April 27, 2000
State's True Colors
alongside thankfulness that against the odds nobody was hurt, one
should be almost grateful to the national government for clarifying
matters. Political scientists define government as the institution
in a given society with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
That means that government authority, when you get to the heart
of the matter, depends on the willingness to use force to ensure
compliance. As Mao Zedong once put it, quite accurately, political
power grows out of the barrel of a gun.
predawn raid on the small Miami home of the American relatives of
Elian Gonzales did make it clear that the federal government was
willing or even eager? to use overwhelming force to get its way.
But disturbing questions arise. Was the raid justified by the circumstances?
Did it have to be undertaken in such an overwhelming, quasi-military
fashion, with combat gear and automatic weapons? Was seizing him
by pointing automatic weapons in his general direction wherever
the trigger finger was really in the best interests of the child?
more mystifying is the question of why the federal government was
not only eager to snatch Elian, but to do so with such overwhelming,
intimidating force. Iíve heard and read various theories that Bill
Clinton as governor was burned by the Mariel boatlift and doesnít
want another on his watch, or that he wants normalized relations
with Cuba as part of his legacy and thought this would help but
few of them make a great deal of sense.
TO THE WRONG CONSTITUENCY?
Clinton wants to end the embargo on Cuba, for example, he doesnít
have to please Fidel Castro; he has to persuade key constituencies
in the United States that itís not a bad idea. If anything, snatching
Elian Gonzales through brute force will make that job more difficult,
is a possibility that presents itself, though Iím not sure how to
test the hypothesis. Maybe Bill Clinton and key members of his administration
are still arrested-development Sixties liberals not the real radicals,
which Clinton never was even back then, but politically ambitious
leftists who had the functioning attitude that the only proper attitude
toward communists was prostration. Even if you planned to do something
to help out a communist, it wouldnít be fittiní and proper unless
you first toadied a little bit, begged permission to do a favor,
demonstrated your fealty and submission to the people who were,
after all, more advanced, more on the side of history than those
who were so opportunistic as to worry as much about their own future
political viability than the Workers of the World.
it be that certain of the Clintonistas still have that antiquated
attitude toward Castro that the important thing is not so much to
do the right thing (which I happen to think lifting the embargo
would be, for rather different reasons) but to gain approval
from a chic and fashionable (in certain circles) brutal dictator?
So that preparing the way for normalizing relations requires licking
Castroís spittle rather than persuading Americans? A chilling thought,
perhaps. But I donít have a better explanation (though this is a
hypothesis not an assertion).
impulse to toady to dictators, so common among Western intellectuals
during the century just passed (or passing depending on how you
count) could be a miscalculation in this case. Unless I miss my
guess, Castro is not the least bit eager for the U.S. embargo and
the general (though hardly consistent) policy of treating Castro
as a pariah to end. He has used the embargo to unite the Cuban people
(at least to some extent) and as a handy whipping-boy to blame for
all the manifest and cruel failures of his own policies.
Castro really care that the vast majority Cubans live in abject
poverty and misery so long as his own power is secure? If he really
did, he would change policies, loosen up the controls, stop demonizing
entrepreneurs. No, I suspect that long ago Castro, an intelligent
man of considerable guile, long ago figured out that part of the
price of his own power would be the misery of the Cuban people and
that he not only accepts it, he takes a certain bent satisfaction
if the Clintonistas are sucking up to Castro demonstrating that
they can be as brutal and as arbitrary as any outright dictator
in pursuit of policies and outcomes they think Castro desires by
snatching Elian, they might well find out they werenít doing him
any favors. When it comes time to "normalize" relations
they may find him spitting in their faces yet again, denouncing
the evil and guileful Yanquis yet again, for waiting too long, for
not doing it right or even for loosening relations at all.
CASE FOR THE SNATCH?
did talk to one retired policeman who worked in Florida years ago,
who has told me many times in the past that he is often appalled
by the reliance on SWAT teams and paramilitary tactics by modern
police agencies, who said the raid was justifiable and carried out
in textbook-perfect fashion. His only regret is that returning Elian
to his father not necessarily the way it was done but in
some fashion wasnít done earlier. The boy belongs with his
father under normal immigration circumstances, the Miami relatives
resisted turning him over to his father, and such an action would
have been necessary sooner or later. Surprise and force made it
less dangerous, and for a change the feds did it competently, finishing
the operation in a few minutes without sparking a riot immediately.
happen to agree that Elian should have been treated as an unaccompanied
minor from the beginning, with his fatherís claims (absent credible
evidence of gross parental abuse) taking precedence. Thereís no
question Cuba is a cruel dictatorship and that it is legitimate
to wonder whether Juan Miguel is truly a free agent in this matter.
Even so, on balance, the boy should have gone with his father.
did it have to be done this way? Was it necessary to come in with
overwhelming force and the look of an occupying army on Holy Saturday?
The Clinton administration not so long ago delayed bombing Iraq
during Ramadan, but its sensitivity to the religious beliefs and
practices of American citizens seems significantly less developed.