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Opinion focus with Eugene Robinson: A terrorism designation Cuba doesn't deserve

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Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 1:00 PM

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson was online Tuesday, Jan. 5 to discuss his recent columns and the latest news.

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Archive of past discussions.

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Eugene Robinson: Hi, everybody. Welcome to our weekly therapy session. (You all, believe it or not, are my therapists.) Tons to talk about, from terror threats to al-Qaeda double agents to this morning's column, which asks why Cuba, of all places, is on the list for airline passengers to get enhanced scrutiny. Let's get started.

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DeLand, Florida: The inclusion of Cuba struck me as odd and pointless, too. Why bother scrutinizing airline passengers from Cuba? If Al-Qaeda ever recruits a Cuban, he only has to board a raft and float here. Once his foot touches dry land, he's home free - no questions asked. Our Cuban policy has been full of irrational contradictions for too long.

Eugene Robinson: It really is through-the-looking-glass stuff. Our Cuba policy hasn't made sense for at least 40 years -- and that's allowing for a 10-year trial period to see if it might work. It didn't. We should get over it.

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New York: Eugene, I generally enjoy reading your commentary, and look forward to your frequent appearances on TV. But come on Eugene, you are obviously a very bright person. You cannot be that naive. It is not the Cubans that we are worried about. It is the inevitable crazed zealot that pays off some Cuban Colonel to look the other way and let him enter the USA through Cuba. Eugene, put the ideology aside and think - I don't want a member of my family killed because of short sighted ideologues that don't see the very real danger that we face.

Eugene Robinson: I've been to Cuba ten times -- I did a book on the place -- and I've got to tell you that your scenario sounds really far-fetched to me. If you were to say that about a Mexican colonel, an Italian colonel, a Thai colonel, it would have more credibility for me than about a Cuban. Cuba solved the problem of army officers deciding to go into the drug business by lining a few of them up and shooting them. There's nothing in it for Cuba to enable a terrorist attack on the United States and I just can't conceive of anyone on the island, or even just passing through, pulling such a thing off.

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Rocklin, Calif.: Mr. Robinson: You appear regularly on MSNBC as a commentator. I enjoy and respect your contributions.

My concern is with the plethora of hosts and pundits that constitute the echo chamber and offer opinions on network and cable news shows who I respect less.

Jay Rosen has a proposal to do some serious fact checking about the accuracy of those pontificating on those shows. The fact corrections would be aired on those networks. I think it should include hosts, guests and pundits.

How is it that the pundits are experts on every subject? George Will would not be my go to guy for climate change. Cokie Roberts thinks Hawaii is exotic and foreign. Chris Matthews is concerned the next potential bomber may know Kung Fu. Bret Hume is an expert on Buddhism. You see what I mean?

washingtonpost.com: My Simple Fix for the Messed Up Sunday Shows (Jay Rosen: Public Notebook, Dec. 27)

Eugene Robinson: Egads! Holding us responsible for what we say? On television? Seriously, I think Jay's idea is a good one. Poynter's politifact site does a good job of holding us pontificators-in-print to some standard of truth. It would be good for the talk shows to truth-squad themselves.

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New Brunswick, NJ: Wayne Smith, the former U.S. representative in Cuba, explained years ago the absurdity and injustice of the designation of Cuba as a "state sponsor of terrorism."

Eugene Robinson: He knows the place as well as anybody.

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New York, NY: Your piece opens with a nice passive participle, and "the Obama Administration" is a somewhat amorphous construct. Who precisely do you think is responsible for the inclusion of Cuba on this enhanced-screening list?

I've been to Cuba and, though it's hardly my favorite place in the world, I've got to agree with you that it doesn't belong on this list.

Eugene Robinson: Cuba is on the list because the administration made the reasonable decision to include the countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism. But why is Cuba on the "state sponsors" list? There are enough real threats out there without creating a phantom one.

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Palm Harbor, Fl: We fought a war with VietNam, yet we are now trading partners; what is our basic problem with Cuba?

Eugene Robinson: We can let bygones be bygones with anybody. Except Fidel. Our policy has played into the hands of the Castro regime for five decades. It's just dumb.

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Minneapolis: Hi Eugene -- Thanks for taking questions today. On MSNBC yesterday, you commented that former VP Cheney was "off the reservation" with his latest diatribe against President Obama. I totally agree - but what do you think is going on here? Is he trying to show that he's the leader of the Republican Party? Or prepare for a presidential run? (wouldn't that be something...) Or just a cranky old man with nothing else to do? And do you think Obama is responding appropriately, or would ignoring Cheney be more effective?

Eugene Robinson: I wrote a column last week about Cheney's screed. I really can't find the logic behind this latest outburst, because in it he makes allegations that are so easily shown to be bogus. My favorite is his complaint that Obama is trying the underwear bomber in civilian court, letting his lawyer-up and reading him his Miranda rights. Um, how did George W. Bush and Dick Cheney handle the shoe bomber, who tried the exact same thing with the exact same explosive? They read him his Miranda rights, let him lawyer-up, and filed charges in civilian (federal) court. He's now serving life in the "supermax" federal prison in Colorado. Has Cheney forgotten this? Does he think nobody remembers?

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Raleigh, NC: As best I can tell, the rockbed belief of Castro's ideology is hate of the United States. For whatever cultural or psychological reason (perhaps an identification with his Spanish-born father's anger at Spain's humiliation at the hands of the U.S. in 1898), Castro has always sided with whomever opposed the US. Isn't it reasonable that the Obama administration's decision to include Cuba among terrorist nations is simply a recognition of 51 years of Castro's Cuba siding with our enemies? Please note how Castro's ideological clone Hugo Chavez's romances Iranians and displays blunt anti-Semitism.

