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No mas!

Posted December 15, 2006

With Cuban leader Fidel Castro dying, and his grip on power already receding, Vermont officials should be pushing the Bush administration to change its approach with the island nation.

For too long, presidents and other leaders in Washington have held onto this Cold War nostalgia in their open hatred of Castro and his government.

Vermont leaders, however, including Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and outgoing Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr, understand that opening up one-on-one trade relations with Cuba can have positive economic and cultural impacts.

Aside from apples, cattle, and other agricultural goods, Vermont leaders should ensure that Burlington College and the Putney School are allowed to open up educational exchanges. These people-to-people exchanges will help put an end to this decades-long embargo and more importantly build the kind of friendships and relationships at the grassroots level that will be needed once this backwards trade policy is over.

Already, Raoul Castro, who has been hand picked by Fidel to succeed him, has made strong overtures that he is open to a dialogue with the United States.

Since the Bush administration has little to leave as a positive legacy, perhaps putting this country on the road to normal relations with Cuba is something to move on.

Vermont’s delegation should, along with putting an end to the debacle in Iraq, make this a priority.

Vermont, along with several other states, has been leading the effort to open up more normal relationships with Cuba, despite the ongoing embargo.

Our Republican governor and lieutenant governor, more than perhaps any other politicians in this state, should be able to bend the ear of the Bush administration.

With Castro’s imminent death, whether next week or next year, it is time to begin writing the next chapter, and Vermont can help to make sure the next chapter is not a repeat of each previous one.

Study time is over

The Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) long awaited report was short on solutions and long on the continued rhetoric that getting our troops out of there as soon as possible isn’t the best thing for everyone.

Vermont’s delegation was relatively muted in their comments on the Iraq Study Group, a months-long bipartisan process that yielded little new in the way of options, or assessments.

That may be because, despite the national referendum that was the midterm elections, some key Democrats sound more like the Pres. George W. Bush, and even Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, who is advocating a mix of stay the course with adding more troops, rather than getting our troops out. And, out now.

Or, it may be because Robert Gates’ nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense sailed through with nary a complaint, especially when on one hand he says that “we are not winning” in Iraq, but at the same time says while he’ll take into consideration the ISG report, he admitted that he serves at the pleasure of the president, and will do his bidding.

And, it seems like Bush is looking for a way to stay the course and save political face.

Perhaps it takes tired old insiders like Lee Hamilton and James Baker to make the obvious seem palatable for the rest of their ilk, but for those of us who have been watching our friends and neighbors killed, and seeing tens of thousands like them displaced or killed in Iraq, the report offered little solace or hope.

Victory in Iraq will not look like victory in other wars and occupations. We shouldn’t be looking for a V-Day celebration, or a day when we sign a treaty and all is well.

Victory in Iraq will mean taking a loss of face in the short run, by admitting mistakes and realizing that our ongoing direct military presence is heightening tensions in Iraq among the many sects vying for power. We are creating the power vacuum by not letting Iraqis take control of the country.

Critics of withdrawing troops say that things are not as bad as they seem, that progress is being made, that power is being turned over to Iraqis, and that Iraqi security forces are keeping the peace. If that’s true, then bringing our troops home should be the course of action.