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“No New Or Plausible Idea’s”: Cuba Diplomacy; Behind Right-Wing Outrage, An Intellectual Void

Listen carefully to the Republican leaders and presidential hopefuls roaring with outrage over President Obama’s courageous decision to normalize relations with Cuba; listen very carefully, because no matter how long or how closely you listen to them, there is one thing you will surely never hear.

You will never hear a new idea – or any plausible idea – about bringing liberty, democracy, and prosperity to the suffering Cuban people.

Instead, the furious denunciations of the president’s initiative from his adversaries reveal only an intellectual void on Capitol Hill, where the imperatives remain partisan and cynical. Everyone paying attention has known for decades that the frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba has accomplished nothing – except possibly the prolongation of the Castro regime, which has long considered the embargo a plausible excuse for its own economic failures – and viewed the United States as a politically convenient enemy.

Anyone who has visited the island knows that the Cubans wish nothing more than to see the embargo lifted, because they know it has done nothing to advance their liberty or prosperity – just the opposite.

As former president Bill Clinton likes to say, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. (He wanted to normalize relations as president, but the Cuban government clearly didn’t.) The U.S. government has been doing the same thing in Cuba for 54 years, yet the Republicans still don’t think that was long enough. They haven’t explained how or why – or when – their policy will achieve a different result.

Opponents of change have also failed to justify why treating Cuba so differently from other – and in various respects, worse – authoritarian regimes with which we maintain not only vigorous diplomatic relations but massive trading partnerships and even military cooperation. The conduct of those governments is arguably more repressive in important respects; there is, for instance, less religious freedom in China or Saudi Arabia than Pope Francis found in Cuba.

To browse human rights findings from the State Department’s annual reports or the online files maintained by groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International is to find at least a dozen countries with atrocious human rights records, from Chad to Turkmenistan. But the United States maintains diplomatic and trade relations with all of them.

Indeed, Republican leaders and businessmen – notably including members of the Bush family – have profited handsomely from investment in countries like China and Saudi Arabia for many years, with scarcely a peep about human rights violations in those places. It is impossible to forget how the first President Bush toasted the Chinese regime, immediately following the massacre in Tiananmen Square – and how his opportunistic family members showed up in Beijing and Shanghai, looking for a deal.

With the liberation of more than 50 political prisoners – along with USAID worker Allen Gross and an unnamed American spy – the Cubans have suddenly improved their human rights performance, while the Chinese continue to inflict horrendous repression and even torture on Tibetans, Uighurs, and Han Chinese who dare to dissent. (Many of our leading Republicans don’t object to torture, of course, unless it is perpetrated in foreign countries. Sometimes.)

House Speaker John Boehner accused the president of making “another mindless concession to a dictatorship.” What seems entirely mindless, however, is his insistence that we dare not abandon an unworkable and destructive strategy. No boycott observed and enforced by one country alone – even a powerful country like the United States – is ever going to prevail.

That is among the reasons why international human rights organizations, always the most consistent and implacable critics of Castro’s abuses, have long advocated engagement rather than embargo. As Human Rights Watch notes on web pages devoted to detailing those abuses, U.S. policy has imposed “indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people” since 1961, “and has done nothing to improve the country’s human rights.”

Not long after the president concluded his historic speech – among the most lucid, logical, and inspiring he has delivered in his second term – a spokeswoman for Amnesty International called his new approach “the best opportunity in half [a] century for human rights change in Cuba.”

Designed to quarantine the Cuban government, the policy that failed for five decades has only succeeded in isolating the United States from the rest of the world. Its end is long overdue.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, December 19, 2014

December 20, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Human Rights, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ensuring A Fair Policy”: Reagan And Bush Acted Unilaterally On Immigration, Too—For The Same Reason That Obama Will

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that two previous Republican presidentsRonald Reagan and George H.W. Bushhad taken unilateral action to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation, and the political reaction was much less vitriolic than what Obama has faced as he prepares to make a similar move. Conservatives, notably The Atlantic’s David Frum and National Review’s Mark Krikorian, quickly pushed back. Frum argues that, while legal, Obama’s upcoming executive action would be an unprecedented violation of political norms. Krikorian goes further, calling it “Caesarism, pure and simple.” But in the end, though they differ in their vehemence, both Krikorian and Frum’s analyses do more to reveal the flaws in the conservative position than prove the lawlessness of Obama’s upcoming action.

Krikorian and Frum’s main argument is that Reagan and Bush’s unilateral actions were simply fixes to the 1986 immigration law that granted green cards to three million undocumented immigrants. Reagan and Bush discovered that, due to an unintended consequence of that law, many spouses and kids of newly-legalized immigrants faced deportation, potentially tearing families apart. In response, Reagan and Bush implemented “cleanup measures,” as Krikorian terms them: In 1987, Reagan’s Immigration and Naturalization Service announced that kids of newly-legalized immigrants would not be deported; Bush extended those protections to spouses in 1991.

According to Krikorian and Frum, these actions reflected Congress’s intentions because the legislative branch codified Reagan and Bush’s executive action into law in 1992. “Reagan and Bush acted in conjunction with Congress and in furtherance of a congressional purpose,” Frum writes. “Nobody wanted to deport the still-illegal husband of a newly legalized wife. Reagan’s (relatively small) and Bush’s (rather larger) executive actions tidied up these anomalies.” In other words, it would be unfair if Reagan and Bush deported children and spouses of newly-legalized immigrants. In fact, Bush’s executive action was called the “family fairness” program.

