In Cuba and Iran Policy, Gains Matter as Much as Goals

Saturday, July 18, 2015
By former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu (R-NH) in The Boston Globe:

In foreign policy, gains matter as much as goals

STANDING IN THE East Room of the White House last week, President Obama unabashedly declared that the nuclear agreement signed with Iran will “make us safer and more secure.” We’ll see. Congressional critics from both parties have expressed serious misgivings. Even more worrisome, our most important allies in the Mideast — including Saudi Arabia and Israel — are alarmed by what the deal gives away, and fails to get in return.

But everyone seems to agree on one point. The Iran deal, coupled with the president’s unilateral action to restore relations with Cuba, constitutes the heart of his foreign policy “legacy.” The word is everywhere, branding Obama’s defining foreign policy achievement: America’s relationships with Iran’s mullahs and Castro’s Cuba have never been better. Unfortunately, our relationship with every other country in the free world is worse, weaker today than when the then-freshman senator entered the Oval Office.

Even if we grant that all of the pact’s objectives will be met, the gain to American security remains modest: The time necessary for Iran to obtain a working nuclear weapon will hold steady at just one year. In exchange, Iran will see economic sanctions lifted almost immediately, with military sanctions removed in five years. All this comes without any limitations whatsoever on Iran’s destabilizing support for Hezbollah, Hamas, the Syrian regime, or radical actors in Yemen.

While the concessions to Cuba are less significant, they deliver the same pattern of asymmetrical returns. After 65 years of relentless anti-democratic repression, the Castro regime has been removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, while gaining greater access to hard currency, the elimination of economic sanctions, and the stature of one-on-one negotiations with the president of the United States. In return, Americans can now enjoy travel to Cuba and hassle-free access to the world’s finest cigars.

Despite my hearty support for both of these goals, it’s hardly a fair exchange. Cuba has made no concession to political or economic reform, no commitment to lift repressive policies against political speech or dissent, no promise to curtail support to radical and violent groups throughout Central and South America, and no commitment to compensate victims of property and businesses confiscated by the communists.

Which remains the central problem here. It’s not enough to have worthwhile goals. Foreign engagements are judged by what is given and what is gained. With these deals, America has received little, but paid an extraordinary price while our reputation continues to deteriorate around the globe.

In Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and — yes — even Israel, we are no longer viewed as a reliable ally. In Europe, relations have been deeply strained by our failure to respond effectively to Russian aggression in Ukraine and the Crimea, as well as revelations that American intelligence spied on the presidents of France and Germany. And across the Pacific rim, allies question America’s tepid response to Chinese military expansion in the South China Sea and failure to stem the nuclear ambitions of North Korea.

Twenty-five years ago, President George H. W. Bush famously responded to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait with the phrase, “This aggression will not stand.” He then painstakingly built a global coalition that included practically every nation across the Mideast — including Syria. The great success of that effort went far beyond the military achievement of defeating Iraqi forces. America emerged from the conflict more trusted than ever before.

Today we’re cutting deals with adversaries as erstwhile allies stand uncomfortably on the sidelines. Obama has won his legacy, only to lose the respect America once commanded in the Gulf and around the world. Then again, with reliable partners like Iran and Cuba, what more do we need?