Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sane Foreign Policy

A strange feature of this country's ongoing diplomatic failures has been and will be the 'embargo' of Cuba. In the Cold War days, communism was seen as insidious and bound to damage us by its existence so close to the shores of America. Fidel was especially dangerous. He even smoked good cigars.

I've known several Cuban expatriates, one delivered my kids. All knew, as returning Iraqis have found, that their property now belonged to others. They had no illusions that they would simply step back into what they had left if they returned, and had gotten on with their lives. Not so the U.S.

Today I found a really good discussion of the future for our policy with regard to Cuba, courtesy of Eugene Robinson.

For nearly five decades, the United States has pursued a policy toward Cuba that could be described as incredibly stupid.

It could also be called childish and counterproductive -- and, since the demise of the Soviet Union, even insane. Absent the threat of communist expansionism, the refusal by successive American presidents to engage with Cuba has not even a fig leaf's worth of rationale to cover its naked illogic. Other than providing Fidel Castro with a convenient antagonist to help whip up nationalist fervor on the island -- and prolong his rule -- the U.S. trade embargo and other sanctions have accomplished nothing.

Now, with Fidel ailing and retired, and his brother Raúl acting large and in charge, the United States has its best opportunity in years to influence the course of events on the island. George W. Bush, as one might have expected, won't do the right thing. It will be up to the next president.

Raúl Castro is 76, and since assuming the presidency he has acted as if he knows he doesn't have much time to waste. In short order, he has repealed the prohibition against Cubans buying computers, cellphones and other consumer goods -- items that Fidel feared might facilitate sedition or promote counterrevolutionary comfort and lassitude.

It's true that these measures are largely symbolic -- on an average salary of about $17 a month, most Cubans can't dream of buying computers, and, in any event, the Cuban government still strictly controls access to the Internet. Likewise, any Cuban who owns a cellphone can't use it without paying the astronomical rates demanded by the government cellphone monopoly.

But at the same time, Raúl has encouraged the first stirrings of debate in the government-controlled media (which are the only media) -- something Fidel never would have allowed. Rumors that the government will soon permit widespread private ownership of automobiles, and perhaps even allow an above-board private market in real estate, seem much less implausible than they would have just six months ago.


The fact that our 'embargo' hasn't done what it was intended to, which is remove Fidel, has been ignored for the years it has been in effect. We have had the depths of insanity in the present worst administration ever. It is to be hoped that the reaction to this depth will be a birth of sanity in all areas and this is one that cries out for it.

I have always suspected that anything that we ban will be shipped from somewhere else into Cuba, anyway, if they can afford it.

I suppose this post will be banned in Miami.

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For those of you who expected from the title that this would be about what I often talk about, N.Korea, that country that has been refusing to truckle to the government that ended promising negotiations the Clinton era had produced by announcing it was part of the axis of evil - we are right to give North Koreans food assistance. It should be directed to the starving people though, not to the government that gives them over to starvation.

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