Foreign Policy Myopia: Potemkin Village People and the Miami Sound-Bite Machine

What President Bush knew about 9/11, and when Tom Daschle, Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton and Cynthia McKinney think he knew about it will remain forever problematic. The best any committee will come up with is that the F.B.I. would have been better off with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in charge.

But if you are looking to find fault fairly with a president during time of war, look no further than Bush’s two most recent foreign policy sorties. The one to Moscow, the former capital of communism, and the one to Miami, the current centerpiece of Cold War nostalgia.

Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently co-signed a ballyhooed agreement to cut respective nuclear arsenals by two-thirds — or reducing the warheads on each side to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. “This treaty will liquidate the legacy of the Cold War,” declared Bush.

As if. This is the Potemkin Village of nuclear treaties.

What it will do is take most of these warheads out of service — but not destroy them. And the Administration pushed for this provision. Many U.S. warheads will be put in storage like so many recalled Firestones stacked behind the showroom. Others will be kept to cannibalize or to test for reliability.

U.S. security, as we now know too well, is far from failsafe. This is unsettling.

But Russian security, even with U.S. help, is rife with scary scenarios. Erstwhile Soviet Union republics have already proven problematic when it comes to accounting for their old nukes.

As a result of this treaty, the world’s most pressing nuclear issue — stored nukes targeted by terrorists — goes unaddressed. This isn’t disarming. This is disturbing.

As to the president’s panderfest to Miami’s exile community, it gave political expedience a bad name. What’s really a concern in Latin America are Colombian anarchy and drugs, Venezuelan oil and Hugo Chavez and Caribbean islands and tax havens — not Cold War relics.

Bush made disingenuous demands for Castro to hold free elections, permit independent trade unions and the like and held out the julienne carrot of some humanitarian aid, scholarships and direct mail delivery. The mean-spirited, counterproductive economic embargo, as everyone knows, will live as long as Castro does.

While the President directed his Miami sound-bite machine at the rabidly anti-Castro crowd, he also spoke, in effect, to a broader audience. Here’s what most others heard:

“I care very much about the small, shrill group of self-appointed, Cuban-policy spokespersons in South Florida. So does Jeb. I encourage them to continue to use their veto power over U.S. foreign policy on all matters Cuban. Otto Reich and I are standing by. And we know they appreciated our efforts to sandbag Jimmy Carter.

“I obviously care so much less about what other Americans — former presidents to farmers — feel on the subject. Ditto for the rest of the world, including average Cubans. Incidentally, I obviously have no problems with the fact that — embargo notwithstanding — some of them receive subsidies from South Florida relatives totaling more than $800 million a year. Good; they need it.

“One other thing. Ironically, I hope Castro doesn’t take me up on the free elections goading. He’s the only leader most Cubans have ever known, and he would run against opposition easily characterized as traitorous, American stooges. He would also, of course, run against the U.S. — ‘Uncle Scapegoat.’ And Jimmy Carter’s return to validate the vote would be more than I could stomach.

“Viva La Habana Pequena.”

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