Gingrich Promises To Help Overthrow Castro Government

January 25, 2012 11:31 am ET — Walid Zafar

With the next GOP presidential primary in the Sunshine State, pandering to the powerful right-wing Cuban exile lobby is in full bloom. For a few days every four years, the candidates compete to see who can be toughest on the small island nation that poses no direct danger to the United States.

During Monday night's Republican debate, every candidate but Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) endorsed a harsh Cuba policy. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has the endorsement of hardliners such as Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), argued against the Obama administration's decision to relax travel restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba. Meanwhile, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum couldn't resist bringing Iran and terrorism into the Cuba discussion. But the night's most forceful comment came from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said that a Gingrich administration "will not tolerate four more years of this dictatorship."

GINGRICH: So I would try to put in place a very aggressive policy of reaching out to every single Cuban who would like to be free, helping network them together, reaching out to the younger generation inside the dictatorship, and indicating they don't have a future as a dictatorship because a Gingrich presidency will not tolerate four more years of this dictatorship.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Overt and covert, are you talking about engaging the U.S. military?

GINGRICH: No, I'm talking about using every asset available to the United States, including appropriate covert operations, to maximize the distance, what Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher did to the Soviet empire, bring together every asset we have to minimize the survival of the dictatorship and to maximize the chance for freedom in Cuba.

U.S. policy towards Cuba is anachronistic, almost entirely forced by domestic electoral considerations rather than our national interests. Most of the world — including some of our closest allies — has diplomatic and economic relations with Havana and is a position to influence the Castro regime's policy.

After more than a half century of failure, there is widespread acknowledgment that our hardline policy toward Cuba needs changing. The Obama administration has taken positive steps to improve relations and effect meaningful change, though some changes will be far more difficult to maneuver.

The Cold War-era approach Gingrich promises to use against Cuba has been tried, unsuccessfully, since the Eisenhower administration. But the tactics have done little to improve the lives of ordinary Cubans and have unfortunately undermined the moral high ground we seek. The Helms-Burton Act, for instance, passed in 1996 under the stewardship of Speaker Gingrich, has not only been condemned (and disregarded) by important allies, but drew attention away from Cuba's record on human rights and focused it on Washington's punitive and counterproductive measures against the Cuban people.

The Republican candidates (again, with Paul as the exception) could care less about what Cuban civil society and the political opposition think. Their concern for Cuba begins with the Florida primary and ends with the November election. It's all politics. If it weren't, they would support moves toward normalizing relations with the island nation, a course favored by younger Cuban-Americans, although it's rejected by the loud lobby that claims to advocate on their behalf. Pandering to the anti-Castro right helps win elections, but it does nothing to actually bring meaningful change to Cuba.