The Post And Courier Misleads Its Readers On Iran-Cuba Threat

February 07, 2012 2:33 pm ET — Walid Zafar

The editors of The Post and Courier, one of largest newspapers in South Carolina, sound like they're getting information about foreign affairs from right-wing alarmist websites. In an irresponsible editorial yesterday, the newspaper scares its readers by inflating a recent trip that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made to Cuba into some looming national security crisis.

Given the support both nations have provided to international terrorists, the Iran-Cuba connection can only be viewed ominously. It would likely prolong the life of the appalling Cuban regime while giving Iran, which is preparing to field nuclear-tipped missiles within the next few years, a possible base of operations against the United States.

Cuba needs a new tenant that will, like the former Soviet Union, give it highly favorable terms of trade for its exports. In 1960 Fidel struck a deal with Moscow providing petroleum in exchange for sugar, and that deal, through ups and downs, kept Cuba's economy above water until 1990.

It also provided a base for Soviet military activities that almost led to nuclear war in the Cuban missile crisis, 50 years ago.

But the Cuban economy quickly went down when the Soviet Union collapsed, and not even Fidel's friendship with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, access to cheap Venezuelan oil and trading relations with most of the world have helped restore the old order.

The Castros may be willing to risk a new and more effective multinational embargo by trading with Iran, provided they get a good price.

Meanwhile, Iran is looking for trading partners, as it faces broader, tougher Western sanctions. More importantly, like the old Soviet Union, it is seeking points of pressure against the United States.

Mr. Ahmadinejad renewed his connections with other anti-American leaders in Latin America, including Mr. Chavez and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

While Iran's activities in Cuba are certainly a cause for concern, there is no reason for the level of alarm that is raised by The Post and Courier.

For starters, Iran and Cuba have had a good relationship for several decades, including during the Cold War. And Iran's not the only one. As the editors themselves acknowledge, Cuba has "trading relations with most of the world." In fact, Cuba even has limited trading relations with the United States, something many members of Congress would like to see expanded.

The editors are reading way too much into this visit. For instance, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff recently made a state visit to Cuba to discuss trade. How is Ahmadinejad's visit an indication Cuba wants to go towards authoritarian Iran but Rousseff's more important visit not a signal that Cuba is opening up?

In addition, no one seriously subscribes to the idea that Cuba supports international terrorists. As Jeffrey Goldberg recently wrote:

Here is some of what we know about Cuba. Cuba is an impoverished autocracy. Its superannuated leaders are gradually opening their country's economy. Cuba is reducing the size of its military, it has condemned al-Qaeda and it poses no national-security threat to the U.S. No serious intelligence analyst believes that Cuba is still funding or arming foreign insurgencies.

The Post and Courier editors also write that Iran is "preparing to field nuclear-tipped missiles within the next few years." There are many legitimate concerns about Iran's nuclear program and the intentions of its leaders, but there is no evidence that Iran will "field nuclear-tipped missiles" in the near future. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have both said in recent weeks that Iran has not yet made the decision to develop nuclear weapons. Either the editors of The Post and Courier know more about Iran's intentions than the U.S. intelligence community or they're shooting from the hip with no concern for accuracy.

It's important for local papers to cover international issues, but in an editorial that deals with war and peace, the least they should do is to consider the facts.