Back to the "axis of evil"

In the five months of Donald Trump's presidency, his foreign policy decisions have repeatedly run counter to Obama's policies and called the heated domestic political discussions.

This involved changing priorities in the Middle and the Far East, trade mega blocks and global environmental agreements. In this kaleidoscope of demarches and unexpected statements, there was also a place for a half-century "trauma" of American policy in the Caribbean – Cuba. On June 16, Trump announced the cancellation of the normalisation of relations with Havana, launched in 2015.

Trump's speech was arranged as a symbolic act. Trump arrived in Miami, a stronghold of Cuban emigres, most of whom remain implacable opponents of the official Havana. The meeting took place in the hall of the Manuel Artime Theatre, who was one of the commanders of the operation in the Bay of Pigs of 1961 – an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Castro regime, which the CIA prepared and carried out.

The speech, proclaimed by Trump, resembled the strong statements of American leaders, sounded at the acutest moments of the Cold War confrontation. Everything in it emphasised the categorical rejection of the current Cuban regime by the American President. Trump made it clear that he considers the agreements with Cuba, concluded by Barack Obama, the worst ever signed. To express this directly to him prevented only what he had previously called such a nuclear agreement with Iran. In the dry balance, Trump promised to ban tourism on the island and strengthen the embargo.

Such demarche is in the spirit of the US Republicans. The Cubans who fled the island, who – right after the 1959 revolution and who – much later – do not just get accustomed to the United States, but also successfully blended into American political life. They are influential in Florida. In fact, they control Miami and the surrounding area. They have a notable lobby in Washington. Moreover, in all their political endeavours they go hand in hand with the Republican Party. Cubans traditionally support Republicans (in the last elections, most of them voted for Trump), and they reciprocate with them.

Demonstrating fidelity to tradition, Trump showed his party that he was with her – one blood. According to symbolism for the domestic policy, abolishing the normalisation of relations with Cuba can be put on a par with such steps as missile strikes against Syria and sending warships to the coast of the DPRK. It becomes obvious: Trump's team makes contact with the Republicans step by step, providing themselves with their support. First of all, in the investigations against the president and his surroundings. This approach yields results. Just as Senator John McCain recently spoke about supporting Trump's moves in the Middle East, a change in policy towards Cuba was welcomed by another senator from the Republican Party Marco Rubio.

There is also the opinion of American business, which the president cannot ignore either. Since the late 1990s, the activity of US business circles, aimed at lifting restrictions on economic cooperation with Cuba, has significantly increased. Since the embargo, introduced back in the days of Kennedy in 1962 and reinforced after the end of the Cold War, the Americans had only to look at the successes of European and Canadian companies in Cuba. Perhaps, business associations have become the main advocate for normalising relations, their last ten years of lobbying has been an important factor in rethinking the approaches to the Cuban problem.

In fact, the embargo imposed by Trump contradicts the interests of numerous lobbyists, puts an end to the hopes of reaching a promising Cuban market. Trump himself tried to smooth out an unpleasant deposit, saying that the possibility of investment as such is not denied and that the administration will make efforts to "invest directly in people, allowing them to open private enterprises" rather than enriching the Havana regime. The concerns of interested companies were also tried to dispel representatives of the administration, saying that in the process of developing specific restrictive measures, the interests of American business will be considered.

Also, the rejection of détente with Cuba is one of the foreign policy promises Trump during his candidacy for president. He expressed his support for the preservation of the trade embargo against Cuba back in 1999 when he wrote that it is better to lose millions of incomes from trade with Cuba than to oppress Cuban citizens, subsidising the criminal regime of Castro. The irony is that Trump limits American rights by protecting Cubans. Moreover, how else to name those measures aimed at limiting private travel to the Freedom Island, which he plans to take to his citizens?

Until 2015, there was a ban on visiting the island by ordinary Americans, and when Obama partially withdrew it, it provoked a tourist boom. In the first year, nearly two dozen US airlines applied for permission to fly to Cuba. The only way for Trump to reverse this situation, threatening another public disapproval, in his favour is to emphasise the fight against the dictatorial regime and the restriction of illegal emigration to the United States.

In the context of Cuba, it takes on a paradoxical form. Trump decided not to renew the long-standing policy of "wet feet, dry feet", according to which those Cubans who were lucky enough to get to the US land were allowed to stay; Those who were caught in the sea returned to Cuba. In other words, in defence of the Cubans for their freedom and blaming the repressive regime of Havana for "persecution of innocent citizens," Trump gives out brave people who decided to escape into the hands of a punitive machine.

Still, Trump did not cross the inheritance Obama completely. He did not break diplomatic relations restored 2015, he did not intend to limit the activities of diplomatic missions. Washington does not plan to ban the supply of Cuban goods to the United States.

Trump's half-steps also have political meaning. It is now unprofitable for him to further aggravate relations with the Democrats, many of whom seem to be leading the "holy war" against Trump. Moreover, the actions that most American media have unequivocally characterised as the continuation of the current administration of a purposeful campaign to dismantle Obama's legacy by themselves are capable of throwing firewood into the fire of hostility. Therefore, Trump tried to make his decision as dictated primarily by considerations of protecting the interests of the Cuban people and human rights, directed solely against the regime and its repressive apparatus. Such a motive cannot but support a part of the Democrats, and Obama had to face the opposition among Democrats who opposed the normalisation of relations with Cuba, will not demonstrate practical steps towards political liberalisation, will not prove his willingness to correct the situation with human rights in the country.

Trump's statements on Cuba will have global implications. The world, of course, will carefully monitor the further steps of the US administration. The imposition of the US embargo usually goes hand in hand with extraterritorial sanctions that extend to third countries. Torricelli Act in 1992 and in particular the Helms-Burton Act in 1996 allowed to pursue foreign companies for cooperation with Cuba. By analogy, the promise to strengthen the current embargo against Cuba potentially threatens Europeans and Canadians who have been successfully working on the island for many decades. Moreover, this will lead to new political misunderstandings between the US and its allies. Suffice it to recall that when US lawmakers tried to introduce extraterritorial sanctions against Russia, this immediately aroused a negative reaction in Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria.

However, is there Trump's Cuban turn that, apart from domestic political goals and the inevitable, but the still mediated international reaction, concerns the foreign policy strategy of the current administration? There is a reason to believe that, although the speech was spoken before a small and purely internal audience, it was addressed to a much wider audience. It is no coincidence that Iran and Venezuela, terrorism and human rights were mentioned in the speech. Moreover, in a short speech by Vice President Mike Pence, preceding Trump's speech, the administration's stated intention was to pay more attention to the protection of democracy and American interests in the Western Hemisphere.

Trump repeated his recent thesis that the US should adopt a policy of "principled realism rooted in (American – Yu.K.) values, common interests and common sense." This idea is, in fact, an attempt to strengthen the administration's approach to foreign policy, formulated at the time by State Secretary Tillerson and even called the "Tillerson's doctrine." Under these formulations, the United States is now being promoted by the idea of greater responsibility of the allies for regional peace and stability, greater financial and military contribution to overall defence and security. The persistence with which Trump repeats these theses allows us to speak of them as a basis for the foreign policy strategy of the administration.

Moreover, within this strategy, Trump promotes another important idea. The American President accused the Cuban regime of supporting terrorism on a global scale, as well as in the export of instability to Venezuela and the sale of weapons to the DPRK. Accusations against Havana can, at first glance, seem strained, justified only by the desire to demonise the Castro regime further. However, this list of Cuban sins fits into the picture of the world that the Trump administration creates the basis of the foreign policy strategy – the strategy of conflict and confrontation. Moreover, for the confrontation, Trump needs an opponent who more than fully justifies "principled realism."

This role has not yet been extended to China, and Russia has partially been approved for it. Moreover, so, in Trump's foreign policy, with every step he takes, his own "axis of evil," America's collective enemy, is more and more traced. Iran, the DPRK and Syria are already included in this group; And now, it seems, also Cuba. This almost completely repeats the list of the "axis of evil" of the times of President George W. Bush.

(The Article was published on on June 23, 2017)