The editors of the Washington Post have come out against President Obama’s announced plan of measures to normalize relations with Cuba:
On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.
As part of the bargain, Havana released Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was unjustly imprisoned five years ago for trying to help Cuban Jews. Also freed was an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent in Cuba — as were three Cuban spies who had been convicted of operations in Florida that led to Cuba’s 1996 shootdown of a plane carrying anti-Castro activists. While Mr. Obama sought to portray Mr. Gross’s release as unrelated to the spy swap, there can be no question that Cuba’s hard-line intelligence apparatus obtained exactly what it sought when it made Mr. Gross a de facto hostage.
The Vietnam outcome is what the Castros are counting on: a flood of U.S. tourists and business investment that will allow the regime to maintain its totalitarian system indefinitely. Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.
The experience with China should be enough to call the notion that political and economic relations will necessarily impel political reforms, an argument I’ve been seeing quite a bit of lately.
I’ve thought that we should be normalizing trade relations with Cuba for decades. I guess time will tell just how significant President Obama’s announcement will be. There isn’t a great deal that the president can do without Congressional cooperation. He can announce it and he can direct State Department personnel to go there but he can’t fund an embassy or consulate in Cuba and he can’t liberalize trade with Cuba without cooperation from the Congress.
We’ll see whether the whole thing is just a photo op or not. This move is another example of something I’ve criticized the president for in the past: he’s not laying the groundwork for future progress. Poking a stick in the bull’s eye is not a good way to encourage cooperation from the bull.
The editors of the Wall Street Journal make a good point:
We should stipulate that 20 years ago these columns called for lifting the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. We did so to assist the impoverished Cuban people and perhaps undermine the regime.
But we also stressed that “no U.S officials have to dignify Castro’s regime by sitting down at a negotiating table” with Cuban officials: “The whole point is to continue to oppose Castro’s government while allowing succor for Cuba’s people.” Mr. Obama’s approach will provide immediate succor to the Castro government in the hope of eventually helping the Cuban people.
Photo ops are easy. Diplomacy, especially diplomacy that actually advances your interests, is hard.