Cuba, US diplomatic reset: politics versus policy of Obama Administration’s reengagement policies
Politically, the image of the US President shaking hands with the Communist leader of Cuban is mortifying. If President Obama was facing reelection, his opponents and every Ring-wing super pac would be airing commercial after commercial featuring his handshake as proof positive that Obama is a full-blown socialist out to destroy America’s “free market” economy and enslave the American People. They would likely proceed to show snapshots of the Administration’s efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran while they might go so far as to frame America’s diplomatic reset with countries like Myanmar as a sign President Obama is a sociopathic dictator.
In doing so, however, they would undermine what positive changes made in Myanmar and make it more difficult to resolve the lingering legacy of the military dictatorship. Unrelenting criticism over simply attempting to reengage Iran, for example, has undermined the process of negotiating a nuclear deal and addressing the other grieves the world has with the rogue state. Consequently, critics would be wise to avoid demonizing the Obama Administration for its attempts to reengage isolated countries. That is if they are truly more concerned about America’s interests than their own political gain.
Whether one approves of the Administration’s approach or not, the fact that President Obama is overwhelmingly more popular in Cuba than the ruling Castro brothers, coupled with the reality that a majority of Cubans want freed from their island prison, provides an opportunity to dispel anti-American sentiments and bolster diplomatic relations throughout our own hemisphere, as well as the world. After all, South Americans and Latin Americans tend to view America’s isolation of Cuban as an outdated Cold War practice that has no practical policy implications today.
Meanwhile, it is just as hard to ignore the burst of mass celebration in Iran following the announcement that a framework for a nuclear deal had been reached and rising pro-American sentiments that followed the Obama Administration support of peaceful protesters during the Arab Spring Revolutions.
A great deal of the problem stems from the very nature of the embargo/sanctions placed on Cuba and other isolated countries. Although the Cuban Embargo made it illegal to support the Cuban economy, thereby preventing support of the Communist government that threatened the US with nuclear weapons and nationalized, a.k.a. stole, the properties of US businesses, it did more to economically suppress the Cuban People than hurt the offending leadership. In many respects, the isolation of the Cuban population from the global economy made them more dependent on the Castro regime, thus the Cuban Embargo helped strengthen Fidel Castro’s grip on power.
What the Cuban Embargo did was undermine the interests of the Cuban People in order to punish the Cuban government for its misbehavior. If the Cubans could have overthrown the Castro regime, the motivation for the ouster would have been would been rooted in the Cuban Embargo. Because the Cuban People could not, the Cuban Embargo came to punish the Cuban People for being oppressed by their Communist government, which turned the US into an oppressive force as seen through the eyes of Communist propaganda.
Currently, the only motivation for maintaining the Cuban Embargo is the oppression policies of the Castro regime toward the Cuban People. Because the Cuban Embargo reinforces, instead of undermines, the power of the Castro regime, a shift in US policy is needed. From the Arab Spring Revolutions, the US has learned American policy must be directed at supporting the interests of the Peoples of the world, instead of punishing or supporting the interests of governments. Consequently, the goal of lifting the Cuban Embargo and normalization relations with Cuba must be to serve American interests as well as the interests of the Cuban People. In doing so, America can, once again, become a beacon of freedom and hope, instead of an oppressive empire to rebel against.
That said, the December 2014 announcement that the Obama Administration was planning to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, after months of secret negotiations, was quite the shock to the American political system. As the Obama Administration offered Cuba a number of major rewards, including a new US embassy, before even telling the American People he was pursuing a diplomatic reset with Cuba, it is understandable that the 180-degree shift on a five-decades long policy of isolation would encounter some fairly-heavy scrutiny. The unfortunate escalating dysfunction of the US political system was almost certainly the motivation behind the secret negotiations, but the Obama Administration cannot make promises in secret and expect the Country go along with whatever he negotiated.
Furthermore, the slow transition of Myanmar from oppressive military rule to democracy has been helped along by the United States rewarding Myanmar with an easing of sanctions and the normalization of diplomatic ties. There are, however, still major concerns over military interference in the political system and flagrant human rights violations. As such, Myanmar, Iran, Cuba, and others must be offered frameworks that provide specific rewards for specific steps taken while consequences must be applied when these governments regress. Although an overly chummy Obama Administration is bad politics, when it comes to dealing with Cuba, and provokes counterproductive backlash, critics must also frame valid criticism to include better policy options.
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