Thursday, December 18, 2014

It's About Time

Thank you, President Obama, for moving to normalize relations with Cuba.  There may have been some justification for the embargo back in 1961, when Fidel was hand in glove with the Soviets and they were considering placing missiles on the island.  But we talked them out of that, so then what was our basis for the embargo?  Well, Cuba was still "Commie", and we hated all Commies, so we continued to deprive them of the ability to buy things from us (which they probably couldn't have done because the Cuban people were and are dirt poor).  And if we embargo trade, the Cubans will rise up and overthrow the dictator Fidel.

Worked really well, didn't it?  True, Fidel isn't still in power; but he passed it to his brother.  It's a dynasty.

When I say, "we hated all Commies," don't assume that every U.S. citizen in the 1950s and 1960s spent their leisure time muttering "I hate those Reds."  A very small number of very loud people actually did do that, or something close to it (think John Birch Society); but for Joe Sixpak (we miss you, Art Hoppe), Communists were a sort of background threat, who mostly existed in the Soviet Union.  Joe Sixpak was much more interested in his next raise, and his kid's baseball game.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, there has been No Rational Reason for us to embargo Cuba.  Without the U.S.S.R. at its back, Cuba was (is) a tiny, poor country, without an army of any standing or any major weapons.  We even lease Guantanamo from Cuba (in a 1903 treaty with a very different Cuba!), they're our landlord.  Our loudly protesting landlord, but still.

In recent years we've embargoed countries when we really want them to change something:  Iran, for their nuclear program; Russia, for its outrageous behavior in Ukraine.  It is a short term embargo, based on the assumption that if they change their behavior, we'll remove the embargo.  But somehow the embargo on Cuba was Sacred, because Fidel Castro (whose longevity is amazing) was Still In Power.

But Cuba is a dictatorship, yes?  We can't do business with dictators!  And what about Human Rights?

Oh, hell, we do business with dictators all the time.  How long have we been buddies with the Saudis?  How about China (speaking of human rights)?  We talk to Iran, which has an elected tyrannical government.  As for old dictators still in power, we have an embassy in Zimbabwe, despite Robert Mugabe's indifference to anyone's human rights except his pals'.  The only dictator we really don't talk to is Kim Jong-Un, and he's crazy.

The embargo did two definite things.  I'll let you decide if they were positive.

First, it gave Fidel Castro a gold plated gift - an Enemy he could blame things on.  There's nothing a dictator likes more than an enemy he can point at, who he knows isn't really going to attack him.  That was the U.S.

Second, it made the U.S. look silly, because everyone else in the world was talking to Cuba and they knew exactly what was going on there. It began to look even sillier when Cuban medical personnel built a reputation for showing up and helping in poor countries and in emergency situations - they've been really active in the Ebola crisis, even now that it's off the front page.

It's time we talked to Cuba.  God knows when or whether Congress will ever lift the embargo; but we can talk to them without Congress' permission, and we should.


  1. This is going to sound completely nuts, but sometimes I wake up in the night and have these peculiar day-dreams, which only happen in the dead of night.

    What if we just decided to occupy Cuba?

    We've made a habit lately of invading and occupying countries on the other side of the world, places we don't really understand, and which don't really like us (even our proxy puppets dislike their master), and wait eagerly for the day they can do what they secretly dream of doing.

    If regime change is such an important thing, why not just shove the Castros off their wicker throne and send them to a rest home, where they can live out their remaining days and hours in dignified nostalgia (Viva!). And we can let the entrepreneurs and corporations get busy and bring Cuba into the 21st Century. Yeah, luxury hotels and the usual forms of capitalist corruption--that'll all be part of it. An eco-disaster.

    But if the Communist regime was so bad, what are we waiting for? Is anyone going to stop us? Do we really care about the public relations issues it would cause? Are our hands so clean? So Cuba perhaps is our Ukraine, which some very smart historians think Russia actually has a legitimate claim on.

    Isn't Cuba really America's? Monroe Doctrine?--well, that was a very long time ago.

    Havana anyone? (puff puff)

  2. Well, yes, it does sound completely nuts ;-)

    In response to your suggestion I quote Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn policy" - we break it, we own it. We ignored him in Iraq and Afghanistan and look where that got us. Afghanistan may have a very small chance to pull itself together. Maybe. One of the reasons, I think (not being inside his head), that Obama has held back so much on the whole Syria mess is that he knows, if we put boots on the ground in Syria, we'll be there for decades, being shot at the whole time.

    Personally, I think the whole regime change business is absurd. It is an excuse to ignore problems in our own country which need immediate attention. It is, in fact, the whole "military-industrial complex" which Eisenhower warned us about in the '50s. War is profitable, especially for contractors like Halliburton. Fixing domestic infrastructure and doing something about middle class wages - not so much. (But you knew I was a progressive.)

    If the Cubans don't want the Castros in charge, let them rise up and remove them; but the evidence suggests that, on balance, the Cubans do want the Castros in charge; and the ones who don't have left Cuba to come here.

    If you want Cuban cigars, go to Cuba. A friend of mine tells me you can get direct flights from Canada, and the Canadian customs people omit stamping U.S. passports on trips to Cuba, "so as not to get you in trouble with your government." This happened to her, although she had a license to travel. They stamped her passport at her request.

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!