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Cuba and “Credibility”

There are a lot of overwrought hawkish reactions to the news about Cuba, but Elliott Abrams’ response [1] may be the most risible:

The American collapse with respect to Cuba will have repercussions in the Middle East and elsewhere—in Asia, for the nations facing a rising China, and in Europe, for those near Putin’s newly aggressive Russia. What are American guarantees and promises worth if a fifty-year-old policy followed by Democrats like Johnson, Carter, and Clinton can be discarded overnight?

To call this mindless would be generous. This takes a typical hawkish loathing of diplomatic engagement and mixes it together with absurd beliefs about “credibility” to create a completely irrational reaction. Restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba isn’t going to have negative “repercussions” around the world. For one thing, persisting in a useless policy towards Cuba doesn’t tell us anything about Washington’s willingness to back up its guarantees elsewhere in the world. It does hint that the U.S. is eventually capable of recognizing policy failure when it is staring it in the face, and that has to be modestly reassuring to our allies and regional neighbors.

If there are any repercussions from this decision, they are all likely to benefit America. Latin American governments will have less of a reason to fault U.S. policy towards Cuba. The U.S. will be able to demonstrate that it is still capable of resuming relations with states that it has previously treated as pariahs, and that might make U.S. diplomacy more effective in other places. Resuming relations with a close neighbor is the obvious thing for the U.S. to do. That is not going to make any U.S. guarantees anywhere in the world less meaningful. So the U.S. loses nothing by scrapping part of its failed Cuba policy. Acknowledging the failure of a policy that the rest of the world knows to be worthless doesn’t damage America’s standing with anyone. Normalizing relations with an old adversary doesn’t undermine guarantees to any other state. It does tell the rest of the world that the U.S. is getting closer to eliminating another worthless policy left over from the Cold War.

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22 Comments To "Cuba and “Credibility”"

#1 Comment By tomemos On December 17, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

“What are American guarantees and promises worth if a fifty-year-old policy followed by Democrats like Johnson, Carter, and Clinton can be discarded overnight?” So as I understand it, the longer a policy doesn’t work, the more imperative it is that we not change it?

#2 Comment By James Canning On December 17, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

More absolute rubbish from Elliott Abrams. Foolish US policy toward Cuba has impeded economic and political reform in that country.
And, most European diplomats have regarded with contempt US embargo of Cuba.

#3 Comment By John On December 17, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

@tomemos/1:34 p.m.:

Exactly. The rest of the world has to understand that we will not change our policy simply because it doesn’t work. It makes the rest of our idiotic foreign policy decisions more predictable, which is what credibility means.

Hire me, Weekly Standard!

#4 Comment By HyperIon On December 17, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

How long til someone on the right states that the Cubans will put ebola virus in the cigars?

#5 Comment By EngineerScotty On December 17, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

If we could normalize relations with Vietnam after engaging in a decade-long shooting war in that country, I see no reason (other than domestic politics and Florida being a swing state) to normalize them with Cuba.

#6 Comment By Icarusr On December 17, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

I guess that whole KenyanMuslim thing was a distraction for the ultimate objective: to sell American to the Castros.

#7 Comment By arrScott On December 17, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

In most of the rest of the world, including capitals and elite opinion, our Cuba embargo is seen as an insane commitment that harms American interests without any meaningful effect on Havana’s behavior. You don’t gain “credibility” by demonstrating your willingness to harm yourself for no good reason. Our Cuba policy is the equivalent of a cop shouting to a hostage-taker, “Let the woman go or I’ll shoot myself!” And then shooting himself in the leg, and repeating the threat.

#8 Comment By BD On December 17, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

“If we could normalize relations with Vietnam after engaging in a decade-long shooting war in that country, I see no reason (other than domestic politics and Florida being a swing state) to normalize them with Cuba.”

I think that’s exactly it–anyone favoring continuing the embargo should explain exactly what makes the embargo more appropriate for Cuba than for Vietnam, or why it is more likely to work there. The loss of property for Cuban emigrees is really no different from the loss of property for Vietnamese emigrees, except the former happens to be more politically powerful in this country.

#9 Comment By Kurt Gayle On December 17, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

US policies toward Cuba since the Revolution have been counterproductive. The policies never made any sense in terms of US national interests. (But I’m not certain that in a lot of ways the Cubans have not been better off.)

For what follows I’m especially smiling: The Cuban baseball season has been underway for a month. A lot of US baseball fans can hardly wait for permission to travel to Cuba to catch some games. If I were an mlb scout, I would be packing my bags right now!

But for tonight I propose a long overdue toast: Here’s to the Cuban and American people and to a complete restoration of US-Cuban relations! (And I hope and pray that there will never be a return to the American victimization of Cuba — to the Batista sort of Cuba that served as a giant casino, sweatshop, and brothel for Americans.)

#10 Comment By a Zook On December 17, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

@ Kurt. Love your last paragraph. Can I add a collective apology to the Cuban people for the obtuseness of both our governments – but especially from the US side because, really, we’re the elephant in this situation and we had the power to make things different a long time ago…and we didn’t. I’m sorry. Looking forward as you say, Kurt, to what good can come of this.
(And to GOP hardliners – your obtuseness, your attitude, your inability to rationally self-reflect is beginning to match or exceed the worst of any anti-democratic ideologue throughout history…no wonder most people around the world, besides your own voters, scorn you.)

