The United States’ decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba is about as big a foreign policy shift as I think I’ve seen in my lifetime. It’s certainly the largest since I really started paying attention to these things at the turn of the century, it’s long overdue, and it’s the right move.
Our standoff with Cuba is one of the very last vestiges of the Cold War, which we won handily. Continuing to apply a policy that has outlived itself would be useless. Cuba and its embrace of Communism is in no way a threat to us. It’s regrettable that such a brutal regime has remained in power for so long, and I believe the administration should be using its leverage more to address human rights abuses - past and present - and do more to incentivize substantive change. Perhaps that can come with a discussion about ending the economic embargo, though that’s Congress’ realm and the team in charge up on the hill is only biding its time and trying to wait Obama out. Dysfunction serves them right now so don’t expect anything constructive from them on this issue.
I agree with the argument supporting the move: it’s difficult to get someone to change if you’re not willing to even talk to them. And I’m happy to know the Vatican, whose leader is one of the few global figures with the lionshare of moral authority these days, has been instrumental in facilitating this move. Yes, we could maintain the isolation approach. It’s worked insofar as decimating Cuba’s economy goes, but what has it done to really deter those in charge? We’ve tried to keep others from doing business there and in a large way it has worked, but it hasn’t stopped everyone completely. Plenty of Western Hemisphere countries trade goods and services with Cuban, and China is getting more and more involved there. What does it benefit us to continue “punishing” Cuba while China increase its influence in our backyard?
Both sides stand to gain by this move and appear to have little to lose. Saying things will get worse in Cuba is like saying zero is less than one. Besides, regular diplomatic contact increases the ability to lean on them regarding human rights issues and improving the lives of Cuban citizens. The more the situation begins to improve between the two countries, the more Cuba has to lose and the more leverage the US has to work with.
But let’s come back to the issue of human rights abuses. I think the administration is not paying as much attention to it as it could, and that’s unfortunate. It allows reactionary critics - largely vocal because they likely benefit from the status quo in some form or another - to control the narrative. I agree the Cuban government seriously needs to be held to account for its egregious offenses, but for all the outrage being leveled against Cuba for its offenses, those same voices are awfully silent regarding China, a communist regime with a long history of jailing political dissidents and other human rights offenses. If critics of the administration’s policy shift (mostly of whom are Congressional Republicans) are serious about reforms in Cuba, it should attached change to a gradual lifting of the embargo. This will give it the leverage it needs to control the situation and, as the situation improves, strengthen more grass roots citizen engagement there.
There is an adage, often attributed to Einstein, that insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That’s a good way to look at our approach to Cuba since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Cuba’s last real patron, the Soviet Union. There is no logical reason to maintain a policy long after it has more-than-run-its-course and gets us nowhere. The issue may be nearly sixty years old, but that does mean our approach to it needs to be a sixty year old one too.