Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Trading Old Wars For New

With the breaking news of former CIA operative and Venezuelan security official Luis Posada Carriles and his detention by U.S. officials for the terrorist bombing of a Cubana airliner in 1976, the United States faces a real crossroads in its relations not only with Cuba but a defining moment in the "international war on terror."

Read the story from ABC News. Once there, also check out Ted Koppel's interview with the president of the Cuban National Assembly.

This case presents a real litmus test for the momentum of U.S. foreign policy in a post-Cold War world. Granted, this guy was on our payroll and was working covertly for the U.S. government in an almost Achmed Chalabi-like way during some of the tensest years of the Cold War. He was involved in the resort bombings in 1997 and an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro in 2000. Up until then, he was one of many in-country people that the CIA had around the world organizing intellegence and effecting operations against what were percieved as hostile regimes.

All of that changed, or should have changed, with the event and aftermath of 9/11. With a newly declared "war on international terrorism," the United States seemed to re-focus foreign policy with this one goal in mind. It seems that we would, for once, come to the realization that the world of the last fifty years of the 20th century was gone forever. A war on international terrorism should not mean that we pick and choose. It seems clear to me that such an action means seeking terrorists where they may be found and bringing them to task for their acts of political violence.

This man is a terrorist and needs to face justice for his actions. Naturally, there are some sources of resistance in the United States. As one may expect, the Cuban-American community is outraged that the U.S. would even consider turning Carriles over to Venezuelan officials for trial. This man is somewhat of a hero to these exile Cubans for his actions against the Castro regime. I don't know how long the militant anti-Castro Cuban-Americans will continue to be a concern in the larger political scheme (I guess as long as Florida is a contested state in every national election...so no time soon apparently). There is also a hint of resistance in the actions of the U.S. government in not deciding what to do with Carriles. It is in this decision that the U.S. will bear its real soul concerning the legacy of Cold War foreign policy and the war on terrorism.

If the U.S. turns Carriles over, it will show the international community that the U.S. is committed to the war on terror, even against a former ally. It would prove that we are searching out terrorists past and present and bringing them to account for their violent actions. It would show that we bankrolled Carriles and his ilk for Cold War expediency and intellegence gathering during a period when the world was divided into U.S. and Soviet polarities. He was useful to us once, but now he is a terrorist. This should have been realized years ago, but how many times have we said that since 9/11 in regards to terrorism.

I fear that the opposite will happen. He will be given asylum or immunity by the United States. Where does this leave us? It shows that the U.S. is willing to be selective in hunting and prosecuting terrorists. It proves that we just can't shake the old, calcified habits of the Cold War and face the realities of a new world order. It will show that the U.S. is committed to a 46-year old rivalry that pitted the greatest industrial and military power the world had seen since the height of the British Empire in the late 19th century against a small Caribbean nation with one of the most charismatic and stubborn leaders in recent memory. Old habits die hard, and none more than U.S. intransigence vis-a-vis Cuba. If we follow our old ways, I think that confidence in our dedication to "total war" against terrorism will be further shaken, especially amongst our partners in Europe and Central/South America.

Stay true to your mission and send Carriles to trial or let him stay here and again be called a two-faced liar and be accused of putting the U.S. prejudices and old quarrels before the new modality of international relations.

To look backward or foreward? May our leaders have the foresight to choose wisely.

No comments: