Washington – Sixteen retired American admirals and generals, some of whom made a four-day visit to Cuba in March, are urging the Trump administration to continue to normalize relations with Cuba for the sake of U.S. national security.
Members of the American Security Project, which counts former Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. Sens. Chuck Hagel and Gary Hart among its founders, sent National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster a letter on April 20 that said Cuba’s location in the Caribbean and its closeness to the United States make it a strategic partner.
The retired officers want the Trump administration to secure “low-level cooperation” with Havana on a number of issues, including terrorism, border control, drug interdiction, environmental protections, and emergency preparedness.
They wrote that “ensuring Cuba’s economic stability will further U.S security interests in the western hemisphere, particularly given the challenges facing certain of our neighbors in Latin America.”
“If we fail to engage economically and politically, it is certain that China, Russia, and other entities whose interests are contrary to the United States’ will rush into the vacuum,” the 16 officers wrote. “We have an opportunity now to shape and fill a strategic void.”
National Security Advisor McMaster, who received the letter, is a decorated military official, having served in command positions in both U.S. wars with Iraq. “We felt it was the right place to send the letter,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Stephen Cheney during a press conference.
The military brass’ arguments for engagement are not new, but they come at a unique time.
Since President Donald Trump assumed office, all official U.S.-Cuba talks have stopped. The future of U.S. relations with the island depend on a “bottom-up review” the Trump administration is conducting of former President Obama’s opening to Cuba. A State Department official said he expected the process to be a lengthy one.
Cheney said the ongoing review was why the officers are “stepping in now, to say ‘OK, while you’re formulating this policy to the new administration, that you need to take all these factors into consideration. Don’t just look at it as something Obama did it and because Obama did it you hate it.”
Some of the retired officers spent four days in Havana speaking to Cuban officials, including those in the Interior Ministry.
Cheney said he determined that “things have really opened up” since Obama moved to normalize relations with Cuba in late 2014. “Our fear is that it will revert to the way it was in 2013,” he said.
McMaster recently called today’s North Korean nuclear crisis “a Cuban missile crisis in slow motion.” But retired Marine Corps Gen. John Castellaw, said Cuba no longer poses a military threat to the United States.
“The world has changed,” he said. “Cuba is no longer a player in the coalition we defeated in the Cold War. We must move on.”