A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Treaties and trades must be win-win

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Aug. 3, 4 or 5

The anti-diplomacy crowd in Washington is making demands about Iran and Cuba that seem like unrealistic baseball fans at Major League Baseball's recent trading deadline: “Get a better deal!!”

Some who cry that negotiators were “bamboozled” or “fleeced” sound like some desperate caller on sports radio demanding the White Sox trade disappointing pitcher John Danks for Cy Young favorite Zack Greinke of Los Angeles.

Not only is such a deal not that simple; it’s a one-sided, fanciful dream (or nightmare, if you’re a Dodgers fan).

Of course, heroic diplomats aren’t as common as professional athletes in popular culture. There are very few movies or video games about great treaties, peace deals or ambassadors. However, that’s no excuse for continuing to criticize better relations with Cuba or Iran – whether the GOP or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That’s selfish short-term politics, not long-term concern with stability.

Still, last week, as Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testified on Capitol Hill early in Congress’ 60-day review of the July 14 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program between the United States and Iran – plus China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom – the Cabinet members had to repeatedly explain the obvious positives of lifting sanctions in exchange for verifiable limits on nuclear development.

“If Congress does not support the deal, we would see this deal die, with no other options,” Kerry said. “Nothing in this deal is built on trust.”

Thawing frozen relations is a plus.

Concerning Cuba, Ted Mottaz, an Illinois farmer, in June was part of a delegation that traveled to Havana to open up communications and discuss people-to-people ways to improve relations.

“It’s over 50 years,” said Mottaz, a District Director with the Illinois Corn Growers Association who’s also been active with the Farm Bureau and Knox County’s Soil and Water Conservation District.

“It’s time to let bygones be bygones,” Mottaz continued. “They’re ready.”

A U.S. embassy opened in Havana July 20, following President Obama’s December announcement re-establishing relations with Cuba.

Of course, Iran is less dependent on a foreign power like Cuba was with the former Soviet Union, and it has more resources than Cuba, from oil to people. However, distrust and hostility can be short-sighted.

Mottaz, a former combat infantryman who served in Vietnam, added that it’s been 20 years since the United States normalized relations with Vietnam after a 10-year war where thousands of Americans were killed or wounded.

“We lost 50,000-some lives in Vietnam,” said “but we trade with them. It’s time to trade with Cuba, too.”

It’s not just progressives like Kerry, either. Conservative U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) last week told a South Carolina meeting of Concerned Veterans of America, a group financed by the right-wing Koch brothers, that he opposes war in the Middle East.

“Is it really something we want to do, to put a million American soldiers back there?” Paul said, adding that most Republicans “would have us at war with Nigeria, Libya, and 10 other countries” to fight terrorism.

(And, it should be pointed out, Iran is one of the nations actually fighting the Islamic State throughout the region.)

In downstate Illinois, Mottaz said he didn’t know what to expect in Cuba but was pleasantly surprised.

“We had a lot of face-to-face talks, and everyone was very friendly,” he said. “They’re people like us. Once in a while if a conversation lagged, someone would bring up baseball, and everybody got animated about players and so on.”

Most people today realize that improving relations with Cuba is long overdue. Whether Cuba or Iran, better ties are good, but they won’t stem from lopsided agreements, like the notorious baseball swap 50 years ago, when the Cincinnati Reds traded future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun, and outfielder Dick Simpson.

Fifty years from now, it’s likely Americans also will look back at the selfish squawking about better international relations and wonder what all the fuss was about.

[PICTURED: Ted Mottaz, right, of downstate Illinois talks with an organic farmer during a recent trade mission to Cuba.]

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