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Robert C. O’Brien On The Fate Of Guantanamo Bay and What’s Next With Iran

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Hugh’s Arent Fox law partner was his guest to discuss the President’s move on Cuba, and how that portends to Guantanamo Bay’s future.

The audio:


The transcript:

HH: I’m joined now by my colleague and my law firm, my partner, Robert O’Brien, former special envoy to the United Nations, special representative to the United Nations. Yesterday, I had Ambassador Bolton on. But I wanted to go back over the same ground at a little bit more length. Robert O’Brien, welcome, good to speak with you.

ROB: It’s good to speak with you, Hugh, and it’s pretty amazing that while your wife’s in the hospital, you’re allowed to come do the radio show. You’ve got, the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt’s a lovely lady.

HH: I know. You know, daughter of a Marine, go do your job, and don’t worry about me. So she went and got herself taken care of and stitched up, and she’s fine, and looking a little bit like Rocky and Sylvester Stallone, but she’ll be fine.

ROB: Don’t tell her that.

HH: Hey, what is not going to be easily repaired, and is not going to heal, is what happened in Cuba yesterday. Now you had to deal with the Cubans when you were at the U.N. I’m sure you’ve been following them for years. What was your reaction upon hearing what the New York Times revealed this afternoon to have been more than a year of secret negotiations and the result that we got?

ROB: Well, it’s surprising, even though anything this administration does should no longer surprise us. I mean, we’re dealing with a government that is run by two dictators, Raul and Fidel Castro. They are, they throw their political opponents in jail. They beat them. They torture them. They do not allow the free practice of religion in their country. It is one of the last communist dictatorships. Even the Russians don’t pretend to be communists anymore. Together with the North Koreans and maybe the Venezuelans are fully on board now, it’s one of the last communist dictatorships in the world. And we’ve just legitimized them, and opened economic and diplomatic relations. It’s somewhat shocking.

HH: Now Robert O’Brien, I don’t know that we’ve researched this, yet, but if one of our clients came to us and said hey, can I do business in Cuba now, I think we’d have to answer that the embargo hasn’t been repealed. And even if the President throws petals in your path, you can’t get around a law unless it’s actually repealed.

ROB: Well, he’s not going to get the embargo repealed. But you know, Congressional action has not been a part of this president. I mean, he’s done what he’s wanted to do with respect to immigration. He certainly has broad authority. He may attempt to issue executive orders and go around the Congress to encourage economic activity with, by Americans in the Cuban regime. We just don’t know. I mean, what I’m more concerned about is that he will unilaterally decide to turn over Guantanamo Bay.

HH: I raised that yesterday with one of my guests, because I believe, with the Smart Guys, because I believe all he has to do is take everyone off the island and declare it Ollie, Ollie in free, and in flood the Cubans.

ROB: Well, if he orders the soldiers and sailors and Marines who are there to take the fences down, and to get on ships and planes and leave, you know, as the commander-in-chief, I don’t think our Marines and sailors and soldiers would stay, even if Congress didn’t authorize the money to do it. He could present it as a fait accompli. The gates come down, and the Cuban military overruns the base. Who’s going to go take it back? I mean, it’s, this is a very, very worrisome development. And I would not at all be surprised to see him take some sort of action with Guantanamo. It would be his Panama Canal deal. And the way the left looks at this, wrongly, is that Guantanamo is some sort of legacy of American imperialism in the Caribbean, as the Canal was. If President Obama could give it back, maybe he believes that, together with opening up relations with the Iranians, and coming to a deal with them, would be a great legacy for him into the future.

HH: Now Robert O’Brien, I have talked with senior military people who tell me that Dr. Ashton Carter, the secretary of Defense designate, “is the best one could hope for from the Obama administration,” that he’s experienced and competent and serious. I think it’s fair game at his confirmation hearings to bring up this possibility and to get from him a pledge of resignation in the event that were to happen, don’t you?

