The liberal case for lightening up on the Castros

Earlier today, I contended that President Obama’s decision to begin a diplomatic and economic relationship with Cuba was an ideologically-based move intended, we should presume, to do precisely what it will accomplish — assist the dictatorship. There is, however, a case for changing our Cuba policy that isn’t founded on hard leftism. I don’t find the case persuasive, but thought it would be helpful to acknowledge and discuss it.

I did so in a 2009 column for the Washington Examiner, the relevant parts of which I now set forth (the whole thing is here):

Momentum is growing in Washington for removing the ban on most travel to Cuba and for lifting or lightening other economic sanctions. This is a subject about which reasonable people can disagree. Unfortunately, there appears to be little room for disagreement within the Senate Democratic caucus.

Let’s start with the merits. U.S. sanctions were originally intended to bring down Castro’s revolutionary regime or, alternatively, to marginalize it.

Sanctions failed on the first score, but succeeded on the second. In less than 20 years, Cuba was transformed, even in the left-liberal imagination, from a romantic cutting-edge society to an impoverished backwater. And Castro was never able to “export” his revolution.

This was due primarily to the underlying weakness of Castro’s model, but sanctions probably made a contribution too. Once Cuba was marginalized, however, the case for maintaining the sanctions came to rest on their ability to help actually change Cuba.

In this, sanctions have not succeeded, and there begins the case for lifting or lightening them. Taking the analysis one step further, liberal Democrats contend that Cuban “engagement” with American tourists and American businesses will make the country a more open one and increase internal pressure for reform.

The problem with this approach is that, like sanctions, it has been tried and found wanting. As Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, points out, millions of Europeans, Canadians, Mexicans, and South Americans have visited Cuba, while their nation’s businesses and governments have invested in the Cuban economy and entered into trade agreements. Yet the regime has not opened up.

Unfortunately, the tyrants who control Cuba have the desire and the means to maintain their control. Neither the infliction of more economic pain on the population through sanctions nor the further lining of the tyrants’ pockets through “engagement” will change this.

Maintaining the sanctions nonetheless increases the likelihood of a democratic Cuba. The next generation of Cuban leaders may be less dead set against loosening the government’s hold on society than the old-time totalitarians. If sanctions remain in place, the prospect that they might be lifted provides the new leaders with an incentive to reform. If sanctions have already been removed or substantially reduced, that particular incentive no longer exists. . . .

None of this likely matters to Obama. He has never shown a sincere interest in altering the nature of the Cuban regime or, for that matter, in seeing meaningful regime change in countries even more hostile to the U.S., such as Iran.

In any case, for the reasons presented in my column, extending a diplomatic and economic hand to Cuba will not help liberalize that country, and is likely, instead, to delay liberalization.

Obama’s Move to Strengthen Cuba Will Also Help Russia, Iran, North Korea and Venezuela

President Obama has chosen an odd time to begin a diplomatic and economic relationship with Cuba that undoubtedly will strengthen Cuba’s economy and thereby, in all probability, prolong the rule of the Castro brothers and make it more likely that they will be succeeded by another generation of Communist tyrants. In recent years, Cuba has aligned itself militarily with an international rogues’ gallery: Venezuela, of course, but also Russia, Iran and North Korea.

As we noted here, Havana hosted a Russian intelligence ship earlier this year. The Russians made no secret of the use they want to make of their long-time ally:

The Defense Ministry plans to expand its military presence to several key regions outside Russia in an effort to increase its long-range bomber coverage. …

“We need bases for refueling [our aircraft] near the equator, and in other places,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said….

Then there is North Korea. As Marco Rubio wrote, exclusively for Power Line, Cuba has repeatedly engaged in internationally prohibited arms transactions with North Korea.

Cuba has a cooperative military relationship with Iran, too, as explained here.

And, of course, Venezuela’s catastrophically socialist regime has been Cuba’s main ally since the Soviet Union imploded.

So, by propping up Castro’s regime in Cuba, Obama can indirectly benefit all of America’s major adversaries, providing them with a more economically robust trading partner, a better source of illicit arms, and, most important, naval bases and intelligence outposts just miles from our shores. I think it is fair to say that for all past American presidents, even the Democrats, the prospect of aiding such bitter enemies of the United States would have rendered propping up Castro’s regime unthinkable. For Obama, the fact that he can strengthen North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Russia along with Cuba may be a feature rather than a bug.

Castro brothers join line of anti-American tyrants to receive Obama’s largess

You knew this was coming, right? You knew that, with all of the national elections that will take place during his presidency behind him, Barack Obama would do everything in his power — broadly defined — to assist the Castro regime.

