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Home/Daniel Larison/Rubio’s Confused View of Diplomatic Engagement

Rubio’s Confused View of Diplomatic Engagement

Rubio keeps boasting about his dead-ender views on Cuba policy:

Instead of the administration’s approach — one-sided concessions that have served only to reward Cuba’s rulers despite their lack of reform — we should be stating clearly what reforms America expects before we deepen ties.

Rubio’s mistake here is in thinking of normal relations as a “reward” and in forgetting the normal relations are a two-way street. The U.S. doesn’t need to extract any concessions in order to resume normal relations with another government, and the absence of extra concessions from the other government doesn’t matter. Both states are agreeing to resume relations. It is by definition a mutual decision to restore ties. Cuba is “conceding” just as much as the U.S. is. So Rubio’s wish list of things that he would like the Cuban government to do is just that. By the same reasoning, the U.S. should never have had diplomatic relations with the USSR or any of the Warsaw Pact countries, nor should it have relations with many of its nastier client states. But Rubio has no intention of arguing that the U.S. break off relations with any of these other states, so why should anyone be persuaded by his opposition to normalization in this case? Rubio wants Cuba to be treated in a way that the U.S. doesn’t treat most other similarly abusive regimes, and his position is simply untenable.

Elsewhere in his op-ed, Rubio describes engagement with regimes like Cuba’s as a “Faustian bargain.” That’s a very strange way to think about reestablishing normal diplomatic relations, since that would mean that the U.S. has struck dozens of these bargains over the decades. But the phrase “Faustian bargain” implies selling one’s soul, which is not normally how we think of opening an embassy in a country with an abusive government. Normalization with Cuba doesn’t imply endorsement of the Cuban government’s treatment of its people, nor does it mean that the U.S. will be supporting that government in any way. (Would that we could say the same of some of the governments that the U.S. does support and arm.) Normalization is an overdue acknowledgment that the U.S. can have the bare minimum of a bilateral relationship with one of our closest neighbors after the failure of fifty years of a policy of isolation. Rubio never really addresses the claim that our Cuba policy has been a failure, but tries to change the subject because even he has to know that he can’t refute that charge.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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