ROB: Absolutely, because look, Guantanamo is important to us for a number of reasons. A) The Chinese are attempting to build a new canal through Nicaragua, which is controlled now again by our old Sandinista friend, Daniel Ortega. They’re starting construction. They’ve put aside a lot of money to have basically a Chinese canal go through Nicaragua. The whole point of Guantanamo, going back to the First World War, the Second World War, was to control the sea lanes of communications for the Caribbean, which is critical to the defense of the United States. That geopolitical reality has not gone away. And in fact, it will, you know, extenuate if the Chinese actually are able to build a canal through Nicaragua. Moreover, it’s a base of operations to deal with, whether refugees, with narco-traffickers, the Coast Guard uses it as an important base to disrupt narco-trafficking, seaborne narco-trafficking that’s coming into the U.S. So it would be a terrible loss for us militarily. Certainly, the diplomatic stature of the U.S. would further diminish as a result of that sort of action, if he takes it.

— – – – –

HH: From that vantage point, Robert O’Brien, he’s also my law partner, I always say that for full disclosure purposes. We practice law together. The last couple of weeks, beginning with the release of the Senate Intelligence Report were then followed by the attack in Australian, the massacre in Pakistan, new footage of ISIS atrocities as they march, additional kidnapping today in Nigeria of more than a hundred girls, and then of course the collapse in Cuba and Sony Pictures pulling the movie, The Interview. I don’t know that we’ve had as bad a two weeks as this, I don’t know when. And I wrote a column at Townhall called The Reagan Void. I don’t think any of the previous nine or even 11 presidents would have done the Cuba thing, and I doubt very much that any of the last few would have allowed Sony to go quietly into the night. What do you think?

ROB: Well, we certainly know that John F. Kennedy was the person who put the, you know, a Democrat president who probably wouldn’t find much of a home in the Democrat Party these days. He was the one that put the embargo, the naval embargo on Cuba when they attempted to bring Soviet missiles, nuclear-tipped missiles, into Cuba to threaten the United States. That was done by Castro, the same guy that we’ve just made peace with, the President’s new friend, he and his brother. So when, Governor Romney would say on the campaign trail that who would have ever thought we’d look back at the Carter years as the good old days? But I don’t, I agree with you. I don’t think we’ve seen anything, you know, maybe since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that compares to what we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. And the feckless response of the United States to this combination of actions by bad actors all over the world really shows that America retreating from the world, nation-building at home, whatever President Obama wants to call his foreign policy, does not lead to a more peaceful, better world. It leads to chaos, because as the U.S. retreats and vacuums are created, bad actors move in to fill the void. And we’re seeing that just across the world, and it’s heartbreaking.

HH: I want to make a note of what Robert just said before the lefties send us emails. We’re not ignoring 9/11. But after 9/11, we reacted, and we acted aggressively to defend American interests. I think in your comparison to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, after that, President Carter, though he did begin to rebuild the Department of Defense, and he did boycott the Olympics, there really wasn’t a muscular response. And the Soviets were emboldened for another decade.

ROB: Look, the Soviets had gone into Grenada. They had gone into Nicaragua. They were attempting to undermine El Salvador. They were in Mozambique. There were Cuban troops in Angola undermining our allies who were never given a chance for democracy after de-colonialization there. The Soviets were in Afghanistan. And then Ronald Reagan came in and instituted a policy called Peace Through Strength. He rebuilt the Navy. He rebuilt the Army. He rebuilt the Air Force. And he also supported, and this is what folks forget, he supported freedom fighters all around the world, whether they were in Mozambique or in Angola, or strengthened the government in El Salvador…

HH: Or the Contras.

ROB: …or in Nicaragua…

HH: Yup.

ROB: …the Contras in Nicaragua. The President was actively supporting free men and women, free ideas and free markets. We’re doing just the opposite now. Now, we’re embracing the Castros, who don’t allow free speech, who don’t allow the free practice of religion, who beat up and use mobs to beat up their opponents, who support the Russians all that they do, who support the Chinese in all that they do, who support the Venezuelans in all that they do. It’s a, this is a very, very bad signal to men and women around the world that still look to America as the shining city on the hill as the beacon of freedom. You know, that beacon is getting dimmer. And this action with Cuba certainly dims that beacon. And for that reason alone, it’s very heartbreaking.