President Obama was a good friend to Mohammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s man in Egypt. He has made nice with the mullahs in Iran, bailing their country out of serious economic woes under the pretense of slowing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He “reset” relations with Russia on terms highly favorable to Putin and would have done more to help the autocrat, as he promised to do after he gained “flexibility” following the 2012 election, had Putin not set out to dismember Ukraine.

Why should the Castro brothers be nearly the only anti-American tyrants not to benefit from Obama’s largess? Only domestic politics stood in the way.

Now that it no longer does, Obama has seized on the plight of Alan Gross to do what he has always wanted to do — help bolster Cuba’s communist regime. As Mark Falcoff says, one does not need a Ph.D. in political science to discern the ideological currents that inspired Obama to do this.

The consequences of Obama’s action are also clear enough. As Falcoff explains, “the normalization of relations with Cuba comes at precisely the moment that the Castro brothers need it the most, since their principal foreign patron, Venezuela, is running out of money because of the collapse in the world price of oil.” Obama “has decided to make the United States a replacement for [Venezuela's] Maduro.” Obama thus gives the Castros a new lease of life and helps forestall the total discrediting of Latin American communism.

These, we should assume, are Obama’s intentions.

There will be consequences outside of Latin American too. Elliott Abrams writes:

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? In more than a few chanceries the question that will be asked as this year ends is “who is next to find that America is today more interested in propitiating its enemies than in protecting its allies?”

Frankly, I imagine the question has already been asked and answered in many a chancery.

But Abrams surely is correct that Obama’s switch in Cuba policy reinforces concern throughout the Middle East that the president will end the sanctions against Iran that he has already undercut, and establish diplomatic relations with the mullahs in exchange for meaningless promises about nukes and maybe the release of a prisoner or two.

Obama clearly believes that America’s 55 year effort to undercut Castro was misguided, if not downright stupid. That belief, an article of faith on the left, is a natural one to hold if you’re fine with oppressive, expansionist, anti-American Communist dictators.

It’s overwhelmingly likely that Obama feels the same way about America’s 35 year effort against the theocratic regime in Iran. That too is a natural belief to hold if you’re fine with oppressive, expansionist, anti-American Islamist dictators.

Obama is fine with both types of dictators. His main beef is with Israel.

Profiles in Hollywood Courage: Sony Caves

No sooner than I suggest that Hollywood order up a whole slate of movies mocking North Korea than the news comes that Sony is pulling theatrical release of “The Interview,” about which the hackers have threatened terrorist violence.  Call me a cynic, but I wonder if this isn’t a brilliant marketing play on behalf of a movie that was heading for total bomb status at the box office.  Sony will probably make more money on pay-per-view streaming and DVD sales now.  Why didn’t Michael Cimino think of this with “Heaven’s Gate” (which was on some forlorn cable channel last night, still as unwatchable as ever)?

No brave Hollywood studio would really buckle to a terrorist threat, would it?  After all, as we know Hollywood has been bravely standing up to the terrorist threat of McCarthyism for more than 50 years now.  Also Nazis.  And southerners.

But if Sony really is caving in to a threat, then all I can say to Hollywood is good night, and good luck.  (Heh.)  You’ll need it.

P.S.  Wired magazine thinks North Korea didn’t do it, though there are media reports out this afternoon that the administration will tomorrow identify the Norks as the culprit.  Stay tuned.

Mark Falcoff: Castro’s dreams come true

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at AEI. He is the author of several books including Cuba the Morning After: Confronting Castro’s Legacy. He writes to offer his thoughts on today’s developments:

There are many aspects of this story that have not made the media. May I offer a few?

Alan Gross was hired by an AID contractor to take computers (and I believe cell phones) to the minuscule Jewish community in Cuba. My understanding is—I get this from the vice president of the contracting company—he was to be paid $250,000. for this.

Now, carrying out what was sure to be viewed as espionage by a dictatorship like Cuba is a dangerous business, so of course it had to carry a high price tag. (Whether it was worth the taxpayer’s dollar, or rather dollars, is another matter, and not a small one.) Gross took the wager and lost.

For years now the US government and elements of the Cuban-American community (some of whom are friends of mine) decided to make the Gross case the centerpiece of our non-relationship with the Castro brothers. I thought this was wrong, but they went ahead heedlessly. The results are clear to see. Obama picked up the cord lying on the ground and yanked it.

I will not attempt to speculate on what ideological currents inspired the President to do this. In any case one does not need a Ph.D. in political science to imagine what they might be. Nor do I know what the legal aspects might turn out to be, since there is a huge amount of legislation on the books which bars Mr. Obama from doing exactly what he is planning to do.

