The gift of books, Gulag edition

Thinking about President Obama’s announcement of our new policy toward Cuba, I would like to take the liberty of adding a few books to my holiday list for Power Line readers.

Armando Valladares, Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag. A great, inspirational memoir: the passion of Armando Valladares, kept in print by our friends at Encounter Books.

Alexander Dolgun, Alexander Dolgun’s Story: An American in the Gulag. I have found this to be among the most accessible of the memoirs of life in the Soviet Gulag, perhaps because Dolgun was an American.

Fan Shen, Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard. Jay Nordlinger describes it as “a book of stunning power” and adds “Gang of One is a high literary achievement, documenting an even greater achievement, by which I mean the life of this awe-inspiring man, Fan Shen.” Jay subsequently noted: “Frankly, his memoirs are among the best I’ve ever read.”

Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. An account of the United States ambassador to Germany at the time of Hitler’s rise, this book raises the questions: what would you have thought? what would you have said? what would you have done? I offered ten notes on the book here.

President Obama — he stands with thugs and tyrants all over the world, and always has.

Transform this

It’s a good thing that President Obama wasn’t in charge of American foreign policy during the Cold War. He could have decried the policy of containment followed by more or less faithfully by successive administrations for more than 40 years as an utter failure. At any given point, the Soviet Union was still standing and looked like a permanent fixture on the international scene, right up until the moment it didn’t.

The failure of our policy toward Cuba to achieve its avowed aims is what Obama pitched in his statement announcing our new policy yesterday (video below). I don’t take the statement at face value and don’t think it can withstand much scrutiny.

In his statement Obama referred to the origins of our policy toward Cuba in the Cold War. Let us recall that in the Cold War Obama was a fool for the Soviet Union. The New York Times has reported that in 1983, as a Columbia undergraduate, Barack Obama was among the “useful idiots” expressing high-minded disparagement of Ronald Reagan’s defense policies in support of the nuclear freeze movement orchestrated by the Soviet Union. (That’s not how the Times put it, but it’s the case.) In the Cold War Obama’s heart was on the other side, or to the causes championed by the other side.

We could write this off to youthful enthusiasm if Obama showed any sign of intellectual growth since 1983, but there is none. The enthusiasm remains. He’s thrilled to be lending a hand to the Castro brothers as they confront the loss of their patrons in Russia and Venezuela. Here is how the editors of the Washington Post put it today:

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.

Why would he do that? It would be rude to conclude that Obama doesn’t support “political reforms” in Cuba, but it would comport with the evidence. In Obama’s view, it’s not Cuba that is in need of the “fundamental transform[ation]“ he promised just before his election in 2008.

Hollywood Got the Hillary Memo

Hollywood is already caving in to liberal guilt over its capitulation to North Korean intimidation, apparently agreeing with Hillary Clinton that we need to empathize with our enemies. In an article out this afternoon in the LA Weekly that ostensibly laments giving in to threats, it isn’t long before the article goes full tilt boogie for liberal guilt:

The movie about a talk TV crew’s CIA-initiated plot to assassinate a living state leader, in this case Kim Jong-un, is also nearly without peer—nearly.

Emily Carman, assistant professor of film and media arts at Chapman University, says Hollywood received pressure from the Chinese government in 1932 and 1933 with the releases of Shanghai Express and The Bitter Tea of General Yen, respectively.

The films featured white actors in yellowface as well as interracial relationships. “It was a racist, Eurocentric view of China,” Carman said.

Leaders threatened to block film distribution in China, but Hollywood did not back down, she said.

The Interview also hits a familiar note of insensitivity toward an Asian nation. Before that, in 2001, the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander featured a plot about a fashion model recruited to assassinate the prime minister of Malaysia. That nation and neighboring Singapore banned its exhibition.

“Can you imagine the outcry if North Korea released, Get Obama, about the assassination of a sitting president,” asks Douglas Thomas, associate professor of communication at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

“It’s amazing that this even got green-lit,” Carman adds. “Wow, nothing’s really changed. This is still a white male, Western-centric view of a small Asian nation.”  (Emphasis added.)

Let’s think about that Get Obama film idea for a moment. Oh yeah, that’s right: there was a film in 2006 that dramatized the assassination of George W. Bush. Did LA Weekly, Variety, or other Hollywood-centric outlets criticize the film? Au contraire, as they say at the Cannes Film Festival, and probably at Sundance, too. Death of a President got several awards.

