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February 19, 2008

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Nato

Wasn't JFK humiliated *by* his attempt to intervene?

In any case, I don't see the Tiananmen Square scenario being very likely any more, especially because Cuba is such a heavily-dependent little place and the regime can't count on its supporters protecting them from the consequences of international condemnation like the Soviets would have back in the day.

Not incidentally, the US-as-boogy-man narrative forms a large part of the justification the regime offers to its people, including its security services. We are a convenient fall-guy for all of the regime's failures and depredations. Complicating that narrative would itself deal a blow to the regime's ability to control the people, some of whom compose their security forces. Unilateral US threats to invade would help the regime to explain why they shot protesters, as well as inviting help from everyone out there who wants to paint the US as a bully - the same people who would otherwise be too embarrassed to back up their dictatorial friends in Cuba.

The worst threat the communists in Cuba could face would be a widespread application of soft power in the wake of an unjustifiable, destabilizing mistake like shooting peaceful protesters.

Nathan Smith

"Wasn't JFK humiliated *by* his attempt to intervene?"

By his attempt to intervene half-heartedly, and his general mishandling of the situation because of his inexperience and lack of credibility. Of course, the situation was quite different: the national interest was genuinely and closely concerned in that case, while, on the other hand, our moral authority was a lot less since we had backed the nasty dictator, Batista, which Castro's revolution overthrew. Now there's been a revolution of opinion in favor of the US model and the moral superiority of liberal democracy over what Cuba has is pretty well-established; but Cuba is much less pressing of a concern from a national security standpoint.

"The worst threat the communists in Cuba could face would be a widespread application of soft power in the wake of an unjustifiable, destabilizing mistake like shooting peaceful protesters."

This is Obama-talk, Jimmy Carter-talk, that is to say, naivete. Seriously-- the *worst* threat? Surely the regime's #1 objective is to stay in power, and surely we have the military power to prevent that from happening. A US military invasion might give the Cuban communists a victim's halo in some history books, but to think that that's what they fear most is absurd. Soft power has its place but it's foolish to overrate it. A regime can be widely despised and still thrive. Yes, the threat of a US military invasion, not carried out, could be used for propaganda within Cuba, although I'm not sure it would work very well; I think most Cubans are smart enough to have realized now that Castro, and not "Senor Imperialistas," is the real bad guy. But even if Raul Castro did succeed in getting the populace riled, that wouldn't conjure up military forces that could fight off US invaders. And if Castro believed US threats, he might feel it was wiser to step down than to share Saddam's fate. Of course, if Castro called our bluff, and we *didn't* invade, that would be a propaganda coup for him, and would undermine our credibility.

It's hard to predict, of course, what would happen in the event of an actual invasion. I think it's quite likely that we would walk into the middle of a velvet revolution, with the populace ceasing to obey the regime as soon as its fall became inevitable. We might topple the regime with little or no bloodshed, be welcomed by most of the populace, and be able to withdraw in short order from a newly free and friendly Cuba. This outcome is not unlikely but of course is far from certain. There might be Cuban "patriots" who, even if they didn't fully support Castro's regime, would choose to regard the US as an invader rather than a liberator, and resist. It's even conceivable that the Castro regime could go underground and fight a guerrilla struggle. This would require the Castro regime to have a lot of grassroots support, which is pretty unlikely, but it can't be ruled out, and it would be very embarrassing for us and politically disastrous at home.

The best outcome, though, would be if the credible threat of invasion caused the Castro government to step down, or to submit to free elections, without the invasion needing to be executed. Even the implicit threat of invasion might be enough. Why the regime might choose to surrender to a credible threat of invasion is as clear as it is unclear why the regime would yield to "soft power" if it felt its continuation in power was at stake.

Nato

"By his attempt to intervene half-heartedly, and his general mishandling of the situation because of his inexperience and lack of credibility."

I anticipated this response, and reply that most of it applies fairly well to Bush (not enough troops, too little contingency planning, unconcern regarding international credibility). That critique wouldn't apply very well to McCain, however, since he seemed to take Iraq far more seriously than the Bush Administration did.

"Why the regime might choose to surrender to a credible threat of invasion is as clear as it is unclear why the regime would yield to "soft power" if it felt its continuation in power was at stake."

The regime is not a monolith, and Cuba is highly dependent on the support of exterior powers. A credible threat of invasion gives the regime a lifeline to legitimacy, and an actual invasion would make for better opportunities in exile than being hauled down by your own people. A credible threat of invasion would tend to link the fate of everyone associated with the regime, solidifying regime support amongst those with guns.

An invasion really is the hard way to bring about something that's almost certain to happen on its own.

In any case, I'm not too exercised

Nato

Um, I'm not sure what that little orphan sentence fragment was going to be for.

