.Toward a Saner Cuban Policy

Finally, someone of consequence is talking sense on our senseless Cuban foreign policy.

Senator Richard Lugar, ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most respected foreign policy voices on Capitol Hill, wrote in a report drafted over the weekend that, “We must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests.”

That’s the kind of sentiment that has been too long in coming. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has seen fit to continue a foolish grudge match with Cuba that amounts to little more than ridiculous display of stubborn pride.

What has our policy toward Cuba achieved for the United States over the last twenty years? Pardon me while I go freshen my coffee and catch up on some morning reading while you strain your brain thinking of a good answer to that question.

Time was we had every reason to take a hostile posture toward Cuba, even if the dramatic political change that turned the country from playground for America’s uber-wealthy to Communist launch pad was fomented in part by our political miscalculations and bungling during and after the Fidel Castro-led revolution from 1957-1959. Once the Soviets took advantage of the situation and established a political and military foothold on the island, we had little choice but to dig in and do what we could to protect our shores from the potential threat Cuba represented.

The high-stakes poker match is most closely associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis, but also included Operation Mongoose, a failed covert program aimed at using subterfuge and sabotage to undermine and, eventually, overthrow the Castro regime. But such policies became obsolete once the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended.

Our antagonistic posturing with Cuba has played an important role in U.S. domestic political strategy, most evident every fourth November when presidential wannabes from Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush have promised to maintain the status quo in order to win the votes of conservative Cuban-Americans in South Florida, but apart from Election Day placations for Little Havana expats, the only reason I can deduce for maintaining our hostile posture with Cuba is because, economically, it costs us nothing and makes us feel tough.

This suspicion came into clear focus in the summer of 2006 when the discovery of oilfields in Cuban waters coincided with the development of technology that made accessing the deep reserves feasible, prompting Congress to propose exempting U.S. oil companies from the embargo (and at least one astute columnist to point out the proposal’s hypocrisy).

Somewhere there’s an economic threshold that must be crossed before Washington decides Cuba’s evils can be forgiven. Even in matters of national security, it always seems to come down to economics.

Economics are why we so willingly look beyond China’s horrendous record of human rights abuses and the serious military threat posed by the world’s most populous country. Economics are why we so willingly look beyond Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses and the serious military threat posed by the world’s most oil-rich country. At the other end of the scale, economics are why we so willingly look beyond the plight of the poor and oppressed people in places like Darfur, Malawi, and Burma.

As I argued in 2006, I believe the United States must do a better job of being a good neighbor to all the nations that make up the Americas, and our foreign policy in this region must be based on mutual respect. Just because we carry the biggest stick doesn’t mean we have a right to brandish it. Countries like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua may not represent a military threat to the U.S., but they can make life difficult here by maintaining nationalistic rhetoric against us, rallying the impoverished people of Latin America toward anti-Americanism at a time when the entire world is struggling economically, and giving our global rival, China, an even greater opportunity to buy political influence in our hemisphere.

By re-evaluating our Cuban policy and giving rise to normalization of relationships with one of our closest neighbors, we can signal to all of Latin America that we are willing to work through our past differences and recognize the manifold ways in which our nations are linked, and work to do what is in our common good.

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