Profs. Thomas and Carman need to get a life. If you can’t make fun of North Korean dictators, we should just surrender and recognize Cuba now. Oh, wait. . .

The liberal case for lightening up on the Castros

Earlier today, I contended that President Obama’s decision to begin a diplomatic and economic relationship with Cuba was an ideologically-based move intended, we should presume, to do precisely what it will accomplish — assist the dictatorship. There is, however, a case for changing our Cuba policy that isn’t founded on hard leftism. I don’t find the case persuasive, but thought it would be helpful to acknowledge and discuss it.

I did so in a 2009 column for the Washington Examiner, the relevant parts of which I now set forth (the whole thing is here):

Momentum is growing in Washington for removing the ban on most travel to Cuba and for lifting or lightening other economic sanctions. This is a subject about which reasonable people can disagree. Unfortunately, there appears to be little room for disagreement within the Senate Democratic caucus.

Let’s start with the merits. U.S. sanctions were originally intended to bring down Castro’s revolutionary regime or, alternatively, to marginalize it.

Sanctions failed on the first score, but succeeded on the second. In less than 20 years, Cuba was transformed, even in the left-liberal imagination, from a romantic cutting-edge society to an impoverished backwater. And Castro was never able to “export” his revolution.

This was due primarily to the underlying weakness of Castro’s model, but sanctions probably made a contribution too. Once Cuba was marginalized, however, the case for maintaining the sanctions came to rest on their ability to help actually change Cuba.

In this, sanctions have not succeeded, and there begins the case for lifting or lightening them. Taking the analysis one step further, liberal Democrats contend that Cuban “engagement” with American tourists and American businesses will make the country a more open one and increase internal pressure for reform.

The problem with this approach is that, like sanctions, it has been tried and found wanting. As Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, points out, millions of Europeans, Canadians, Mexicans, and South Americans have visited Cuba, while their nation’s businesses and governments have invested in the Cuban economy and entered into trade agreements. Yet the regime has not opened up.

Unfortunately, the tyrants who control Cuba have the desire and the means to maintain their control. Neither the infliction of more economic pain on the population through sanctions nor the further lining of the tyrants’ pockets through “engagement” will change this.

Maintaining the sanctions nonetheless increases the likelihood of a democratic Cuba. The next generation of Cuban leaders may be less dead set against loosening the government’s hold on society than the old-time totalitarians. If sanctions remain in place, the prospect that they might be lifted provides the new leaders with an incentive to reform. If sanctions have already been removed or substantially reduced, that particular incentive no longer exists. . . .

None of this likely matters to Obama. He has never shown a sincere interest in altering the nature of the Cuban regime or, for that matter, in seeing meaningful regime change in countries even more hostile to the U.S., such as Iran.

In any case, for the reasons presented in my column, extending a diplomatic and economic hand to Cuba will not help liberalize that country, and is likely, instead, to delay liberalization.

Obama’s Move to Strengthen Cuba Will Also Help Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela

President Obama has chosen an odd time to begin a diplomatic and economic relationship with Cuba that undoubtedly will strengthen Cuba’s economy and thereby, in all probability, prolong the rule of the Castro brothers and make it more likely that they will be succeeded by another generation of Communist tyrants. In recent years, Cuba has aligned itself militarily with an international rogues’ gallery: Venezuela, of course, but also Russia, Iran and North Korea.

As we noted here, Havana hosted a Russian intelligence ship earlier this year. The Russians made no secret of the use they want to make of their long-time ally:

The Defense Ministry plans to expand its military presence to several key regions outside Russia in an effort to increase its long-range bomber coverage. …

“We need bases for refueling [our aircraft] near the equator, and in other places,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said….

Then there is North Korea. As Marco Rubio wrote, exclusively for Power Line, Cuba has repeatedly engaged in internationally prohibited arms transactions with North Korea.

Cuba has a cooperative military relationship with Iran, too, as explained here.

And, of course, Venezuela’s catastrophically socialist regime has been Cuba’s main ally since the Soviet Union imploded.

