Trump threat to close U.S. Embassy in Havana is setback to diplomacy gains

Whoever is responsible for the creepy sonic attacks on U.S. diplomats and their families in Havana wanted one thing: for Americans to leave Cuba.

Whether the culprit is the Cuban government or a rogue arm of the regime acting on its own — or a third party like Russia (fill in the blanks for other enemy states) — the motive remains the same. The re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba relations — and most of all, the euphoric embrace of Americans by the Cuban people — was creating a new order so quickly that it threatened socialist alliances and the hard-line policies that have enabled the Cuban dictatorship to rule with an iron fist for almost six decades.

That’s why Americans shouldn’t retreat from diplomacy and engagement with Cuba so readily.

It would be a strategic misstep and a huge step backward for the Trump administration to close the U.S. Embassy in Havana, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says is under consideration.

“Are they crazy or just ignorant?” says a Cuban-American source who frequently travels to the island to scout business opportunities and establish contacts. “That’s exactly what the Cuban government wants: to be left without the American presence, without people traveling there and making contacts, without credible sources providing information at this time of political transition in Cuba.”

The “health attacks” on 21 people that left them suffering from hearing loss, concussions, memory loss, nausea, migraines and tinnitus is a serious matter that deserves international condemnation. But closing the embassy — as five Republican senators, including Miami’s Marco Rubio, have asked President Donald Trump to do — doesn’t serve American interests.

For one, Cuba has allowed agencies like the FBI to travel to the island to investigate — and that’s unprecedented in a country that has a record of routinely refusing access even to respected international human-rights organizations.

The Rubio response is the typical reactionary political move for hawkish Miami consumption. A return to isolation, however, might not score the expected points, as we saw in a local race recently when a candidate who had his engagement photos taken in Havana won the Republican primary. The majority of Cuban Americans, including noted Republicans, embraced President Barack Obama’s policy engagement, even with its limited results, precisely for the access to the island it afforded.

Until Trump won the presidency, the only side backtracking on détente has been the Cuban regime — and that fact puts it at the top of the suspects list on the vile attacks on American and Canadian diplomats.

Ever since President Obama made a case for democracy in a televised speech in Havana, the Cuban government has engaged in a series of antagonistic moves, clearly sending the message to the Cuban people to curb their enthusiasm. But the Cuban government can hardly afford to lose the American and Canadian tourism dollars keeping the island’s disastrous economy afloat. It would be counterproductive to engage in something as foolhardy as attacking diplomats — and bring on retaliation that would obliterate tourism gains.

But a U.S. pullout of Cuba would certainly help Russia, a foreign power more harmful than a rogue island regime. President Trump is all too happy to gloss over this, given his presidential campaign’s entanglement with precisely the country that subsidized and exerted influence over Cuba for decades and almost brought the world to nuclear war.

The United States must do what it needs to do to secure its personnel in Cuba, and after this experience, it should consider the embassy on the island a high-risk one, as it does others in hot spots around the world.

There is a middle ground between Obama-era naïveté — the illusion that Cuba was a friendly, harmless country to be brought into the fold of democracy via diplomacy — and the Trump administration’s belligerence, on display Tuesday at the United Nations.

As much as a sector of Miami would like to see it, closing the U.S. Embassy in Havana and isolating Cuba again serves no purpose other than to set back the diplomatic gains that best served the interests of both the Cuban people and Americans. Such a move would play right into the hands of the Cuban regime — and Russia.