TRADE AS A PANACEA
The 8/26 article of the New York Times on the National Security Advisor is very helpful to understand the mentality of this administration. One of the most delicate jobs in the Western World is handed to a trade lawyer that believes in "commercial engagement" as the best method of solving problems with ruthless regimes. I do not doubt Mr. Berger's good intentions or even the fact that he is a hard working, honest and decent person as the article states. My issue is not with the man but with the idea. Lets examine the reasoning. Supposedly ruthless adversaries in isolation turn maniacal and worse. They only talk to themselves and eventually believe their own propaganda as the gospel. There is some validity to this reasoning but it is hopelessly outdated. In today's world communications make total isolation a virtual impossibility. Even to subsist as a "state of the art" dictatorship a totalitarian regime must import the latest communications and surveillance techniques, thus exposing their security forces and elites to the outside world.
The other idea is that close contact may well make them change. Isn't that a double edged sword? What about if we change? The evidence of China penetrating the U.S. Administration is compelling and it has not been for the better of our institutions or morality. A few days ago I watched a PBS program on 1898. The Spanish American war was the subject. At that time the Treaty of Paris that ended the war with Spain was the a subject of great debate in the Senate. Senator Hoar of Massachusetts opposed it mainly on the grounds that it would turn the United States into a colonial power if it accepted the cession of Philippines as a colony. He thought that this subverted the ideas of liberty so profoundly espoused by the founders and would thus hurt the country by damaging its moral fabric. He was right. The Philippines cost the United States more than 10,000 casualties and untold tens of thousands of Filipinos were slaughtered in the colonial war that ensued. The documentary details atrocities that took place.
And all for putting trade ahead of principle, because it was mainly a commercial interest that motivated the demand that Spain cede the Philippines as a colony. History repeats itself and it is clear that relations between countries have to be based on more than trade. Trade after all begets greed and greed has begotten war more than once.
Yes, I understand that principle is not a fungible commodity. But ... it really doesn't follow that showing big profits to a ruthless regime turns it more mellow. China seems to have become more aggressive.
Why? Because there is another faulty idea that supports this "panacea." Supposedly the thinking goes, as the general population sees more worldly goods available through trade it demands more access to markets and freedoms. This is a one sided mechanical concept of politics. It assumes that only side of the equation is operative, (the people that are not organized and powerless) while the dictatorial elite placidly contemplates the disintegration of their empire.
Obviously not true. Dictatorships not only use repression. But more insidiously they use this false "prosperity" to hand out juicy commercial assignments to its elite's and more importantly presents those opportunities as examples of where you can ascend to, if you young recruit, play my game. In the meantime you get a lesser job but better than that available to the "masses."
The created class is then fraught with incredible arrogance and power. It becomes a "state of the art" dictatorship, increasingly aggressive and irresponsible.
In the article the NSA is quoted as being concerned with "worrying about today, today and tomorrow, tomorrow." Well, this may suit a store manager that is selling perishable goods but it doesn't fit the definition of a strategic thinker. We are dealing with very difficult issues to be sure, but precisely because of that they can't be defined in terms of recipes that produce an inexorable effect regardless of the players and the circumstances. Perhaps this is the reason for Mr. Kissinger's put down of the NSA. In the case of Latin America and Cuba this thinking may explain such peculiar initiatives as diplomacy to the Colombian guerillas through the President of the New York Stock Exchange or to Cuba through the president of the American Chamber of Commerce, the owners of the Baltimore Orioles etc. I suppose that next, the union of bongo drum players is going to be called on to make a trip to Cuba. As a matter of fact they might be rather good because they know how to "sonar el cuero" (in English "beat the hide") a subject in which Castro excels.
Stay tuned for more brilliant ideas!
Dr. Alberto Luzárraga