So, by propping up Castro’s regime in Cuba, Obama can indirectly benefit all of America’s major adversaries, providing them with a more economically robust trading partner, a better source of illicit arms, and, most important, naval bases and intelligence outposts just miles from our shores. I think it is fair to say that for all past American presidents, even the Democrats, the prospect of aiding such bitter enemies of the United States would have rendered propping up Castro’s regime unthinkable. For Obama, the fact that he can strengthen North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Russia along with Cuba may be a feature rather than a bug.

Castro brothers join line of anti-American tyrants to receive Obama’s largess

You knew this was coming, right? You knew that, with all of the national elections that will take place during his presidency behind him, Barack Obama would do everything in his power — broadly defined — to assist the Castro regime.

President Obama was a good friend to Mohammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s man in Egypt. He has made nice with the mullahs in Iran, bailing their country out of serious economic woes under the pretense of slowing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He “reset” relations with Russia on terms highly favorable to Putin and would have done more to help the autocrat, as he promised to do after he gained “flexibility” following the 2012 election, had Putin not set out to dismember Ukraine.

Why should the Castro brothers be nearly the only anti-American tyrants not to benefit from Obama’s largess? Only domestic politics stood in the way.

Now that it no longer does, Obama has seized on the plight of Alan Gross to do what he has always wanted to do — help bolster Cuba’s communist regime. As Mark Falcoff says, one does not need a Ph.D. in political science to discern the ideological currents that inspired Obama to do this.

The consequences of Obama’s action are also clear enough. As Falcoff explains, “the normalization of relations with Cuba comes at precisely the moment that the Castro brothers need it the most, since their principal foreign patron, Venezuela, is running out of money because of the collapse in the world price of oil.” Obama “has decided to make the United States a replacement for [Venezuela's] Maduro.” Obama thus gives the Castros a new lease of life and helps forestall the total discrediting of Latin American communism.

These, we should assume, are Obama’s intentions.

There will be consequences outside of Latin American too. Elliott Abrams writes:

The American collapse with respect to Cuba will have repercussions in the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia, for the nations facing a rising China, and in Europe, for those near Putin’s newly aggressive Russia. What are American guarantees and promises worth if a fifty-year-old policy followed by Democrats like Johnson, Carter, and Clinton can be discarded overnight? In more than a few chanceries the question that will be asked as this year ends is “who is next to find that America is today more interested in propitiating its enemies than in protecting its allies?”

Frankly, I imagine the question has already been asked and answered in many a chancery.

But Abrams surely is correct that Obama’s switch in Cuba policy reinforces concern throughout the Middle East that the president will end the sanctions against Iran that he has already undercut, and establish diplomatic relations with the mullahs in exchange for meaningless promises about nukes and maybe the release of a prisoner or two.

Obama clearly believes that America’s 55 year effort to undercut Castro was misguided, if not downright stupid. That belief, an article of faith on the left, is a natural one to hold if you’re fine with oppressive, expansionist, anti-American Communist dictators.

It’s overwhelmingly likely that Obama feels the same way about America’s 35 year effort against the theocratic regime in Iran. That too is a natural belief to hold if you’re fine with oppressive, expansionist, anti-American Islamist dictators.

Obama is fine with both types of dictators. His main beef is with Israel.

Profiles in Hollywood Courage: Sony Caves

No sooner than I suggest that Hollywood order up a whole slate of movies mocking North Korea than the news comes that Sony is pulling theatrical release of “The Interview,” about which the hackers have threatened terrorist violence.  Call me a cynic, but I wonder if this isn’t a brilliant marketing play on behalf of a movie that was heading for total bomb status at the box office.  Sony will probably make more money on pay-per-view streaming and DVD sales now.  Why didn’t Michael Cimino think of this with “Heaven’s Gate” (which was on some forlorn cable channel last night, still as unwatchable as ever)?

No brave Hollywood studio would really buckle to a terrorist threat, would it?  After all, as we know Hollywood has been bravely standing up to the terrorist threat of McCarthyism for more than 50 years now.  Also Nazis.  And southerners.

But if Sony really is caving in to a threat, then all I can say to Hollywood is good night, and good luck.  (Heh.)  You’ll need it.

P.S.  Wired magazine thinks North Korea didn’t do it, though there are media reports out this afternoon that the administration will tomorrow identify the Norks as the culprit.  Stay tuned.