In contrast, they argue, Obama’s executive action is not what Congress intended. “A new order would not further a congressional purpose,” Frum writes. “It is intended to overpower and overmaster a recalcitrant Congress.” Krikorian was even more emphatic: “Whatever their merits, the Reagan and Bush measures were modest attempts at faithfully executing legislation duly enacted by Congress. Obama’s planned amnesty decree is Caesarism, pure and simple.”

What both Frum and Krikorian’s analyses fail to explain is how Obama’s planned action is not a faithful attempt at executing the law. You can’t argue that Obama’s “order would not further a congressional purpose” without explaining what Congress’s purposes are in passing immigration laws. This error isn’t unique to Frum or Krikorian: Conservatives often fail to use a legal framework in analyzing Obama’s action.

In August, I employed such a framework to explain why Obama’s executive action is legal because it’s based on the idea of prosecutorial discretionthe federal government has only limited resources to implement laws and must prioritize them accordingly. But prosecutorial discretion has limits because Congress has the sole authority to write laws. If the president’s actions do not uphold Congress’s prioritiesor, in Frum’s words, further a congressional purposeit crosses the line into lawmaking.

A major priority of immigration law is deterrence. The more the federal government allows undocumented immigrants to stay and work legally in the United States, the more it incentivizes foreigners to come here illegally. That’s why conservatives see Obama’s executive actions as an unfaithful execution of the law. But Congress has other, competing priorities in passing legislation. They want laws to be uniform, predictable and fair, for instance.

When the federal government implements immigration law, it must balance these priorities. In other words, the benefits of making the immigration system fairer must be greater than the costs of reducing deterrence. To an extent, of course, these are subjective judgments. But as long as Obama, or any president, for that matter, is implementing the law in line with congressional prioritiesas I believe Obama ishis actions are legal.

In applying this framework to Obama’s upcoming executive action, the law supports the administration’s position. The change in immigration policy may remove a deterrent for foreigners considering illegally immigrating to the U.S. But the drop in deterrence is small, since the potential beneficiaries of Obama’s action must have lived in the U.S. continuously for many years. Foreigners cannot come into the country illegally under the expectation that the president will soon grant them protection from deportations.

On the other hand, the benefits of these actions are significant. They allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, work legally, and receive legal protections under U.S. law. They no longer have to worry about a discriminatory immigration system. Maybe most importantly, the new policy will prevent families from being torn apartwhich was the main reason behind Reagan and Bush’s executive actions, which Frum and Krikorian believe was justified.

It’s impossible to pick a specific point where the costs outweigh the benefits of Obama’s actions. As Obama shields more undocumented immigrants from deportation, the costs of the policy grow significantly. He risks crossing the line from upholding congressional priorities into lawmaking. But conservatives haven’t offered a legal framework to explain how Obama’s expected executive action crosses that line. Bush and Reagan’s actions were legally acceptable for the same reason Obama’s would be: ensuring that our immigration policy is fair.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, November 19, 2014

November 21, 2014 Posted by | Immigrants, Immigration Reform, Presidential Powers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Cheneys’ Continuing Iraq Disaster”: Dick And Liz Are Trying Desperately To Justify The Unjustifiable

On the heels of Father’s Day, we get a Wall Street Journal missive from none other than Dick and Liz Cheney, the father-daughter duo. Really?

For those who thought they had seen the last of Liz and her ill-fated and absurd challenge to Republican Sen. Mike Enzi from Wyoming, the state she hardly lived in and didn’t know, she’s back! And Dick, who can’t resist a diatribe to justify his ill-fated and disastrous policy in Iraq, has never learned to zip it.

The worst part is the supposed substance of their piece: Iraq is all Obama’s fault. He is “willfully blind,” “he goes golfing,” “he abandoned Iraq,” he is guilty of “simple -minded appeasement.” The Cheney team’s conclusion: “President Obama is on track to securing his legacy as the man who betrayed our past and squandered our freedom.”

What drivel.

There is absolutely no discussion of the dynamics of the Middle East in their article. There is no mention of the deeply religious conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. There is no mention of the Kurds. There is no substantive exploration of the involvement of other nations, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, in this conflict. There is not one reference to policy options that should be considered in response to the attack by terrorist groups associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIL or ISIS.

In short, this is an article devoid of substance, let alone a reasonable discussion of public policy.

So, aside from being a vitriolic attack against President Obama, why did they write it? The answer is pretty straightforward, I think. The Cheneys are trying desperately to justify the unjustifiable.

Dick Cheney lied to get us into Iraq: weapons of mass destruction; Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11; the people want us there; we’ll be greeted as liberators; chemical weapons are ready to be unleashed. On and on. Dick Cheney was one of the architects of one of the most extraordinary disasters ever in the history of American foreign policy: more than $1 trillion spent, thousands killed, a country destroyed. Al-Qaida was not present in Iraq before the invasion, but what about now? Because of the Bush-Cheney policy, we created more terrorists than we could ever have dreamed of killing.

The line from Dick and Liz that is truly astounding, and they seem most proud of, is: “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” It is truly sad that they don’t recognize that such a line applies so much more completely to them and what they did. Their preferred policy was a complete disaster, and most people know it.

President George Herbert Walker Bush surely understood, when he wrote these words in his book about the policy decisions he made on Iraq back in the early 1990s: “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. … There was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.”

Yes, Mr. and Ms. Cheney, and that is precisely what you did and what you recommend now. A disaster then, a disaster now.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, June 18, 2014

June 22, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Iraq, Iraq War | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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