Cubing the Circle

Reopening relations with Cuba is a good decision.

They say even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

President Obama hasn't anywhere near this good a track record.  On rare occasion, he does make the right call by accident, and last week, he did.

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba have struck a deal to open embassies in each other's capitals and re-establish diplomatic relations for the first time in half a century.

"The progress we make today is another demonstration we don't have to be imprisoned by the past," Obama said.

First, a little history: America has had an embargo against Cuba since the early 1960s.  The embargo was delayed a little bit while President Kennedy's minions rounded up all the Cuban cigars they could find while it was still legal to do so.  He intended it to be a lifetime supply, and so it turned out to be.

His thousand cigars notwithstanding, even Kennedy can't have imagined that the embargo would last a full half-century.  The rule of the Castros has outlasted virtually every other national leader on earth, and while Fidel no longer holds the title of Head of State, he handed it off to his intellectual clone brother Raul.

The objective of the embargo was to cause the Cuban economy, and then the Castro regime, to collapse.  After fifty years of that not happening, it is safe to say that this strategy has failed miserably.

Kennedy should have known that his embargo would fail because it's not the first time we tried a similar plan.  After the Communist revolution of 1917, America and most of the rest of the world refused to recognize the Soviet government.  Only in 1933 did FDR finally bend to the obvious and establish diplomatic relations with the USSR.

That didn't make us friends, the WWII alliance of convenience against Hitler notwithstanding.  But right up until the fall of Communism in 1989, we had an embassy and an ambassador in Moscow and they had one here.  We were trading with them through most of that time too.

Why does this matter?  Because by our very presence, our way of life, our goods, our wealth, our example of liberty, we showed the Russian people that there could be something more.  Eventually, the Russian people decided to at least try to reach out and take it for themselves, and communism fell.  Russia today is far from a perfect place but at least it no longer has hundreds of thousands of gulag inmates.

If we had continued to reject any sort of official dealings or trade with Russia, it's hard to imagine that the Cold War would have ended as it did.  If you want somebody to change, the very least you must do is try to talk to them - and human nature being what it is, it's even more useful if talking to you brings them material benefits.  Ugly Americans we may be, but we've got an awful lot of cool loot and are generally willing to share.

Despite the passing of so much time, for various reasons involving domestic politics, no American president has come up with a way to square the political circle and loosen the clamps on Cuba.  The embargo's transparently counterproductive effects haven't made any difference up until now: there were just too many virulently anti-Castro Cuban exile voters in swing states.

Today, we see a sterling example of how the weaknesses of our political system occasionally become strengths.  We have long been worried about the potential for Obamian mischief once he no longer has another election to worry about, and our fears have been confirmed in spades.

At least we get one worthwhile thing out of Obama's newfound "flexibility": relations with Cuba.  Now we can let the overpowering might of American culture and enough wealth to make that little island sink under the load do what Kennedy's embargo utterly failed to do.  Maybe the Cubans will actually carry out their plans to improve their economy!

Credit where it's due: thanks for making the right call, President Obama.

If only we could expect another correct decision in, oh, about 12 hours from now!

Read other articles by Hobbes or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
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