Friday, April 17, 2009

Other People's Government

Positive developments in the direction of letting go of the failed embargo on Cuba are really welcome. It is past time for the U.S. to haul in its military and 'intelligence' in the operations of other countries. The posture that President Obama has taken of learning, not skulking about being divisive, makes that possible to hope for.

As Diane noted earlier this week,The only ones who have gained under the embargo have been the emigre enclave in Florida and their bought and paid for politicians, giving them far more political power per capita than any group in the nation.

Our role as a self-proclaimed 'leader of the free world' was never good for this country. Now it is counterproductive. In the previous maladministration, our powers were so misused that any interference has become yet another expression of ignorant aggression. Michael Kinsley, writing in WaPo, has a few good observations about our misapprehensions that lasted for decades, a disservice to the country.

If you want to test a proposition about, say, the relationship between democracy and free trade, you can't just set up a bunch of countries to experiment with. You have to take what you find, and there will always be some exception or complication to defeat your pretensions to science.

For the past four decades, however, we have been conducting something pretty close to a scientific experiment on one of the most important practical questions the world has ever faced. This question has dominated American politics, off and on, for almost a century. We have conducted this experiment at no small cost and have ruthlessly ignored the results. The question is: What is the best way for free nations to defeat totalitarian regimes in general and communism in particular?

Communism was never a monolith. Even in its heyday it came in lots of flavors. There was Tito's Yugoslavia, which always kept a foot outside the Iron Curtain and turned out to be 150 or so countries united only in their loathing of one another. There was China, the subject of Americans' most paranoid Cold War fantasies and now the subject of paranoia of exactly the opposite sort. There was Albania, a black hole from which no information could escape. There was the romantic Latin flavor that was more about the revolution itself than about nationalizing the means of production.

And from 1917, when Russia went communist, to 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, the United States tried almost every conceivable variety of policies toward these various styles of communist nations. Sometimes we were hostile; sometimes we were friendly. We had summits, we had boycotts. We launched secret wars in Latin America, made secret visits to China, tore apart our own society through wars in Vietnam and Cambodia that can still break up a dinner party. (It's like arguing about the Civil War in 1905.)

To this day, there is one communist country toward which American policy has been unrelentingly hostile. One communist government with which we have never even attempted detente. One communist country that we invaded without even a fig leaf of an invitation from a legitimate government. One communist country where we have never tried the seductive power of capitalism and instead have maintained a total trade embargo. And now, 20 years after communism collapsed almost everyplace else, in this same country a communist government survives unreformed and unapologetic.

If any conclusion can be drawn with scientific certainty about any question in the field of political science (or maybe it belongs to "international relations," an even fuzzier academic subdivision), it surely is that the United States' Cuba policy has not worked.

Just as the war criminals in the White House over eight years of misrule insisted that they attacked Iraq because of WMDs, and al Qaeda was active there before their invasion, the increasingly ludicrous mandate was maintained - that direct shipping to Cuba would support an enemy government there. As our invasion in the Middle East invigorates dissidents there, our blind continuation of hostilities toward Castro's government does Castro no end of good in the eyes of his supporters. The beginnings of new world wisdom that President Obama is displaying gives hope that we can begin tunneling back out of the hole we've dug our country into.

Wisdom instead of belligerence would be a 180 degree turnaround that the U.S. badly needs.

It may be that our country can join with our neighbors to the south instead of endlessly trying to insert our puppet governments where their own choices should be respected.

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