I’m still on the fence about the idea of unraveling the Cuban embargo, but over at WaPo Dan Drezner makes the most concise, convincing case I’ve seen.
But I’m not sold. Because even as he argues that over the medium term, normalization will (marginally) increase the chances of liberalization in Cuba (Drezner guesses “maybe from 2 percent to 10 percent”), he yields that the immediate effect will be to “extend the Cuban government’s ability to survive, not hasten its demise.” That’s because the Castros will most certainly direct new trade inflows to shore up internal support and reward loyalists.
Now I’m with Charles Lane and others in thinking that the embargo, while basically ineffectual, is nevertheless important as a matter of principle. So the question becomes: Why crap out on a half-century-old, principled stand, and reward human-rights-abusing evildoers, for that little upside? In the very least, why not wait until the Castros join the People’s Putrefaction Army before you cave? Why give Beardie McMarxis the last laugh?
Drezner rejects that premise for the same reasons I’ve seen deployed by just about every lefty with three credit hours of poli-sci and a Twitter account. The short version of which is: “The embargo is hypocritical because Saudi Arabia.”
But Drezner actually undermines this argument elsewhere in the post. In explaining why it’s wrong to compare the prospect of normalization with Cuba to the prospect of normalization with another bad actor like North Korea, he writes that “North Korea poses a serious security risk far beyond its human rights debacle. Its nuclear program makes the country a clear threat to key U.S. treaty allies.” In other words, you don’t deal with a major strategic threat in a region vital to U.S. interests the same way you deal with a octogenarian Commie in your backyard.
But of course that cuts both ways. You strike an alliance with a Saudi regime with a less-than-stellar human rights record because it’s surrounded by strategic threats in a region vital to U.S. interests. Cuba, by contrast, is parked in the middle of an American lake. We’ve had the run of the hemisphere for 120 years. If ever there’s a place where realist considerations leave room for taking a stand for liberty — even a largely symbolic one — it’s there.