Cuba: Obama's Next Foreign-Policy Disaster
“It is my strong belief that if we engage, that that offers the greatest prospect for escaping some of the constraints of the past. I think the Cuban people are extraordinary and have huge potential. And what’s encouraging is, is that the overwhelming majority of Cubans are interested in ending . . . the last vestige of the Cold War—and moving forward.”
If there is such a thing as a Barack Obama worldview—a statement of purpose that encapsulates what drives his foreign policy—it is certainly reflected in this declaration given at a “town-hall” meeting in the Jamaican capital on his way to meet with Cuba’s dictator Raul Castro. The historic meeting—and that oft-used, though morally neutral, cliché can indeed be employed here—took place in Panama on April 11 at the Summit of the Americas.
There, Barack Obama and the dictator he deferentially refers to as “president” sat and talked for about an hour. As President Obama repeated a version of the apologies he nearly always offers while meeting with foreign despots abroad—the Panama City version being “I’m certainly mindful that there are dark chapters in our history”—Cuban government henchmen were beating up Cuban dissidents and their American supporters, calling them “worms” and “mercenaries,” thereby exporting to Panama the level of oppression they have practiced with impunity on the island for decades.
Then two days after the President’s return, on Tuesday April 14, the White House announced what everyone expected: President Obama will take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. This was one of Castro’s preconditions to setting up diplomatic relations. Castro’s assuming that he can set preconditions on the world’s sole superpower has been proven valid by the fact that we meet them.
This, despite the fact that, speaking at the summit, Castro openly acknowledged that his regime has indeed consorted with terrorists and issued a veiled threat that this would continue until his tyranny is legitimized. “Yes, we have conducted solidarity with other peoples that could be considered terrorism,” our new man in Havana said. “When we were cornered, when we were harassed, we had no other choice but to give up or to fight back.”
As former State Department official Jose Cardenas put it in a tweet, the Panama summit has shaped up to be “the Castro Lobby’s Superbowl, World Cup and World Series all rolled into one.”
The administration’s foreign policies have dramatically destabilized the Middle East. Now Obama is bringing those failed policies to this Hemisphere. Suddenly, we are getting in bed with our worst adversaries—both philosophical and actual—while taking to task long-term friends who share our values.
To call it a doctrine would be to take it too far, as it would imply a level of rigorousness that clearly is missing. It is more a frame of mind, or if you want to borrow a foreign word, a weltanschauung. Let’s parse the three components of this creed one by one.
#1: “It is my strong belief that if we engage, that that offers the greatest prospect for escaping some of the constraints of the past.”
This does require belief—as in “a leap of faith”—since previous experience would certainly convince an objective observer of the opposite. If the nineteenth-century British statesman Lord Palmerston was right that states do not have friends, but only interests, then it follows that no amount of currying friendship would sway governments from the cold pursuit of their interests.
This is doubly the case with absolutists, such as Castro, for whom relaxing his grip on the captive population he and his brother have dictated to for fifty-seven years would pose an existential threat. The Obama gambit requires believing, for example, that “engaging” Philip II at his cloistered study at the Escorial palace would have made him less likely to suppress the Dutch, intervene against the Huguenots, attempt to invade England or inflict the Inquisition on his own people. It is highly unlikely, too, that appeasing Napoleon would have turned him away from his dream of dominating Europe and beyond.
The twentieth century was in many ways a tragedy whose central moral lesson was that appeasement is unrequited love played out on an epic scale. The most famous examples, of course, were the concessions made to Hitler, which only fed his lust for more and more lebensraum. But there was also Stalin, whose friendly terms with Franklin Roosevelt didn’t certainly prevent him from drawing an Iron Curtain across the middle of Europe. No amount of engagement with “Uncle Joe” prevented him from having his way with peoples between the curtain all the way to the Pacific, where millions perished and those who survived lived in fear.