Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy. Photo by: AFP.com

The U.S. was aghast at his move. By this time, Kennedy had learned from experience. He consulted all the members of the foreign policy establishment, a group of experienced and scholarly advisers that doesn’t exist today. Opinion varied in terms of what action to take, but there was no flighty talk of using nukes or demonizing Khrushchev. In fact, subsequent records reveal that both sides had a clear picture of the other, which helped in the ultimate resolution.

Kennedy and Khrushchev stayed in contact and arranged a compromise. Khrushchev would remove the Cuban missiles in return for the U.S. taking similar missiles out of Turkey. The crisis was over and in fact nothing like it occurred again up to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. At first Kennedy tried to portray the agreement as a Cold War victory for the U.S. and kept the Turkish part secret. But when that was revealed, the importance of the compromise was understood. It has gone down in history as an example of successful statecraft.

Though Putin has a substantial nuclear arsenal, he will not put missiles in Cuba. He is not an expansionist minded communist but an autocratic national leader looking out for his country’s interests. While Khrushchev approached Cuba offensively, Putin’s tactic is defensive. He wants the U. S. to stop expanding NATO to Ukraine on the Russian border. That’s the message of his threat. 

The U.S. Is not today what it was in Kennedy’s day. Opinions and pressures are all over the place from a number of groups not always linked to the national interest. That’s the accusation against the so-called neocons who seem to have their own view of world revolution. There is similar distrust of the military-industrial complex that profits mightily from wars however misconceived. Whatever the flaws of the people advising Kennedy, their integrity was not challenged.

Since 9/11 something is lacking in U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps it’s a matter of character as well as wisdom. Communism may be gone in America, but other kinds of of ideology prevail distorting policy. A clear view of the world is essential, as George Kennan demonstrated when he charted the U.S. course in the Cold War. But is another Kennan possible today?

Assange Invited to Mexico

A British judge has prevented Julian Assange’s deportation to the U.S. which has been doggedly pursuing him for disclosing reams of secret and embarrassing government documents. For Assange, currently imprisoned in Britain, Mexico beckons perhaps. “Assange is a journalist and deserves a chance,” says Mexican President Lopez Obrador. “I am in favor of pardoning him.”

Julian Assange

In a breathtaking irony, the country where more journalists are murdered than anywhere else on earth has now offered asylum to one of of the world’s most famous journalists. Revenge is at hand. The drug cartels which basically control Mexico resent U.S. efforts against them like the wall and legalizing marijuana, their chief product. Assange is a handy cudgel to bat the threatening northern neighbor.

How would Assange live in Mexico presuming he could somehow get there? No doubt quite well. The cartels’ word is law and if they can readily condemn Mexican journalists, they can just as easily save an American one. “Assange’s harsh imprisonment is the equivalent of torture,” says President Lopez Obrador who should know. Torture is a specialty of cartel rule. Considering his value, Assange might be the only person in Mexico exempt from torture.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador

How would the U.S react? The American media which basically ignores Mexico or misreports it (crime? what crime?) might be spurred to action since the U.S. is involved. The cartels might then let Assange respond in a battle of the headlines. To silence these the U.S could launch a covert action to recover the errant newsman and end its humiliation by a lesser country.

In the meantime, the cartels could bask in their new found glory, enjoying fame as civil libertarians while chalking up record profits from drug sales – a win-win situation.

Whoever thought the case against Assange would lead to this?

The Basement Guy Won

If perception is often reality, there’s no arguing with what we saw of Joe Biden. Here he was comfortably at home in his basement while running for one of the world’s most demanding jobs. It shows he is temperamentally, maybe mentally unfit for commander in chief, charged the critics. He didn’t move much more in response. Why give up what turned out to be a winning hand?

He seemed to reflect a changing mood in the electorate. a growing weariness with U.S. interventions everywhere for every kind of reason, wars started but never won and never ended, threats of future violence from all over the globe when in fact, the U.S. has never been quite so safe. No overriding ideological menace like Stalin’s Communism is pushing us to the brink.

Joe Biden in his basement

But where does Biden with his long Senate record fit into this? Not too badly with grounds for optimism. He joined the stampede for the ill conceived ’03 war with Iraq but afterwards exercised more caution. In fact, during his years as Vice President, he almost alone among advisers to President Obama argued against the militarization of U.S. policy, opposing more troops to Afghanistan and the disastrous war in Libya. As usual, there were the scoffs and eye rolling of other advisers, but was it his sometimes halting delivery to blame or his message?

Like President Trump before him, Biden faces the formidable opposition of the so-called deep state, a combination of elements of the intelligence agencies, the unelected bureaucracy and billionaire moneyed interests who are quite content to keep all U.S. wars going. Hated for so many reasons, Trump is not given credit for calming the perceived threat from nuclear armed North Korea. Not a real lasting solution, claim the critics. But in foreign policy half a loaf is better than none. Similarly, Biden says he wants to rejoin the nuclear agreement with Iran that was abandoned by Trump. It has flaws ino doubt, but they can be dealt with. The point is to lessen unnecessary tensions in a world that is all too trigger happy.

Biden is not without baggage: a U.S. investigation of his family’s financial dealings, a large part of the electorate, including a growing populist movement currently allied with the Republican party, who are outraged by what they consider a rigged election. He must also deal with a clamorous, influential left led by Senator Bernie Sanders who will increasingly object to his centrist domestic policies. Yet this same group appears to share his foreign policy views

Then there is chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, who recently commented on the Defense Department budget: “We must take a hard look at what we do, how we do it. There’s a considerable amount that the U.S. spends on overseas deployments, on overseas bases and locations, etc. Is everyone of these absolutely, positively necessary for the defense of the United States?”