Column: Dispatches From the Edge: On Cuba’s Future, Israel’s Security and Canada’s Muscle By Conn Hallinan
Bay of Pigs Redux?
The U.S. State Department has apparently drawn up a plan to intervene in Cuba in the event Fidel Castro should die. According to the Financial Times (FT), Caleb McCarry heads the “day after” team, which will, according to McCarry, “manage the transition process between Fidel’s death and a democratic Cuba, because we know that at some point, that is going to happen.”
State Department officials told the FT that the Untied States would never “accept” a handover of power in Cuba to someone like Castro’s brother, Raul. While McCarry says his office will be “respectful of the Cuban people and their wish to be free,” the only Cubans who will be consulted live in Miami. “They are the ones to define a democratic future for Cuba,” says McCarry.
The National Intelligence Council recently added Cuba to its list of 25 countries where the United States has plans to intervene in the case of “instability.” The Cuba “day after” scheme comes out of the Office for Reconstruction and Stabilization headed by Cuban refugee Carlos Pascual.
The plan calls for immediate intervention to insure “schools are kept open, and provided with new instructional material and staff,” and to impose a “market economy.”
The congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace bowed out of the operation, because, “This was an exercise in destabilization, not stabilization,” one Peace Institute official told the FT.
McCarry let slip what an intervention scenario might look like when he told the newspaper the “transition genie is out of the bottle”: Castro dies, Miami Cubans and a few small opposition groups inside the country call for intervention, and in go the Marines. And these people think Iraq is ugly?
Other countries on the list are Nepal, Sudan, Haiti and the Congo, although you can scratch Haiti. We already pulled that one off.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent demagogic remark that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map” had less to do with any change in Iranian foreign policy than the ongoing war between political elites in Iran and an increasingly disillusioned populace.
It was one of those remarks, as Mark Lawson of the Guardian pointed out last week, which should have been preceded by the old British Foreign Office phrase: “Speaking for domestic consumption.”
Under Iran’s current political structure, Ahmadinejad may have access to the bully pulpit, but his office wields very little actual power. Mehdi Bazargan, the first president of the Islamic Republic, once described his job as being “A knife without a blade.”
The real power lies with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who supported Ahmadinejad in the last election. But no sooner were the ballots counted than Khamenei began shifting power to the Expediency Council, chaired by Ahmadinejad’s chief rival, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The council’s powers have been expanded to oversee virtually every branch of government.
Khamenei also appointed Muhammad Ghalibaf (another Ahmadinejad rival) mayor of Teheran, the current president’s old job. Ahmadinejad is apparently in such a snit over this that so far he has refused to invite Ghalibaf to a cabinet meeting.
In a clear effort to tamp down the uproar over the Israel remark, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement that “Iran is committed to its obligations stated in the United Nations Charter and it never tried to use force or threat against a second country.” Even so, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan canceled his trip to Tehran.
On the surface this looks like a split between so-called “realists” trying to end Iran’s isolation and conservative “fundamentalists.” But things are not always what they appear in Teheran. Much of the “realist” wing is centered among those who have made fortunes by manipulating Iran’s internal policy and cornering sections of the economy. Rafsanjani may be a “realist,” but he is also a multi-millionaire who is cheek to jowl with the mullahs who have used the Islamic revolution to line their pockets and consolidate their power.
Ahmadinejad’s anti-corruption campaign was aimed directly at these “Islamic profiteers.” He won, in large part, because the average Iranian is enraged at the corruption of these religious entrepreneurs and with the country’s growing gap between “haves,” and “have nots.”
While Ahmadinejad was off giving a bombastic speech at the U.N., Rafsanjani went to Saudi Arabia to hand out assurances that the new president would not be setting foreign policy for Iran. Ahmadinejad struck back by declaring that he intends to replace most of the Iranian diplomatic corps, but, given that Parliament has been knocking down some of the new president’s appointees, whether he will succeed is not clear.
One indication of how this fight is going will be if Iran moderates Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric in the upcoming negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Now that the election is over and the liberals largely sidelined, the real powers in Iran are apparently moving to put the anti-corruption genie back in the lamp. As for Ahmadinejad’s threat to Israel? As the Guardian’s Lawson puts it, “just wind.”
Question: Why did the Canadian chicken cross the road?
Answer: To get to the middle.
Which sums up the view that most Americans have of our northern neighbor. But there was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice late last month rebuking Canadians for “speaking in apocalyptic language.”
You bet. That’s what happens when you pull a bait and switch on someone.
It all started when we got the Canadians to sign the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and then turned around and slapped $5 billion in tariffs on Canadian lumber products because we said the latter were “subsidized.” Canadian products are no more subsidized than U.S. lumber (both get major deals when they cut trees on public land), but the tariff was a payoff to western lumber interests, which donated heavily to the Republican Party.
The Canadians sued and won. But the U.S. turned around and appealed to the World Trade Organization, which has nothing to do with NAFTA, and is a wholly owned U.S. subsidiary. To no one’s great surprise, the WTO ruled in favor of the U.S.
When Rice went to Ottawa last month, journalists asked her whether she thought the United States could be “trusted”? It was that question which set her off.
The Canadians are so incensed over the tariff (and the fact that Rice visited 42 other countries before bothering to visit Ottawa) that they upgraded their relations with Beijing to “strategic partner” and announced they would start shifting oil sales to China. Canada supplies about 8 percent of U.S. consumption and may have the second-largest oil reserves in the world.
Time to retire all the Canadian “nice guy” jokes.
A Must Read
Patrick Cockburn’s smart and erudite report on the Iraq War in Counter Punch is a reminder that being “embedded” once meant you were a reporter, not a stenographer handing out Pentagon press releases.
“The need for the White House to produce a fantasy picture of Iraq is because it dare not admit that it has engineered one of the greatest disasters in American history,” Cockburn writes, “It is worse than Vietnam because the enemy is punier and the original ambitions greater.”
You can access the piece at www.counterpunch.org, or subscribe: CounterPunch, P.O. Box 228, Petrolia, Ca. 95558. (Truth in advertising: They occasionally run pieces by me.)