Eugene Robinson: The thing is, though, that nobody sat down and said, hmmm, what about Cuba? For five decades, the automatic reflex has been to say "not Cuba" whenever possible. Fidel managed to get under the skin of ten presidents. We've been a perfect foil for his act.

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Rydaholm, Sweden: One thing about the Cuban people, they are dedicated lovers of the American cars of the 50s and 60s, and do whatever they can to keep them running, so one must give them some credit for their dedication.

Eugene Robinson: For a long time, those were only cars Cuba had. Now, of course, there are plenty of new cars in Cuba, but restrictions don't allow most ordinary Cubans to buy a car (not that they would have the money anyway). But private sale or resale of cars that Cubans owned at the time of the revolution is unrestricted, so that's an incentive to keep those old classics on the road. Most of them, at this point, are U.S. sheet metal and Russian or East Bloc innards.

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Silver Spring, Md.: What do you think of Sally Quinn's position that Obama needs to start firing people? I am not sure how much progress the administration would make if folks got fired for every mistake or misstatement. That's not very productive.

Eugene Robinson: You're referring to Sally's provocative op-ed piece today. Generally, she makes a good point. Specifically, I don't think you fire the Social Secretary because of a screw-up at the administration's very first state dinner; and I don't know whom you'd pick out to fire over the underwear bomber episode. But Sally's larger point is true -- if you say you want accountability, start enforcing it. You'll quickly get people's attention.

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Cuba: What is the status of the travel ban to Cuba for the US citizens?

Eugene Robinson: Same old. The ban is technically on spending money in Cuba, but it's assumed that if you went there, you spent some money. So you can be hit with a big fine. Cuban-Americans can now go as often as they like, to visit family. Working journalists are automatically exempt from the ban. Others can apply for a license to go, generally for something like cultural or educational exchange. But if you just want to go down for some sun on the beach, or to hear some music, or whatever? Not allowed.

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washingtonpost.com: Time for accountability at the White House by Sally Quinn (Post, Jan. 5)

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Philadelphia: I'm a moderate, former-Republican Obama supporter who's been overwhelmingly pleased with the performance of the President. I can see where people who deluded themselves into thinking he'd be a progressive hero (which wouldn't have earned my vote) or who daily expose themselves to lies and distortions about him, would think he's a disappointment or even a failure. But how can anyone who's been watching politics for more than five years (and I've been politically aware since the Reagan days) not see the impressive level of accomplishment and extraordinarily smooth day-to-day running of the executive office? You'd have to go back to Reagan to find a similar level of accomplishment at this point in the administration -- and Reagan's popular opinion tracked nearly identically to Obama's. How can a serious political analyst not recall the greater slip ups, struggles, inconsistencies, and disappointments that have plagued every single administration? Where is the sense of perspective among your peers? I feel like we're witnessing a gradual but meaningful transformation for the good of our nation, but you wouldn't know about it from our paid and unpaid punditry...

Eugene Robinson: You use two words that seem to have lost their meaning -- "perspective" and "gradual." These days, it seems as if we look at every event and every newsmaker from a distance of about two inches. We seem to have lost the ability to see the big picture, let alone keep it in mind as context. (I'm using the royal "we" to mean the media.) And the news cycle isn't measured by weeks or even days, but by hours. Welcome to ADHD Nation.

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Arlington, Va.: Eugene:

The Jay Rosen solution to Sunday shows will never happen. I worked for five years on a cable talk show. We wanted the guests we invited to say whatever they could to provoke the host or the other guests. We absolutely didn't care if it was true. Our formula worked - when we had guests with very volatile personalities and no concern for facts, ratings shot up. When we didn't, ratings were flat. This is what cable news and opinion shows have realized and will continue to do. There is no solution.

Eugene Robinson: Well, there is that. I can't argue with your prognosis, at least for self-checking in the cable world. I would point out, though, that it is possible to be both interesting -- or at least not deadly dull -- and true to the facts.

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Richmond, VA: "Cuba: What is the status of the travel ban to Cuba for the US citizens?"

What's the status of Cubans being allowed to travel freely outside of Cuba?

Eugene Robinson: Same old -- and this fact is reprehensible, as are some other facts about Cuba. People should have the right to leave whenever they want, but they do not.

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Bethesda, Md.: Do we fear Cuba, or do we fear the anti-Castro lobby that goes nuts every time even the discussion of a less restrictive policy towards Cuba comes up? Also... I haven't written a book about Cuba, and even I know one of the hardest ways to enter the US is through... Cuba (of all places).

Eugene Robinson: The fear is of the anti-Castro emigres and their political clout, but generational change is under way in South Florida. Younger Cuban-Americans are less adamant about Cuba and more hopeful of a better relationship.

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Toronto, ON: I'm finding Dick Cheney's behaviour over the last six months or so more and more odd all the time. I'm wondering if it's not solely political, i.e. could his various heart ailments have caused some personality changes or even the beginnings of dementia? I've read that he was a very different person years ago. Any thoughts?

Eugene Robinson: I'm not a doctor. It was Brent Scowcroft, the foreign policy sage who worked with Cheney decades ago, who said he doesn't recognize the Cheney of today. And I have to say that this latest outburst struck me as really weird. It's hard for me to make sense of it in any linear way.

Folks, my time is up for today. Thanks, as always, for your time and patience. See you again next week.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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