I’m in favor of interacting with Cuba diplomatically like we do with the world’s other decrepit countries ruled by gangsters, and just calling our embassy there an “embassy” rather than an “interests section.” We have an embassy in Zimbabwe, after all, and in Sudan and Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea and Azerbaijan, all ruled by what amount to mafias – why should Cuba be different? In fact, the “normal diplomatic relations” thing is largely symbolic, mainly affecting the sign on the door of the embassies that we already operate in each other’s countries. Here’s a picture of our embassy in Havana:
and here’s Cuba’s embassy in Washington:
But symbolism matters. The justification for our differential treatment of Cuba was that Castro had turned it into a foreign colony in the Western Hemisphere, thus representing a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, and not a colony of just any foreign country but of our chief enemy in the world, that was bent on global domination. Cuba was an enemy base in our backyard and all measures, including even the use of force, were fully justified.
It follows, then, that there were two obvious opportunities for ending this extraordinary situation and normalizing relations. The first came in 1991, with the disappearance of the USSR. Once the Soviet empire evaporated, there was no longer any real rationale for non-recognition and the embargo. Castro became a lackey without a master, a common gangster oppressing his people, like so many other gangsters oppressing other peoples. Having lost its Moscow benefactor, Cuba hit hard times, its people reduced to breading and frying grapefruit peels for sustenance.
But we didn’t change at that time.
The second opening would have come when Fidel Castro dies; he’s 88 and, while he could well live into his 90s, he’ll be checking out soon enough. As the embodiment of Communist rule, his death will be a milestone, even if his brother Raul, the current president, continues the regime’s rule.
Normalizing relations at either of those times would have communicated strength rather than weakness. A change in policy in either instance would have been seen as (and actually have been) the act of a victor, one that outlasted the USSR or Castro and now could return to the normal relationship a great power has with a puny nonentity.
Instead, Obama has normalized relations with Cuba in such a way as to communicate maximum weakness. The move is rightly being hailed as a victory for Cuba, both by the regime and by its lickspittles in the U.S. To wit:
Cuba 1, USA 0. Congrats on winning the longest game on record. Ok fellow Americans, let's not be sore losers! #infieldflyrule
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) December 17, 2014
When piled onto Obama’s other foreign-policy failures — the red line in Syria, the non-response to the Benghazi attack, the almost-certain non-response to North Korea’s attack on the United States, the talk of sanctions on Israel, just to name a few — even a foreign-policy minimalist like me starts to get worried. I’m for much less involvement in other countries’ business, but when that’s approached like Obama is approaching it — as weakness and retreat rather than a clearly defined narrowing of U.S. vital interests — the thugs and bandits who run much of the world will be emboldened to push us around. At some point we’re going to pay a price for Obama’s feckless and timid foreign policy; the smarter people in the White House are probably just hoping they can ride out the next two years without that bill coming due on their watch.