Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cuban Policy Still a Failure

After some 45 years, US policy towards Cuba remains unchanged. We have had no diplomatic relations since the early 1960s, and we've had harsh economic sanctions in place since at least the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In a speech at the State Department this week, President Bush reiterated our hard-line stance against the isolated island and once again called for a Democratic process to be enacted in the communist regime. (Time: A Hard Line on Cuba.)

This is a familiar refrain, of late. Imposition of sanctions, severing contact with the government, and a call for Democratic reform have been our MO for the past 7 years. You'd think we'd have learned by now that the aforementioned combination simply doesn't work. We've had sanctions in place against Cuba for 45 years. The only thing that will remove Castro from office, though, will be old age. Not suprisingly, sanctions have proven ineffective in dealing with Cuba.

We had sanctions in place against Iraq for over a decade as well. Those sanctions didn't work either, and culminated in the US lead invasion of Iraq four years ago. Sanctions are now in place against Iran - with even harsher sanctions announced today - and there's no reason to believe they'll work this time either. Economic sanctions, especially unilateral sanctions, are about the least effective diplomatic tool in the arsenal, yet we insist on imposing them time and time again.
The other diplomatic ploy that appears popular is the severance of diplomatic relations. If a nation does something you don't like, well, just withdraw your ambassador and refuse to talk to them. That'll get them to change their minds, right? Well, not exactly. Refusing to have discussions with any nation has never accomplished anything. Fortunately, we didn't take that attitude with the USSR throughout the Cold War, since dialogue throughout that period was essential in both our efforts to avoid disaster.

When it comes to nations we don't like such as North Korea, Iran, and Cuba, however, refusing to have a dialog appears to be the strategy of choice. I'm mindful of the words of wisdom imparted by Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island's signer of the Declaration of Independence, who reputedly said, "I've never heard of an issue that was so dangerous you couldn't talk about it." He had a point. Diplomacy doesn't work without dialog, yet that's the tactic we chose consistently.

The final trend that really concerns me is this effort to impose democracy around the world. Democracy isn't something you can impose on a people. It has to be a philosophy they embrace, and it has to be a natural evolution stemming from the form of government with which they are most familiar. Supporting nations that choose to implement a democracy of their own accord is laudable. Trying to impose it, however, is ludicrous.

Now, the political rhetoric throughout the Cold War certainly was one of promoting democracy. The difference, though, is that during the Cold War we never acted on it. Today, we seem bound and determined to impose democracy whether or not the nations in question actually want it. That policy backfired in the Palestinian territories with the free election of Hamas into a position of power. A democracy in Pakistan would result in a fundamentalist government sympathetic to al Qaeda. A democracy in Iraq, besides being impractical, would likely result in the election of Shiite extremists with close ties to Iran. Are we really sure this is what we want to promote?

So now we return to the question of Cuba. Sanctions didn't work. Political and economic isolation didn't work. Efforts to destabilize Castro's regime didn't work. Perhaps we should try something different. How about actually opening up full trade with Cuba? Has it not occurred to anyone that the influx of US capital in the form of tourist, manufacturing, and agricultural dollars would very quickly topple any communist tendencies remaining on the island? Imagine a Cuba lined with American cruise ships. How long do you think it would take them to adopt a capitalist mentality?

Cuba is not a threat to the US, but they could be an economic gold mine. All it will take is the courage to discard the childish "I'm not talking to you" mentality that has plagued our foreign policy since the Cuban Missile Crisis. It costs us nothing to remove the sanctions against Castro, and we have a lot to gain should we do it. There comes a time when one must abandon failed policies, and this would be a great time to do just that with regards to Cuba. It's also time to learn from those failures and avoid repeating them with Iran. I fear we're heading down the same dead-end path there with much more at stake.


No comments :