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Cuba and Washington’s Absurd Overuse of Sanctions

Mike Pompeo is reportedly considering adding Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in another last-minute move to box in the incoming administration:

State Department officials have drawn up a proposal to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, a final-hour foreign policy move that would complicate plans by the incoming Biden administration to relax increased American pressure on Havana.

Like the other designations that Pompeo’s State Department has made or considered in recent years, naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism is without merit and it is being done mainly to spite the next administration. If it happens, it will be a stupid, petty, and harmful decision. That is what we have come to expect from Pompeo and the rest of this administration, but that is no excuse for what they’re doing.

Cuba was removed from the list in 2015 as part of Obama’s normalization of relations with the Cuban government. That policy was mostly reversed during the Trump years, and this designation would at least temporarily damage it further. The Cuban government today does not support international terrorist groups, so there is no good reason to include them on the list. Like the re-addition of North Korea a few years ago, this is a punitive measure that is meant to make it more difficult for the next president to undo Trump’s policy towards Cuba. Biden can and probably will reverse the decision once it is made, but it will be one more thing on a long list of things to fix.

The state sponsors list has always been politicized, but a new Cuba designation would confirm that it is now being used primarily for partisan political purposes to pander to voters at home. Many governments that have sponsored and still do sponsor terrorist groups have never been on the list because they are clients and “partners” of the U.S., and under Trump some states that no longer support terrorism are sanctioned as sponsors anyway. Imposing sanctions on states for things they aren’t even doing shows how much this administration overuses and abuses sanctions, and it confirms that they aren’t really trying to change the behavior of other governments when they pile on more sanctions just because they can.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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