Nathan Smith

It's a safe bet that the best "opportunities for exile" come by making a deal with the superpower, which is willing and able to ensure you a prosperous retirement. It will be difficult to exit the country during an invasion. You might manage it but it's risky. Getting caught fighting the invading power is obviously not ideal. Being hauled down by your people is somewhere in between the deal with the superpower (best) and being captured by an invader (worst) as far as opportunities for exile are concerned (though if your people capture you during a revolution that may be worse still).

"A credible threat of invasion would tend to link the fate of everyone associated with the regime, solidifying regime support amongst those with guns."

But that doesn't matter if the invader has more guns. And those with guns might make a strategic decision to retreat.

"Cuba is highly dependent on the support of exterior powers..."

Which will not necessary join in a US-led boycott. Would *China* care if Cuba shot protesters? But even if they did, losing exterior supporters would be a price worth paying if the alternative is to be thrown out of power.

"An invasion really is the hard way to bring about something that's almost certain to happen on its own."

That it may happen on its own is a reason to watch and wait. But "people power" doesn't work if Leviathan is sufficiently determined. The Soviet Union fell when it started to liberalize. Communist China shows no signs of falling. That's why I'm talking about a situation in which the regime liberalizes and then crushes resistance by force.

Nato wishes that soft power would work better than a non-bluffing threat of invasion, and if necessary an actual invasion, to topple the Cuban regime, so he's trying to argue that. But the case doesn't add up.

Nato

"Would *China* care if Cuba shot protesters?"

Yes, it would embarrass them. They want Cuba to make us look intransigent, not them look like the leader of the dictatorial world.

"Communist China shows no signs of falling."

Not into revolution, no, but the definition of "communist" certainly keeps changing, and elections keep spreading. If anything, they seem likely to pressure Cuba into following in their footsteps with market reforms and small amounts of political reform.

Val

For the moment, questions of invasion are pretty much moot. For the foreseeable future, we don't have the manpower to pull off a major invasion. I suspect that a major intervention in another country--if our national interest is not directly involved--will be out of the question. And given its clear intention to deploy nuclear weapons (which would be a strategic threat to us), Iran would be a better candidate for an invasion were McCain looking for a place to invade. But in the case of Iran, the pacity of deployable militarly power probably precludes any kind of ground action, the threat notwithstanding.

Nato

"...Iran would be a better candidate for an invasion..."

I disagree. Granted that Iran is a threat while Cuba is not, Cuba is culturally *much* better positioned to benefit from an US military presence. It would be a comparative cakewalk - though that's not saying much, since an occupation of Iran would go beyond disastrous.

Nathan Smith

I don't enough about the sheer manpower requirements of invasion to respond to Val. I think McCain wants to expand the military, but that will take time. McCain is likely to be attentive to the military's own estimates of how much manpower is needed for various missions. But within a couple of years we may be to the point where, even if McCain has nothing against leaving US troops in Iraq for 100 years to keep the peace, drawdowns will be acceptable without threatening security. If we combine a possible drawdown from Iraq with an expansion of the military, I'd guess that within the first McCain administration we'll have the *manpower* for a relatively small mission like regime change in Cuba.

Whether we'll have the *political will* (even if circumstances developed so that there was a strong case for intervention on the merits, either from the neocon-liberationist, or from the liberal-interventionist standpoint) to intervene is another question. It may well be that even if McCain wins, it will be all he can do to hold back the tide of a new Vietnam Syndrome. Certainly it seems a safe bet that any proposed intervention abroad will face strong resistance as "another Iraq." Strong, but not necessarily decisive.

Nathan Smith

Also, the subtle point here is that if there were some nasty development in Cuba, McCain might be able to stand aloof, if he wanted to, in a way that Obama could not. That is, if McCain said, "This isn't a matter of vital national interest, so we're not going to do anything," his hawkish credentials in Iraq (and other places, e.g., Kosovo) are sufficient that he would be unlikely to be thought weak. We know him, so it wouldn't be as much of a *test.* If Obama were faced with the same situation, and did nothing, some would take this as a sign that he was too chicken to do anything abroad. He might be tempted to try some kind of intervention just to preserve his credibility-- and, indeed, not without reason, because if Raul Castro could crush dissent without the US reacting forcefully, the signal that would send to other dictators, or aggressors, might undermine US national security even if a repression in Cuba, *per se,* were unimportant. On the other hand, it would be hard for Obama to push for regime change in Cuba, or anywhere, after defeating McCain as Bush's successor on anti-Iraq-War grounds. Most likely, Obama would try to use "soft power," which would probably fail to achieve its object-- it would, in fact, be just the kind of paper-tiger threat that could fuel "Senor Imperialistas" propaganda without actually harming the regime-- and would hurt the US's credibility abroad. A Bay of Pigs for our times.

I'm spinning out a tenuous scenario here. Still, I think it underlines a problem with Obama's candidacy.

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