Daniel Drezner has a very good primer on the issue. One of the strengths of his post is that it does not promise the sun, moon and stars for the United States in exchange for normalization. This, of course, is a good thing; no one should want to harbor unrealistic expectations for Cuban-American relations in the aftermath of normalization. But as Drezner’s piece makes clear, normalization is the best route for the United States to take:
. . . while the benefits of catalytic carrots are not all that great, the status quo policy was worse. Way worse.
It’s not like 50 years of economic sanctions altered Cuba’s regime. Sure, Cuba’s chief economic patron Venezuela is ailing right now, but Cuba endured far worse when the USSR disintegrated and the Special Period started. So anyone who tells you that the sanctions just needed more a little time to work is flat-out delusional. After more than a half-century, they were never going to work.
Read the whole thing for more. Meanwhile, Will Wilkinson–who in a just world would take over Andrew Sullivan’s blog while Sullivan slinks off to an inglorious retirement–takes on those who fret that Cuba will be somehow polluted by American consumerism:
Look, I totally understand the sentiment. There is something singular and vivid about a vibrant, tropical ruin frozen in the 1950s. Cuba is a showcase of dilapidated anti-commercial mid-century nostalgia, and I too sort of wish I had gone to see it, just as I wouldn’t mind having seen Soviet Leningrad. Come to think of it, it would be pretty interesting to see the slave ships coming into harbor in prebellum Savannah. What a scene those auctions must have been! But the human part of me, the moral part, as opposed to the aesthetic and amorally curious tourist part, can only regret that slaving Savannah and communist Russia lasted as long as they did, and today I can be nothing but hopeful that something like freedom is finally coming to the Cubans. If it does, and I make it to Havana, and see a McDonald’s, I will walk into that McDonalds, buy a large Diet Coke, and pour a little on the ground in half-sincere mourning for the pretty, impoverished theme park of tyranny I never had the chance to see.
Walter Russell Mean–whose opinion always merits serious consideration and respect–is also pleased with the deal:
This is one of those cases, increasingly rare, where President Obama can please his base while serving the national interest. The standoff with Cuba serves no real American interest and hands our enemies a useful propaganda tool. Furthermore, a policy that denies Americans the right to travel to countries of their choice is an infringement of personal liberty that could only be justified by a serious security concern. (A travel ban to Syria, for example, might have some merit.) The argument that Cuba, however bad its intentions, poses such a concern has been a joke since the fall of the Soviet Union, and there is no sound justification for limiting the rights of Americans to visit the island.
Mead also goes on to point out that if we really want to undermine and endanger the Castro regime, we will end the embargo–which will take congressional action:
. . . The Castro government isn’t dying to have hundreds of thousands of well-heeled Cuban-Americans descending on Havana and buying the island back as foreign investors. Fidel and Raul have never wanted a total end to the embargo; they have understood for decades that the embargo acts to protect their socialist experiment. If the U.S. repealed the embargo, the Cuban government would have to choose between two unattractive courses. It could move toward normal and open economic relations with the United States, swamping its underdeveloped and scrawny local economy with gringo dollars and influence (with Miami Cubans leading the charge), or it would have to enact a tight set of regulations aimed at keeping American and Cuban American money and investors from overwhelming the island. That would make it crystal clear to every Cuban citizen that the Cuban government needs to keep the island isolated and poor in order to protect its grip on power.
Cuba’s strategic objective has always been to keep the embargo up and to make the embargo look like America’s fault. This has always made for odd relations between Cuban authorities and do-gooding American liberals anxious to heal the breach and help a poor, third-world country. U.S. liberal agendas and Cuban agendas mesh much less than liberals often think, and the Cubans have at times deliberately sabotaged efforts by American liberals to improve relations.
Speaking of Congress and its members, kudos to Jeff Flake for doing what he could on the Republican side to normalize relations. Here’s hoping that he and others can work to end the embargo as well–an action which will serve American interests for all of the reasons Mead outlines.