But I cannot help commenting on another aspect. The normalization of relations with Cuba comes at precisely the moment that the Castro brothers need it the most, since their principal foreign patron, Venezuela, is running out of money because of the collapse in the world price of oil. In effect, Mr. Obama has decided to make the United States a replacement for Maduro. It couldn’t come at a better time for the Cuban regime and gives it yet another lease on life.

It seems to me entirely appropriate that John Kerry, who during his time in the Senate did all he could to help consolidate a Communist regime in Nicaragua, should be making a trip to Cuba to reopen diplomatic relations. I do not believe that Mr. Kerry believes this will lead to democracy on the island, but if he does, he is a fool, and a useful one at that.

Barack and Michelle, Victims of Racism!

Pretty much everyone is all over this story, but what the heck: why not pile on? The Obamas are trying to catch the wave of racism that supposedly is sweeping across the land. They may live in the White House, but hey–they are still subjected to racial bias. No, they don’t mean getting preferential treatment when applying to colleges and law schools, or being taken seriously as a presidential candidate after two undistinguished years in the Senate, or getting a $300,000 job with a hospital for no discernible reason. They mean the other kind:

President and Michelle Obama personally identify with everyday experiences of racial bias in America that have underpinned recent protests across the country, they told People magazine in an interview to be released Friday. …

On one occasion, [Michelle] said, her husband “was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”

President Obama said he’s even been mistakenly treated as a valet.

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” he said, according to excerpts of the interview released today.

Actually, you don’t have to be black to experience incidents like this. I was once working out in my club’s gym and an older member, mistaking me for an employee, asked me to get him a towel. You can even be a four-star general and have some unaccomplished twit demand that you bring her another glass of wine. Is that racist, or what?

The first lady also described being mistreated at a Target store in suburban Washington, during a shopping trip she took in 2011.

“Even as the first lady,” she told the magazine, “during the wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf.”

My wife was shopping at a Target store yesterday and another lady asked her to get something from a shelf that she couldn’t reach. Racist? You be the judge! The funny thing about the Target anecdote is that Michelle described it completely differently to David Letterman, as Tom Maguire recalls:

“That’s my Target run. I went to Target,” she said. “I thought I was undercover. I have to tell you something about this trip though. No one knew that was me because a woman actually walked up to me, right? I was in the detergent aisle, and she said — I kid you not — she said, ‘Excuse me, I just have to ask you something,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, cover’s blown.’ She said, ‘Can you reach on that shelf and hand me the detergent?’ I kid you not.”

As the audience laughed, she went on, “And the only thing she said — I reached up, ’cause she was short, and I reached up, pulled it down — she said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to make it look so easy.’ That was my interaction. I felt so good. … She had no idea who I was. I thought, as soon as she walked up — I was with my assistant, and I said, ‘This is it, it’s over. We’re going to have to leave.’ She just needed the detergent.”

Emphasis added. And yet, when asked to recount a racist incident that is seared into her memory, the best Michelle could come up with was a friendly encounter that “felt so good.” Because the other woman was short and Michelle is tall.

For the Democrats, it is always 1963 in Selma, Alabama. Not much has changed. But the fact that the Obamas can’t come up with more compelling (or even authentic) instances of racial slights shows how different today’s world actually is. What is significant here is not that a short woman asked Michelle Obama to reach for some detergent; what is significant is how desperately the Democrats have to try to keep alive the narrative of race discrimination.

Another Reason Not to Diet: Global Warming

I’ve joked over the years that Al Gore’s expanding girth was merely his personal, one-man carbon sequestration project.  Now the problem with humor like this is that it runs the risk of coming true, and then you’re defeated as a satirist.

Sure enough, dieting contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.  As reported in EurekaAlert, a British Medical Journal study finds:

The authors show that losing 10 kilograms of fat requires 29 kilograms of oxygen to be inhaled and that this metabolic process produces 28 kilograms of carbon dioxide and 11 kilograms of water. . .

If you follow the atoms in 10 kilograms of fat as they are ‘lost’, 8.4 of those kilograms are exhaled as carbon dioxide through the lungs. The remaining 1.6 kilograms becomes water, which may be excreted in urine, faeces, sweat, breath, tears and other bodily fluids, the authors report.

So another reason to stop exercising and load up on donuts and cheeseburgers instead.

Meanwhile, I wonder what are the greenhouse gas implications of releasing your inner chakra?  In three, two . . .

(Hat tip: JZ)