I’m torn on what to think about this. On the one hand, it reeks of propaganda designed to discredit Castro and blow up his fragile detente with Obama. With the possible exception of placing Cuban soldiers on the ground with the jihadis in Afghanistan, there’s no scenario more embarrassing to O after his noisy outreach to Havana than having Cuba enter the maelstrom in Syria to help Putin and Iran prop up Assad. It would signal that Cuba had once again thrown in with America’s enemies to undermine U.S. interests, and had done so after Obama staked some of his last remaining foreign-policy credibility on the idea that the Castro regime was no longer really an adversary of the United States. It’s such a sharp slap in the face after Obama extended his hand to Cuba that I can’t bring myself to totally believe it.
Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frias, head of Cuba’s Armed Forces, recently visited Syria to lead a group of Cuban military personnel joining forces with Russia in their support of Assad, according to information received by the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
On Wednesday, a U.S. official confirmed to Fox News that Cuban paramilitary and special forces units are on the ground in Syria, citing evidence from intelligence reports. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Cuban troops may have been training in Russia and may have arrived in Syria on Russian planes…
An Arab military officer at the Damascus airport reportedly witnessed two Russian planes arrive there with Cuban military personnel on board. When the officer questioned the Cubans, they told him they were there to assist Assad because they are experts at operating Russian tanks, according to Jaime Suchlicki, the institute’s executive director…
“If this information about the presence of Cuban troops in Syria now is confirmed, it would indicate that General Raul Castro is more interested in supporting his allies, Russia and Syria, than in continuing to normalize relations with the U.S.,” the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies said in a statement Tuesday.
The official couldn’t confirm that Frias is there or that Cuban tank squads are on the ground, but apparently someone’s there. It’s not unheard of for Cuba to project military power abroad either. They intervened for years in Angola and aided — ta da — Syria with tank commanders during the Yom Kippur war. It makes perfect sense too that Putin in particular might want them in Syria now, not so much for their expertise with tanks (why would Russia rely on Cubans in that role instead of their own troops?) but because he’d relish the gross humiliation to Obama and the United States involved in bringing O’s new frenemy, Castro, into his new proxy war with the U.S. in Syria on Assad’s side. It’d be a coup de grace to O’s strategy of reaching out diplomatically to traditional enemies like Cuba and Iran. After all the windage about “dialogue” and “new beginnings,” both countries would have ended up opposite the United States on the battlefield in Syria, pushing to keep a guy in power whom Obama long ago insisted must leave. It’s superb propaganda.
Just explain one thing to me. What does Castro stand to gain from Russia in exchange for taking a dump on his new rapprochement with the far wealthier, far more powerful United States? The easy answer is “a strong ally rather than a weak one in Obama,” but Obama the weakling will be in power for just 16 more months. He may well end up being succeeded by a Republican, and not just any Republican but an anti-Castro superhawk in Marco Rubio. If Castro wants to ever make nice with his behemoth next-door neighbor and lock in his diplomatic gains, establishing a “new normal” of cooperation that even a President Rubio might think twice about upsetting, now is the time to be friendly. Yet if you believe this report, he’s doing the opposite. It makes no sense to me. What’s going on here?