GO Friday: Farewell, Guantanamo

January 2, 2015 · Posted in GO Friday 

It’s been over a year since I featured a Friday guest opinion, but it’s a new year and I thought this first workday (for some) of 2015 would be a good place to (hopefully) kickstart the series back up. There are a lot of people out there who I would love to see here as guest commentators.

This guest, though, is someone familiar to my readers as his pursuits over the last year have attracted my attention on a few occasions. But my writing about Richard Douglas began when he a candidate for U.S. Senate in the 2012 campaign. In the intervening time, I’ve noted that he is also knowledgeable on foreign affairs, having been senior counsel to two U.S. Senate committees as well as serving in the George W. Bush administration at the Pentagon.

Simply put, Richard’s got a pretty good understanding of this situation so his words may well become reality in 2015.

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Bet on this: full U.S. withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is part of the Obama deal with Cuba’s Raul Castro to re-establish U.S.-Cuban relations. The only issue left to negotiate is how much our departure will cost the U.S. taxpayer.

The U.S. Navy began visiting Guantanamo during the 19th century. After our 1898 victory over Spain we moved into this fine Cuban harbor for good. Guantanamo was a familiar destination to American sailors, coast guard personnel, and marines long before the first post-9/11 detainees arrived. It has hosted U.S. military training for decades, and also served as a holding area for Haitians and Cubans hoping to reach the U.S.

Since Fidel Castro shot his way to power in the 1950s, he has demanded U.S. withdrawal from Guantanamo. Given what we have heard from President Obama lately about Cuba policy, Fidel is likely to get his wish, and soon. The Administration is probably already formulating withdrawal plans.

What are the likely contours of such a plan? Here is a prediction, based upon our President’s affection for unilateral action and our experience leaving Panama.

First the President will assert that he requires no new Congressional authority to withdraw from Guantanamo or return the base to Cuba. The last U.S.-Cuba treaty dealing with Guantanamo entered into force in 1934 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mr. Obama will announce that he is free to abrogate or abandon that treaty without Congressional assistance, or in spite of Congressional interference. If pressed, he might cite as precedent President George W. Bush’s 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty with the Soviet Union over Congressional objections, or President Jimmy Carter’s unilateral abandonment of Taiwan.

In 1999 U.S. forces left Panama, completing a process set in motion by President Carter’s 1977 decision to cede the Canal to the Republic of Panama. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from foreign lands can be an expensive proposition: in Panama, the U.S. was obliged to perform environmental remediation and explosive ordnance disposal before transfer. Cuba will make similar demands upon the U.S. taxpayer before transfer of Guantanamo, and the Administration will almost certainly agree to them.

At Guantanamo, ordnance and environmental cleanup will be just the beginning. Cuba will also ask the U.S. to remove thousands of land mines which Cuba, itself, planted along the Guantanamo fence. Taxpayers will also be on the hook to improve U.S.-built port facilities and airfields there, and to fund retirement of Cubans who lose their naval station jobs owing to the turnover.

I would also expect President Obama to offer reparations and an apology to Cuba for the century-long U.S. occupation of Guantanamo, in spite of the fact that these and other U.S. payments will very likely end up in the pockets of the Castro brothers, corrupt Cuban government and Communist Party officials, and the international criminal organizations already enthusiastically awaiting departure of U.S. forces from Guantanamo.

Unlike Panama, we should expect no Cuban interest in a residual U.S. security presence at Guantanamo after turnover. Thus we must be prepared to see the U.S.-built facilities there used in disturbing ways. After withdrawal, Guantanamo’s harbor and airfields will become regular naval and air stopovers for adversaries like Russia and China, and possibly even for drug cartels transshipping deadly cargo to the U.S. or West Africa.

How could President Obama expect a Republican-led Congress to authorize or fund a handover of Guantanamo to the Cuban regime?

Insofar as legislative authorities are concerned for the transfer of U.S. buildings, fixtures, and equipment at Guantanamo to the Cubans, expect the Obama administration simply to announce that under existing law it already has authority to perform all necessary tasks. To advance his agenda, President Obama has not been timid about conjuring presidential authorities from existing law or the Constitution. Guantanamo will be no different.

Unless the new Congress acts to control it, to fund the transfer the President could simply siphon dollars from already-appropriated Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, and intelligence community regular budgets. In the federal budget there are dozens of places to squirrel away funding. Dollars Congress appropriates today for legitimate but vague Executive branch purposes may help fund withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay Naval Station tomorrow.

Many Americans are concerned about Obama overtures to Cuba. But a Cold War mainstay is coming to an end courtesy of the President. Perhaps it is worth recalling that Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal Treaty partner, General Omar Torrijos, was also reviled by many as a socialist dictator. Thirty years after Torrijos perished in a plane crash, the Canal is in good hands and modernizing. Panama’s tragic history of dictatorship seems far away.

We can only hope that a similar evolution toward democracy and prosperity will be seen in Cuba. For now, prospects are not encouraging and the jury is out. But come what may, Americans should prepare themselves to say farewell to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Soon.

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