President Obama delivered an interesting speech in Havana during his visit to Cuba in which he touted the benefits of normalization, promoted liberal principles, and called for an end to the embargo. Obama correctly observed that his visit to the island was the end of an outdated policy left over from the Cold War, and he said as much:
I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.
Normalization with Cuba is decades overdue, and it is ridiculous that it has taken the U.S. a quarter century since the end of the Cold War to recognize that continuing to penalize our neighbor is both futile and unnecessary. The president’s visit was an important demonstration that the U.S. is prepared to move past the old failed policy, and it could mark the beginning of a more productive and healthy relationship between the U.S. and Cuba in the coming years. The U.S should press ahead with ending the embargo, but that will be very difficult to manage as long as the GOP controls one or both houses of Congress.
Diplomatic engagement with Cuba is broadly popular with the American public. According to a recent CBS News poll, restoring diplomatic ties is favored by 58% and opposed by just 25%. Even among Republicans, 44% support restoring ties. 62% say that they think restored ties with Cuba will be mostly good for the U.S. (including 49% of Republicans), and a majority (55%) also supports ending the embargo.
Obama’s speech did challenge the Cuban government in a few areas, and the president’s decision to speak out in favor of rights of free speech, assembly, and peaceful protest on Cuban soil should leave hawkish dead-enders with little to complain about. But the president also emphasized that the isolation of our two countries should be viewed as an aberration, and stressed the benefits that both countries could enjoy from closer ties. As Obama said, a “policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century,” and it made no sense to continue it. Ending that isolation was in the best interests of both countries, and the president deserves credit for stopping a failed policy that might have continued on autopilot for another decade if he hadn’t made a point of changing it.