Marco Rubio is talking nonsense:

Mr. Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people.

None of this is true. Oppressive governments don’t become less oppressive because of Washington’s refusal to engage them. They don’t necessarily become less oppressive after engagement, either, but engagement offers the possibility of exercising influence to the benefit of both countries that isn’t available under a policy of isolation. Rubio wants to deny the U.S. and Cuba the possibility that engagement offers in order to cling to a confrontational policy that has yielded nothing but bitterness and poverty.

Trying to isolate another government may be intended as punishment, but the regime frequently turns that attempted isolation to its advantage. Time after time, policies that aim at “isolating” a regime inflict suffering on the civilian population while helping the regime to tighten its hold over them. We have seen that in Cuba, of course, but also in Iraq and Iran, and we are starting to see it in Russia as well. Ending that isolation and taking away the regime’s chief distraction and excuse can be far more politically damaging to a regime than economic pressure. More to the point, establishing normal relations with as many states as possible is beneficial for the United States and our interests, and that is what our foreign policy is supposed to be doing. Our policy towards another country shouldn’t be driven by a desire to settle scores from decades ago or by an obsession with overthrowing its government. These passions inevitably distort the policy and make it harder to adapt to contemporary realities.

It’s important to repeat again and again that establishing normal diplomatic relations is the bare minimum of engagement with another country. The U.S. maintains normal relations with all kinds of governments, including some of the very worst in the world. That isn’t because we approve of everything they do, nor is it because we are doing them any favors by having normal relations, but because this is the kind of relationship all governments seek to have with each other except in times of crisis or war. There is no good reason for the U.S. and Cuba not to have normal relations today, and so we should have them. If the U.S. refused to have normal relations with every state because of its authoritarian character or the abuses it has committed, as Rubio claims to want, it would have to shut down its embassies in half the countries around the world

Unless there are extremely good reasons not to, the U.S. should seek to maintain normal relations with as many states as possible. The U.S. gains nothing by depriving itself of the ability to have its interests fully represented in other countries, and obviously stands to lose quite bit. That is especially true in those states that mistreat their people and govern in an authoritarian and abusive fashion. These are the states that most need to be opened to outside influences, and they are the states that are often the most opposed to the U.S. Having diplomatic representation in these countries not only helps to secure U.S. interests there, but it also provides an opening for communication with the people of that country. That can better inform the people of the other country about the U.S. and it can also better inform our government about the real conditions and attitudes inside the country, and that has the potential to reduce tensions between our governments, to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, and to correct false reports when they appear.

Despite their constant chattering about the importance of American “leadership” and their rejection of “disengagement,” hawks are remarkably hostile to all aspects of diplomacy. We have known that about Rubio for a while, but his position on normalization of relations with Cuba confirms it. Hawks are allergic to reaching deals with unsavory regimes even when these deals help secure U.S. interests, and they are opposed to sending ambassadors to these countries for fear of “rewarding” the host government. It never seems to occur to them that depriving the U.S. of diplomatic relations with other countries reduces and limits U.S. influence. They simply fear and hate diplomacy, and try to come up with excuses to interfere with it or derail it whenever possible. Show me someone who claims to be alarmed by so-called U.S. “retreat” from the world, as Rubio does, and I’ll show you someone who is horrified by the prospect of real diplomatic engagement.

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