It was announced a couple of days ago that the Obama administration had concluded months of secret negotiations (facilitated by Canada and the Vatican) leading to the diplomatic recognition of Communist Cuba. The deal includes the exchange of ambassadors; the humanitarian release of an American held unjustly in Cuba; an exchange of captured spies (three of theirs for one of ours); and the easing of some economic and financial restrictions. President Obama will also ask Congress to end the half-century old embargo against the neo-Stalinist island.
Now, to be clear, I’m not unshakably opposed to opening relations with Cuba. Few policies are etched in stone, and, as circumstances change, so should policy if it no longer serves American interests. And there are rational arguments to be made in favor of relaxation. For example, my friend Jazz Shaw is of the “it wasn’t working, so let’s try something else” school, while analyst Tom Nichols makes “The Conservative Case” for normalizing relations. (For cogent rebuttals, please read Andrew McCarthy and Fausta)
So, like I said, there are rational arguments on both sides of the matter.
But, look at it another way. Try looking at it like a good capitalist would and ask yourself “What’s in this for us?”
A deal like this is a transaction in which each party gives up something of value to get something it values. What you’re getting is (or should be) worth as much or more to you than what you gave up. Otherwise, why are you making the deal?
And that’s where I’m stumped; I can’t figure out what we got that’s worth anything like what we are giving away. Consider:
If the agreement is carried out, the US gives up:
- Official recognition of the Castro regime
- Permission to export to US markets, potentially worth billions
- Access to US financial markets, see above
- Lots of US tourists and the dollars they’ll bring
Cuba gives up:
- An unjustly held American
- A spy who had been working for us.
- See what the US gives up, and remember this will probably strengthen and shore up the regime, since all those dollars have to flow through them, first.
The USA gets:
In other words,”What, exactly?” American recognition and the end of the embargo is of incredible value to Cuba’s struggling totalitarian regime, possibly guaranteeing its survival for decades to come. Is giving all that up worth what amounts to an ornament for Obama’s legacy? I don’t think we’re getting a good deal for our side.
Jazz and others argue that times have changed and that Obama was right to change policies from something that wasn’t working.
My argument is that since the policy (embargo and non-recognition) was not significantly harming us; since lifting it probably won’t measurably help the Cuban people (what incentive to liberalize do the Castros have now?), but does reinforce the idea that we will bargain for hostages; and since we aren’t getting anything of equal or greater value, why not keep the policy in place? It isn’t as if we’re talking about China or Russia, where other factors would outweigh our outrage at their barbaric record on political and economic liberty. American recognition and trade is an incredibly valuable asset worth far more than what Cuba offers (even if they do make great cigars); the Castros need us far more than we need them. If they want it, let them give us something big. Here’s what I would ask for at a minimum:
- The release of all political prisoners
- An end to media censorship
- Tolerance for and free participation by opposition political parties
- Religious liberty
I suspect the Fidel and Raul would turn down my offer.
The making of bad deals, however, is a trademark of the Obama administration. Senator Rubio (R-Fl), who’s livid over the agreement, puts it succinctly:
“I think the people of Cuba have a right, if they are free, to choose any economic system they want. Nothing the president will announce today will further that goal. It is ironic a week after he imposed sanctions on human rights violators in Venezuela, we are lifting sanctions on the government that has taught the Venezuelans how to commit these human rights violations,” Rubio continued. “It’s absurd, and it’s part of long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established.”
“It’s par for the course and administration possibly giving away unilateral concessions for Iran or Cuba in exchange for nothing,” said the Florida senator. “His foreign policy is, at a minimum, naive, and perhaps truly counterproductive to the future of democracy in the region.”
“Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we’ve had as president since at least Jimmy Carter, and maybe in the modern history of this country,” Rubio concluded.
Yes. Yes he is. Rubio could also have mentioned the bizarre trade of five vicious Taliban warlords in return for one alleged deserter, Bowe Bergdahl.
The question is, why? Why make a deal with Cuban oligarchs that gives away the store in return for bupkis? Aside from Obama’s general leftist affinity for Socialist tyrannies and aside from political changes in the younger generation of Cuban-Americans that leads then to care less and less about the issue, I have another sneaking suspicion. Way back in the 60s and 70s, the leadership of the Weather Underground were great fans of the Cuban revolution and, especially, of Che Guevara. One of those leaders was Bill Ayers, who became a professor at the University of Chicago and then became close with one Barack Obama.
And now, years later, President Obama showers gifts on Cuba.
RELATED READING: The Diplomad: “The Castros pull it off again.” Elliott Abrams: The triumph of ideology over US national interests. McCarthy: Rewarding Castro in return for nothing. Rubio: Not so fast with that embassy construction, bud. Sean Davis: Free trade with Cuba is a fantasy. Mike Gonzalez: Obama didn’t tell the whole story about Cuba. Legal Insurrection: Is this the opening of Rubio’s campaign for president?
UPDATE: Reader SteveInTN links to an analysis at Stratfor suggesting major problems for Venezuela arising from this deal. One can only hope.