Last week, the newly confirmed undersecretary of state, Wendy Sherman, let it be known that the United States was considering a potential prisoner swap with Cuba to free imprisoned American Alan Gross. The Daily Caller reported:
The spy swap was set in motion by former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who traveled to Cuba last month to seek Gross’s release. He told Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez that the Obama administration would be willing to consider the release of a convicted Cuban spy, Rene Gonzales along with other concessions.
Hernandez is serving two life sentences for sending information to Havana which enabled Cuba to shoot down two Miami-based civilian aircraft with warplanes in 1996. All four Americans on board were killed. The victims were members of the Brothers to the Rescue humanitarian organization
At the State Department briefing the spokeswoman left just enough wiggle room in her denials to make clear that some sort of discussions were underway.
The blowback was swift. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) put out a statement that read: “It’s deplorable that the U.S. government offered several unilateral concessions to the Castro regime in exchange for the release of a man who was wrongfully jailed in the first place. Rather than easing sanctions in response to hostage taking, the U.S. should put more punitive measures on the Castro regime. Until Secretary Clinton answers for this, the nomination of Roberta Jacobson to be the next assistant secretary of state for the western hemisphere will be in question.”
The chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was equally irate: “According to news reports, the Administration attempted to barter for the freedom of wrongly imprisoned U.S. citizen Alan Gross by offering to return Rene Gonzalez, a convicted Cuban spy who was involved in the murder of innocent American citizens. If true, such a swap would demonstrate the outrageous willingness of the Administration to engage with the regime in Havana, which is designated by the U.S. as a state-sponsor of terrorism. Regrettably, this comes as no surprise as this Administration has never met a dictatorship with which it didn’t try to engage. It seems that a rogue regime cannot undertake a deed so dastardly that the Obama Administration would abandon engagement, even while talking tough with reporters. Cuba is a state-sponsor of terrorism. We should not be trying to barter with them. We must demand the unconditional release of Gross, not engage in a quid-pro-quo with tyrants.”
As bad as a prisoner exchange would have been, the administration actions didn’t stop there. The Associated Press reported, “The Gross-Gonzalez swap was raised by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, as well as by senior U.S. officials in a series of meetings with Cuban officials. Richardson traveled to Cuba last month seeking Gross’ release. He also told Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez that the U.S. would be willing to consider other areas of interest to Cuba. Among them was removing Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism; reducing spending on Cuban democracy promotion programs like the one that led to the hiring of Gross; authorizing U.S. companies to help Cuba clean up oil spills from planned offshore drilling; improving postal exchanges; ending a program that makes it easier for Cuban medical personnel to move to the United States; and licensing the French company Pernod Ricard to sell Havana Club rum in the United States.”
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams explained, “It is especially offensive that we were willing to negotiate over support for democracy in Cuba, for that would mean that the unjust imprisonment of Gross had given the Castro dictatorship a significant victory. The implications for those engaged in similar democracy promotion activities elsewhere are clear: local regimes would think that imprisoning an American might be a terrific way to get into a negotiation about ending such activities. Every American administration faces tough choices in these situations, but the Obama administration has made a great mistake here. Our support for democracy should not be a subject of negotiation with the Castro regime.”
The administration’s conduct is all the more galling given the behavior of the Castro regime. Our willingness to relax sanctions was not greeted with goodwill gestures, let alone systemic reforms. To the contrary, this was the setting for Gross’s imprisonment. So naturally the administration orders up more of the same.
Throughout his tenure, President Obama has failed to comprehend the cost-benefit analysis that despotic regimes undertake. He has offered armfuls of goodies and promised quietude on human rights; the despots’ behavior has worsened. There is simply no downside for rogue regimes to take their shots at the United States.
Whether it is Cuba or Iran, the administration reverts to “engagement” mode when its engagement efforts are met with aggression and/or domestic oppression. Try to murder a diplomat on U.S. soil? We’ll sit down and chat. Grab an American contractor and try him in a kangaroo court? We’ll trade prisoners and talk about relaxing more sanctions. Invade Georgia, imprison political opponents and interfere with attempts to restart the peace process? We’ll put the screws on our democratic ally to get you into World Trade Organization. The response of these thuggish regimes is entirely predictable and, from their perspective, completely logical. What is inexplicable is the Obama administration’s willingness to throw gifts to tyrants in the expectation they will reciprocate in kind.