America’s Cuban Policy: Nostalgia for Cold War

In the wake of Sept. 11, U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba finally made some sense. It’s nostalgia for the way the world was.

Back when Godless totalitarians roamed too far but played by the old ruthless rules of engagement. Some spying, some overthrowing, some proxy fighting, The occasional Korea and Vietnam. Back when being the enemy meant you were a hegemonous capitalist — not a satanic infidel.

Anyone want to trade Al Qaeda zealots pursuing paradise for the Warsaw Pact armies staking out geopolitical high ground? Fatwa fanatics and jihad junkies for fellow travelers? Those pushing payback for the Crusades or paving the way for a proletarian playground? Those rallying around “God is great” and “infidels die” or “workers of the world unite”?

How else to explain this atavistic approach to Cuba that more resembles an exhumed cold war time capsule than a relevant 21st century foreign policy?

Recall that détente was not incompatible with the old Soviet Union and we did business with the mass murderer who was Mao. We’ve normalized relations with Vietnam, with whom we went to war — and lost 58,000 G.I.’s. The Bush administration keeps reiterating that it is willing to meet with North Korea, an official “axis of evil” charter member, any time, any place.

Anyhow, Cuba is different. Too close, geographically and personally, and too politically sensitive. And no U.S. president, Democrat or Republican, wants to be remembered — even if it’s only by the sovereign state of Miami — as the one who “gave in” in to Fidel Castro, the personification of Cuban revolution and expropriation. Ironically, such a president would be yielding instead to humanitarianism, common sense, international credibility and enlightened self-interest — most demonstrably that of the American business community.

While visiting Cuba in 2000, I heard first hand — from a spokesperson at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana as well as befriended Cubans — what it would take to meaningfully change the U.S.-Cuba dynamic and end the four-decade-old embargo. It would take what everyone knows it would take: the 75-year-old Castro’s demise, referred to euphemistically as the “biological solution.” That would give pragmatism a chance, whether the U.S. President is George Bush or the Cuban leader is Raul Castro.

But until then don’t look for dramatic, even reasonable change. Just incremental erosion of the embargo while Castro defiantly lives on. So, don’t be fooled by Congressional rumblings that grow ever louder over the embargo and the un-American travel ban on U.S. citizens. And don’t be misled by the recently approved visit to Cuba this spring by former President Jimmy Carter, an outspoken critic of the embargo.

Look no further than how the Bush Administration overreacted last week to the issuance of visas to Cuban officials coming to the U.S. to oversee food purchases (allowed under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000). The White House trumped its own State Department and pulled the visas, thus endangering a $25-million deal for pork, turkey, beef, wheat and eggs.

The ham-handed act spoke volumes. It said Florida could also decide the 2004 presidential election, and no one in the Administration wants to send the wrong signal to hardline exiles in South Florida. Whatever it signals to the rest of the country, especially America’s farmers, obviously matters much less.

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