HH: It’s also very provocative. And it encourages additional aggression from people like Putin who face domestic problems. But one of the details in today’s New York Times story is that there is an outline of a deal with Iran that has been in place since October of 2013, which again, Robert Menendez, the Democrat Senator, outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lambasted the President today for not consulting on Cuba, I mean, just ripped into him, said he’d supported him up and down, and strongly through all of his domestic, but had not been consulted. Is there any, do you think there’s any check at the State Department through John Kerry or anybody on the Iranian gambit?

ROB: No. No one will check the President. Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, I mean, no one is going to check the White House, whether they’re at DOS or DOD. The only potential check on him is in the Senate. And you may have the beginnings of a bipartisan backlash, because these actions that he’s taking with Cuba and Iran are so far outside the mainstream of American thought, even American liberal thought. I mean, this is, you know, far left, blame America first crowd, San Francisco Democrat, 1984 stuff that I don’t even think they imagined in their wildest dreams that would happen. And so I could see a bipartisan group of senators like Menendez, Rubio, Cruz, those who care about Cuba together with Senators like Schumer and others who care about our ally, Israel, and do not want to see Iran welcomed back, you know, this terrorist state welcomed back into the community of nations, and given economic carrots and that sort of thing. You may see a coalition of senators, having seen what happened in Cuba, saying wait a minute, we need to mobilize now and make sure it does not happen with Iran. You know, that’s certainly my hope.

HH: And strike preemptively. I don’t know if there’s veto-proof numbers there, but it’s got to be pretty close, Robert, on Iranian sanctions reintroduction, don’t you think? We have a minute to the break.

ROB: I’ve got to think so. There are a lot of friends of Israel, but I’ll tell you, American allies around the world are shaken by this event, and American foes are encouraged. The mullahs in Iran must be walking around the holy city of Qom with big smiles on their face seeing what the Castros got out of America by taking a guy hostage, holding him for five years, trading him for convicted spies, and getting diplomatic relations. I mean, this is almost as bad as the Bergdahl exchange.

— – – – –

HH: Thanks to Robert O’Brien, my law partner, for joining me on short notice to go over this front. Robert, there’s one more thing I want to cover. You and I huddled last week, and then I talked about it with Mike Pompeo of the House Intelligence Committee on air, and that transcript is posted. By releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee Report, I think this administration and the Senate have put in peril, if not Americans, then our allies who cooperated with the detention interrogation program, of being hauled before the International Criminal Court, which even though we can get them out of that, people like you and other lawyers who know their way around the ICC can get them out of that, it’s going to be prohibitively expense. Do you think we ought to, the Republicans ought to step up and offer to indemnify those who might be dragooned by overzealous leftists with prosecutorial authority somewhere?

ROB: We actually, absolutely should stand up for our allies. And we should stand up for intelligence officers, military men and women from allied states that cooperated with the United States after the United States had been hit on 9/11. 3,000 of our fellow Americans were killed. We had men and women of goodwill around the world who were horrified by the terrorist attacks on America. They stood with us when the President asked them to stand with us. They took risks to their reputation, to their country’s foreign policies. They became terrorist targets themselves by cooperating with the United States. And to the extent that the ICC or some overzealous Spanish or Belgian prosecutor goes after, you know, an officer or an intelligence operative of one of our allies simply because they cooperated with the United States and did what we asked them to do, we certainly should stand behind them and stand up for them. It’s very worrisome. I mean, putting aside the merits of the report, can you imagine any ally in the future on a sensitive mission or in a sensitive operation willingly coming forward to work with the United States knowing that they might be hung out to dry with 20/20 hindsight five or ten years later by politicians in the American Senate?

HH: Absolutely not, and the International Criminal Court is not an easy to anticipate, I mean, we’ve got less than a minute. This is a whole show. But it is, we are not a signatory to it. But nevertheless, it operates with a broad writ.

ROB: Well, and other countries are signatories, and countries that cooperated with us are signatories. And so it’s very possible that men and women around the world who hate terrorism and stand with us for freedom and cooperated with us on difficult missions, capturing very dangerous people, I mean, you think of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who cut off Daniel Pearl’s head with a dull knife, you know, and said he was thrilled to do it to an American Jew, that’s the sort of people, you know, the dangerous sort of person that they helped us capture. We’ve got to stand with them.

HH: Robert C. O’Brien, always a pleasure. Thanks for being available on short notice.

End of interview.


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