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Cuba is nice, but Obama should rethink foreign policy priorities

  • Author: John Havelock
  • Updated: June 25, 2016
  • Published March 11, 2016

Mr. President, we see you are planning a trip to Cuba, the first by an American president in a half century or more. So that's good, showing we are turning the corner with the Cuban people. Are you going to tell them you are planning to get rid of the immigration allowance that lets any Cuban come in free if he just touches U.S. land from Mexico? Why has a fix not whisked through Congress? Sen. Rubio, can you tell your Florida supporters that the tap must be turned off?

Mr. President, I am sure you will enjoy your trip to Cuba, at one time a vacation target for millions of Americans. But is this the proper first priority trip among 2016 foreign policy objectives? You are to be congratulated for developing a policy that is less dependent on using military might and lives than your predecessors and for moving away from their tendency to think we alone rule the world by right and might. But there are major global interests still left across the Atlantic, including a plea for humanitarianism reflecting American values. The refugee situation arising in Syria becomes not just a problem for the locals but commands global interest when hundreds of thousands of innocents are threatened with death from "collateral damage" or starvation.

On your way to addressing this problem, fly first to London and lend support to standard American interests by voicing support for England remaining within the European Union, a popular vote for the U.K.'s continued participation coming up in June. If we are to continue with a "special relationship" with the U.K., then maybe they can support the global and American interest in keeping the U.K. as a voice of reason within the European Union.

You can reiterate our continuing interest in the EU by stopping by Brussels and also visiting the NATO military headquarters. By the way, on this trip keep by your side a couple of uniformed generals to remind your listeners that, if absolutely required, we can and have used military might. You should also start to emphasize America's strong interest in solving the Middle East immigration problem.

From there, if she has not come to meet you, hasten to Berlin to confer with Chancellor Merkel. This besieged and strong woman is in deep trouble with her own people for having adopted a generous, maybe too generous, treatment of refugees. You should embrace this valued ally for her leadership and for the commonality of our goals, and move on to a discussion of alternative solutions to the refugee problem.

From there, with appropriate institutional representatives in tow, you should head for Istanbul for an expanded meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. If you have not yet done so, tell Putin that you are looking for Russian participation too and that he can join you with other heads of state in Istanbul if he wishes.

Before Putin arrives, you should tell Erdogan that he must reverse his seizure of Turkish newspapers. Democracy must still be a requirement for joining the EU, you say, kicking an EU representative under the table, and maybe it is also a NATO requirement. Among these representatives, with you taking the lead, a plan for a refugee oasis should be agreed to, probably on a chunk of Syrian land on the Mediterranean between Lebanon and Turkey stretching east to the Euphrates for its water, a location that includes Russia's air base.

This agreement will be backed and implemented by the EU government, NATO (which includes Turkey) and American military power and maybe Russia. Of course, this will cost a lot of money (most already pledged). But the flow to Europe can stop and EU powers will be happy to kick in.

Now, I agree that this is an abbreviation of a procedural approach to very complex problems, but this trip beats Cuba or China. China's new structures on the South China Sea's Spratly reefs are not a good alternative. China apparently can't spell "typhoon" and doesn't believe in rising sea levels. They have made all their neighbors more secure friends of the U.S., a major U.S. foreign policy goal. Cuba is a warm place but Syria's heat has a stronger call.

John Havelock is a former Alaska attorney general, White House Fellow, vet, retired UAA professor of justice and student of foreign policy for many years.

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