After a sustained effort in clandestine diplomacy, the White House has recognized Cuba. Yet, the Obama administration has failed to explain convincingly why, for Christmas, it has decided to bless a Communist totalitarian dictatorship, second only in ruthlessness to the North Korean satrapy. Nonrecognition was a symbolic policy of our objection to the trampling of the island’s freedom. It was a powerful sign of our refusal to acquiesce in Cuba’s enslavement. True, we had no immediate plans to liberate the nation, but we morally condemned its Red slave masters.
The power of symbols in the policy of nonrecognition was palpable. Despite the fact that most of our allies, notably the EU and Canada, did business with Cuba, America stressed its exceptionalism for over half a century by refusing to treat the totalitarians as normal partners. Nonrecognition gave free Cubans at home and abroad hope that, first, the world’s leading power identified with their plight, and, second, that freedom was a universal norm that the United States would never compromise on. That policy is no more. The current administration has thus abandoned the moral high ground we occupied vis-à-vis the Castro regime following the betrayal of free Cubans at the Bay of Pigs by an earlier Democrat team in 1961.
One could argue that we should not have really expected anything after Franklin D. Roosevelt abandoned half of Europe to the Soviets at Yalta in 1945. Yet in that case FDR’s successors could claim that Stalin and his henchmen failed to honor the agreement to hold democratic elections in Poland and other captive nations. This, of course, was rather disingenuous because only children could expect anything else from the Red dictator. But at least the Democrats had an alibi. What is Obama’s excuse for betraying Cuba?
The most frequent claim is that nonrecognition “didn’t work.” Actually, as mentioned, it did work very well for half a century. If the United States was unwilling either to back free Cubans or liberate Cuba ourselves, the policy of American ostracism toward the Castros made sense. What does the Obama administration propose? Why did it recognize the Castro tyranny? Let us consider the reasons, stated and unstated, behind President Obama’s actions.
First, let us consider the most unlikely one. Perhaps the president has a plan to liberate Cuba. Yet, he has failed to elucidate it. Perhaps the plan is so secret that it is tucked away in the clandestine compartment containing our current Middle Eastern strategy. But enough jesting. If Obama is serious about liberating Cuba, it means all our covert and overt actions, including people to people diplomacy, public diplomacy, political warfare, and covert operations have one goal: the liberation of the island. I doubt very much that this is the grand scheme behind the White House’s move. At best, we shall hear half-whispers about “convergence,” the taming of the Communists, making them “just like us,” even coopting them. It worked out fantastically well in Russia and the rest of the post-Soviet zone, where the post-Communists, following an orgy of embezzlement, continue to dominate the post-totalitarian landscape as “social democrats,” “liberals,” and “nationalists.” Good luck with Cuba.
But where is liberation? Recognition is not synonymous with liberation. Raul Castro has stressed emphatically that Communism stays in Cuba. So the Red regime has gained all it wants, while the U.S. actively countenances Havana’s system and becomes complicit in all it entails. We must assume that there is no secret plan to liberate the island and that the Obama administration moved to abandon the free Cubans for another reason, pragmatism perhaps.
The White House’s defenders charge that pragmatism and realism require recognition, just like we extended same to the Soviet Union, China, and other unsavory tyrannies. Perhaps. However, following the realist school, one can also argue that the policy of nonrecognition of world giants was unsustainable in a long run and we were forced to come to terms with those regimes for reasons of national security and expediency. No similar compelling reasons apply to Communist Cuba. It is too small and too weak to matter. We could have exercised our idealism on Cuba with impunity for the foreseeable future, which would please the realists, too. The recognition of its Red regime by the Obama administration was superfluous. For reasons of national security and American exceptionalism we could have afforded to refuse to embrace the Castros, who are the most egregious aggressors against freedom in the Americas.
The supporters of the White House indubitably will also posit that precisely because Red Cuba is so weak and small that its recognition was long overdue. Once again, if we let small and weak get away with violations of human rights and permit them to carry out atrocities against its own citizens with impunity, what kind of a signal does it send to the rest of the world? Ah, but the U.S. should not be the world’s policeman. We respond: nonrecognition of nefarious dictatorships does not translate into policing the world, only in disapproving and condemning those who hate freedom. Words and gestures do matter.
Well, the apologists for the pro-Castro move argue that we scrapped nonrecognition because it froze us in time and did not bear any concrete fruit. Yet, freezing a situation can have salubrious effects by postponing dealing with it until a proper solution is found. Once again, if we were not willing to liberate Cuba, freezing the relations made sense. But what about “engagement”? For 50 years we were absent from Cuba and, thus, could not be “engaged.” Now we are going to be engaged, enthuses the White House. So in Obama’s mind it is not about liberating Cuba, but about “engagement.” That means that Washington is interested in “the process” of engagement. It does not matter if we achieve any results, such as restoring freedom to Havana, so long as we are engaged. U.S. diplomats will go through the motions, meeting with their counterparts and staying “engaged.” That’s exactly what brought us success vis-à-vis the Soviets during the Cold War: engagement. Not peace through strength?
For many at the Foggy Bottom and the foreign policy establishment “the process” is key to their raison d'être. I’m sure the new Cuba policy will be popular there. After the splendid success of the engagement sans recognition with Iran and North Korea we shall have engagement with recognition in Cuba.
Poor Cuba. Poor free Cubans. So far we can see the demoralizing results of cozying up to the tyrants. The Obama administration has succeeded in demobilizing and dispiriting Cuban exiles and their progeny. There is no Ferguson in Miami. And America’s Cubans should be sending an unequivocal message to the White House on the behalf of their enslaved sisters and brothers: “no hay justicia no hay paz.” Not for the sake of “the process,” or the president’s youthful romance with Che Guevara and other socialist mass murderers, this must be for the sake of freedom. Merry Christmas, Mr. President.