Deconstruc​tion of the Western Hemisphere “Triangle of Terror”

National Security Advisor John Bolton’s Troika of Tyranny speech in Miami this week (I prefer Triangle of Terror, as Bolton said at one point during his delivered remarks) builds upon President Trump’s June 6, 2017, U.S.-Cuba policy reorientation or refocus of U.S. policy toward the Western Hemisphere. Ten days later on June 16, the new plan was published in National Security Presidential Memorandum 5 (NSPM-5).

NSPM-5 details the Administration’s policy toward Cuba and policy implementation actions to be taken by heads of departments and agencies. It is appended at the end of this post. Ambassador Bolton’s speech is also attached at the end of this blog post.

Sworn in April of this year, Bolton did yesterday what national security adviser McMaster should done after NSPM-5 was issued. From the moment he started at the NSC, and as evidenced by several presidential actions since that time, Bolton seems to have found ways to focus on regional policy in connection to broader security and regional concerns. The speech was validation of a policy in motion since he took over.  

In contrast, Trump’s former  NSA, General McMaster, and his team did not seem eager or even interested in advancing President Trump’s reorientation of U.S.-Cuba policy, the Gordian Knot that, once resolved, will help deal with other problems in the Americas. Bolton’s Miami speech not only builds upon NSPM-5 but also puts the hemisphere on notice, and U.S. adversaries such as China, Russia, Iran, and non-state actors such as Hizballah and MS-13, that Uncle Sam is no longer sitting on the sidelines. 

Ambassador Bolton talked about the universality fundamental rights, including individual rights and property rights. Bolton underscored the importance of rule of law. He outlined how vectors of socialism and communism in the Americas are undermining these values and in the process destabilizing the region and hurting American interests. Bolton’s giving form to President Trump’s commitment to liberty and free enterprise in the Americas. Where liberty floursihes, America is secure.

Of course, administration critics and U.S.-Cuba policy cynics were quick to downplay Bolton’s speech. It rings of electioneering.  It lacked substance. A former Obama administration official and Florida International University professor went to town on Twitter:

The lack of policy substance combined with fake tough talk to play on people’s emotions just before an election is pure cynicism/demagoguery. If they were seriously considering not using Title III waiver it would have been in speech. They keep insulting our intelligence.— Frank Mora (@FrankMora_FIU) November 1, 2018

One of President Barack Obama’s chief architects of the failed Cuba policy also chimed in:

Seems like Trump could care less about the “Troika of Tyranny” beyond trying to scare up a few votes in Florida a few days before the election.— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) November 2, 2018

More Rhodes:

Iran sanctions, Cuba sanctions, and troops to the border all rolled out the week of an election. The complete, cynical politicization of US national security— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) November 2, 2018

Trump administration naysayers are upset President Trump has started to undo President Obama’s flawed and misguided policy of rapprochement with tyranny in the Americas. It was not just Cuba. President Obama coddled former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, a staunch ally of Iran and Hizballah. Obama looked the other way in Nicaragua as the Russians moved in with millions in foreign assistance and corrupt Nicaraguan oligarchs kept propping up the Ortega regime.

Obama allowed America’s adversaries to make themselves at home. China has been pillaging the hemisphere, from Canada to South America. They are damaging the environment and attempting to use economic imperialism to enslave poor Latin American nations. China has gone unchecked in the Americas for decades and, allegedly, even plans to permanently station a free-floating military base off Venezuela’s coast. According to a former U.S. counterintelligence official and Cold War warrior, China may have also played a role in the attacks on American citizens working at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba.

For decades officials with Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to enforce critical statutes fully and, in some cases, ignored it or worse. It was good to listen to Ambassador Bolton outline a new vision for U.S. policy in the Americas with a particular emphasis on Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. 

In the case of Cuba, Obama and his national team cobbled together a package that put Cuban interests first, while sacrificing American national and security interests. I’ve called it the Iran Deal of the Western Hemisphere and the Trump administration should be as aggressive about undoing it as they have been on the JCPOA.

Imposing economic sanctions is part of that process, however, enforcing U.S. laws are essential. The first issue on the docket must be bringing to closure what happened to U.S. diplomats in Havana. The United States should not close the embassy. The Trump administraiton should do what the Obama administration appears to not have done, ensure the safety of Americans stationed in Cuba. 

The next set of action items should include making sure Cuba pays American citizens the billions of dollars it owes for stolen and confiscated property. On this latter point, American allies whose companies do business in Cuba and American companies should be reminded that trafficking in properties subject to a certified claim is unlawful and they should not allow Cuba to lure them into compliance quagmires. If Title III of Helms-Burton is ever enacted, American and European companies will face more than compliance problems. They may be hauled into U.S. federal court for unlawfully trafficking on properties stolen by Cuba from Americans.

Finally, while it could use updating, the Helms-Burton law will help deconstruct the Troika of Terror in the Americas. Effective enforcement of Helms-Burton is a critical first step. It will help advance U.S. national interests in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. At each point of the terror triangle — Havana, Managua, Caracas — the president has a series of tools that can be deployed to weaken it.

Sanctions, regional cooperation, law enforcement, and other measures. There are unique opportunities at each point. With dogged persistence and enforcement of existing laws, a lot will be accomplished to advance the cause of liberty. Europeans, Brazil, and others in the region should also be encouraged to support the Trump agenda in the Americas.