#11 Comment By Leo H On December 17, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

Hate to be a jerk…ok I like being a jerk ….but without the free import of Cuban cigars I and most smoking Americans could give a rat’s ass. Where are the cigars?

#12 Comment By David Lindsay On December 17, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

I can’t find my cigar cutter anywhere.

One of the Compañero Presidente‘s finest has been sitting in my dinner jacket for years, and tonight seems like its night. I had always assumed that it would be the day after Fidel died. But not a day before.

I can confirm that no one associated with either of the Clintons has been anywhere near my cigar.

The American blockade of Cuba has only ever served to attract sympathy to a regime that did not deserve it. Cuba is the country to which one ought to move if one wants a government that persecutes homosexuality.

The Cuban pretend-exiles are in fact economic migrants and free to go back any time they like. Far from being conservative, the merely wish to restore the Cuba that existed before 1959, a giant drug den and brothel for the American super-rich.

Hence the refusal of the late Oswaldo Payá, of his Christian Liberation Movement and of its Varela Project to have anything to do with them, and their refusal to have anything to with that Project, or with that Movement, or with Payá.

From that background comes Marco Rubio, denying that trade with the United States and fraternization with Americans would lead to political freedom. It need not, necessarily. But is he really saying that? Is the Republican Party? Well, I never.

Now, onwards to the Nobel Peace Prize for the Pope.

#13 Comment By Captain P On December 17, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

So let me get Elliot Abrams straight. Any time the US changes a policy, it is “inevitable” that we will change all our other policies too? He makes no attempt to explain what Cuba has to do with Iran, so that’s the only way I see to make his argument consistent.

#14 Comment By EngineerScotty On December 17, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

He makes no attempt to explain what Cuba has to do with Iran, so that’s the only way I see to make his argument consistent.

Does Iran make good cigars? 🙂

#15 Comment By William Dalton On December 17, 2014 @ 8:36 pm

“So let me get Elliot Abrams straight. Any time the US changes a policy, it is “inevitable” that we will change all our other policies too? He makes no attempt to explain what Cuba has to do with Iran, so that’s the only way I see to make his argument consistent.”

Bingo! This is exactly what Abrams fears. When Americans see that resumption of normal trade relations with Cuba improves life for the people of that country, as it did for China, and that the security of Americans in their own nation did not collapse as a result, they may begin to conclude the same might be true if we lifted sanctions on Iran and Russia, too.

#16 Comment By tbraton On December 17, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

As usual, Larison, you are missing the big picture. I have it on good authority that Raul Castro is the next Hitler. And you are applauding this diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba? It’s Neville Chamberlain and Munich all over again.

#17 Comment By Emilio On December 17, 2014 @ 10:06 pm

What wonderful developments. The only thing that would make this better: a concurrent emptying of the Gitmo supermax. The Pope might start sending his next round of letters to the appropriate parties, though he may find some of them less reasonable than Raul Castro.

#18 Comment By cecelia On December 17, 2014 @ 10:23 pm

Maybe we should now assign the Pope and Canadians some of our other foreign policy conundrums to solve?

Menendez Rubio and friends will of course make themselves look like idiots over this which may be to the good.

#19 Comment By Duncan On December 17, 2014 @ 11:30 pm

“… the obtuseness of both our governments …”

This looks like typical journalism-style false balance to me. Whatever else bad you can say about it (and you can say a lot bad about it), Castro’s government has hardly been obtuse. They know the US wants Cuba under its heel again, they know that the US worked for decades to overthrow them and replace them with another Latin-American style US client, they know that the US waged terrorist war against the Cuban people for years, they would never suppose that the US government has the interests of the Cuban people in mind. For all its repressiveness, Castro’s Cuba doesn’t compare to US clients like El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Somoza’s Nicaragua, Duvalier’s Haiti, Montt’s Guatemala, Pinochet’s Chile, and so on. So I don’t understand what you’re saying there.

Another commenter said that his father wasn’t calling for the US to invade Cuba. That’s good, but why not? We did in fact invade Cuba; our invasion failed.

#20 Comment By Baltasar On December 18, 2014 @ 1:27 am

Smaller countries will always be at the mercy of more powerful neighbors. It’s a shame that Cuba will likely be re-Americanized in the worst way possible and become as vapid and vacuous as Puerto Rico.

#21 Comment By cfountain72 On December 18, 2014 @ 10:03 am

“What are American guarantees and promises worth if a fifty-year-old policy followed by Democrats like Johnson, Carter, and Clinton can be discarded overnight?”

I assume Mr. Abrams lost no sleep over the US decision to torture dozens of detainees in direct contradiction to many longstanding “American guarantees and promises” that we would not do so. That didn’t cost us any ‘credibility’, did it?

Apparently, for clueless isolationists like Mr. Abrams, ‘credibility’ is only earned when you attack another state and fail (e.g. Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan).

Peace be with you.

#22 Comment By Ken_L On December 19, 2014 @ 10:26 pm

Abrams is right to be worried. If Obama can’t behave like a pettily vindictive a-hole towards Cuba, maybe he’ll decide not to keep carrying a grudge against Iran for the 1979 hostage incident. Then where will neo-con ambitions be?