- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

If you had walked into the Pentagon Officers' Athletic Club at about 6:30 a.m. on April 25, 1980, you would have seen a bigger than usual crowd. Aside from the regulars, almost all of the junior officers from the War Room night shift would have been there and had been there for hours. The "POAC" as it is known in the inevitable acronym had been open since about 3 a.m. at the special request of the chairman of the joint chiefs, Gen. David Jones. Gen. Jones made the request personally, to relieve the stress and frustration of his troops. An hour or so before the wake-up call for the POAC staff, the president of the United States exercised his power as commander in chief and taken direct control of the Iran hostage rescue mission, which was being mounted from a place called Desert One. Gen. Jones and the senior staff became spectators, and the captains and majors had nothing better to do than work off their anger on the exercise machines.
James Earl Carter did then pretty much the same thing he's doing right now in Cuba. Mr. Carter thought he could direct the operation better than the generals and admirals who had trained all their lives to do it. In the special operations community, "Desert One" is still remembered as the "Jimmy Carter Desert Classic." Eight men died there. Mr. Carter stopped the operation before it really had a chance to start.
Nothing became Mr. Carter's presidency so much as his leaving it. Jan. 20, 1981, was a very good day for America. Mr. Carter left office, Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, and the hostages held for 444 days in Iran were released. While the hostages were released from captivity, Mr. Carter apparently never in his own mind released his grip on the presidency. This week's trip to Cuba is proof that Mr. Carter cannot resist meddling in things he should leave to others. Ever since that good day in January 1981, he has been our meddler-in-chief.
No president has been immune from Mr. Carter's interference since he left office. Mr. Bush is only the most recent. Before him, Mr. Clinton's poorly conceived intervention in Haiti was diverted at one point by Mr. Carter's presence. Last Sunday, I debated the wisdom of the Cuba adventure with one of Mr. Carter's former ambassadors, Hume Horan, on MSNBC television. I argued that Mr. Carter's record against Fidel Castro was dismal and militated against him going. Mr. Carter lost his hat, pants and spats when Mr. Castro took advantage of his gullibility by shipping us most of the hardened criminal population of his prisons in the Mariel boatlift.
Mr. Horan said that Mr. Carter was the best possible emissary now because he wasn't a political heavyweight, and because of Mr. Carter's "political artlessness" and "holy simplicity." Until that moment, I had never heard that artlessness was an advantage in diplomacy. Foolish as I am, I thought it was best left in the hands of those such as Henry Kissinger who though not always right had never been accused of being artless. But Mr. Carter is not the country holy man Mr. Horan would have us believe. Mr. Carter is not artless. He's clueless.
The main point Mr. Carter made in his Tuesday night speech is that he believes America has no right to interfere in Cuban affairs. He could not be more wrong. Because Mr. Castro is letting the Chinese communists build two electronic eavesdropping stations there, American security necessitates our influencing Cuban affairs. Also, because Mr. Castro is directly involved in terrorism working with the FARC narco-terrorists in Colombia and assisting radical IRA provisionals in their training of FARC we have not only the right but the obligation to stop the operation of another terrorist network from Cuba. The issue of American relations with Cuba is now dependent on what comes after Mr. Castro. We lack the resolve to topple his regime, and the forces that could do it are busy elsewhere. It is time to lay the groundwork to ensure that what comes after Mr. Castro is vastly different from the Stalinist gulag he has created.
There are still many people in Mr. Castro's political prisons who, if released and supported, could begin planning for forming a democratic nation when Mr. Castro dies. But these people got short shrift from Mr. Carter in his Tuesday night speech. That speech was a recitation of moral relativism that will strengthen the hand of those who do not want Mr. Castro's successor to be anything but another dictator just like him.
Mr. Carter supports repeal of the trade embargo now, not later. He was dismissive of the property claims of people and companies whose property was seized by Mr. Castro when he took power. Mr. Carter would allow the European and Asian companies who received these properties from Mr. Castro to keep them, and impose no obligation on Mr. Castro's successor to compensate for the losses.
Mr. Bush is giving a major policy speech on Cuba next week. He should tell Mr. Castro that any other evidence of participation in terror shall result in direct action against his regime. Mr. Bush can clear the water Mr. Carter muddied, and word will get through to the Cuban people. Mr. Bush should tell the Cuban people that whoever succeeds Mr. Castro shall make you free, because we will insist upon it. When that day comes, you will have free trade with America, and a proud place in the world. We will not allow another Mr. Castro to keep you in chains. There will be free elections in Cuba, as much prosperity as you can create on your rich, beautiful island. There will be no more political prisoners, no more controlled press, no more excuses for poverty. As soon as real freedom exists, we should let the Cubans make the best of it. That will be the time for us to stay out of Cuban affairs.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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