Hope In Change Is Not a Valid Doctrine
Sebastian Arcos – Associate Director of the Cuban Research Institute at
Florida International University (FIU)
Hope In Change Is Not a Valid Doctrine
Posted: 01/10/2015 10:41 am EST Updated: 01/10/2015 10:59 am EST
It was not my intention to turn this essay into a critique of President
Obama’s foreign policy, mainly because I wanted to avoid bringing the
red herring of partisanship into what ought to be a debate about the
best interests of the US in Cuba. Besides, although twice I did not vote
for Mr. Obama, I actually agree with some of his policy decisions, such
as trying to close the Guantanamo prison, or relaxing restrictions on
Cuban-American travel and remittances to the island. Still, it is
impossible to discuss the recent changes in US policy toward Cuba
outside the context of President Obama’s entire foreign-policy record.
A few years ago, the President defined the tenet of his foreign policy
as “Don’t Do Stupid S…” The more I look at this Castro deal, the more
I see it as another example of that same stupid stuff he wished to
avoid. In this light, his latest exploit belongs right next to other
foreign-policy disasters, such as the Russian reset, the Syrian red line
and the handling of the Egyptian crisis.
By almost every parameter, this agreement with Castro is a bad one.
First, President Obama ignored Alan Gross’ predicament for almost five
years while the hostage’s health deteriorated. Then he rushed in to
negotiate under pressure, to avoid the black eye the death of the
hapless Mr. Gross would have represented. Once at the negotiating table,
Mr. Obama reneged on his principle that a swap for the convicted Cuban
spies was unacceptable, and went on to release them. Then he went
farther, and gave Castro another item from his wish list: removing Cuba
from the roster of countries that support terrorism. Then he went even
farther and granted Castro the political legitimacy implied by US
diplomatic recognition — the legitimacy he craves to perpetuate his
regime in the hands of his chosen heirs. All this in exchange for
little, aside from the emaciated Mr. Gross.
Thus, President Obama not only handed Castro a huge propaganda victory,
but also created a dangerous precedent by signaling our enemies that
major policy concessions can be gained by taking an American hostage.
What’s worse, he relinquished the two basic tenets of our Cuba policy:
the principle of reciprocity — whereby the US would relax their policy
of isolation as the Castros relaxed their absolute control over the
island — and the emphasis on genuine freedom for the Cuban people. On
this last issue, Mr. Obama broke his personal promise to Cuban dissidents.
The justification for this dramatic reversal can be summarized in three
words: “Hope in Change.” Mr. Obama hopes that his change will achieve
three goals: to tilt Cuba’s internal dynamic toward a transition to
democracy; to encourage Latin American nations to pressure Cuba to
improve its human-rights record; and to enhance the perception of the US
in the region. I fear he will be sorely disappointed on all three.
Blaming the US is too valuable a commodity for Latin American populists
to discard it so easily. It is naïve to believe that the same nations
who have insisted on Cuba joining the OAS and the Summit of the Americas
will apply any significant pressure on the human-rights issue. Hoping
that American engagement will substantially change Cuba’s internal
dynamic goes beyond wishful thinking. Why would American engagement
succeed where others have failed? Is American engagement inherently
superior to others?
This is possibly the most important flaw in the liberal approach to
US-Cuba policy. Curiously, the same people who reject the idea of
American exceptionalism are willing to believe that American engagement
will make all the difference in Cuba. They are imbued by a belief — I
call it the “reaction theory” — that explains everything that happens
in Cuba as a reaction to an American action. According to this, Fidel
Castro embraced the Soviets because of US hostility, or invaded Angola
to derail President Carter’s attempt to normalize relations. This
profoundly racist theory consistently overestimates the power of US
engagement, and underestimates the Cubans’ ability to exercise free will
and make decisions as rational actors.
The truth is that the Cuban regime has always favored internal control
above all else, including the welfare of its own people. No enticement
will be sufficient to change their minds. This will begin to change only
when a new generation takes the reins of power. It was in that
eventuality where the old policy had its best chance to work. By
surrendering our incentives now, this deal squandered that possibility,
decreasing the chance of near-term democratization in favor of goals
that are, at best, uncertain.
It is true that foreign policy is a pragmatic business where you are
forced to make unsavory decisions to uphold other priorities. Cuba,
however, offered the US a rare opportunity to align national security
with a principled policy in support of democracy and human rights. In
favoring stability over regime change, this deal with Raul Castro smacks
of the times when the US legitimized cruel Latin American tyrannies for
the sake of geopolitical stability.
This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called “90 Miles:
Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations.” The series puts the
spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western
Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the
public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent
observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.
Source: Hope In Change Is Not a Valid Doctrine | Sebastian Arcos –