When the Soviet Union fell, the Castro regime was in dire straits. It survived through sheer repression — until it was sustained by Venezuelan oil money sent by Hugo Chávez. Today Chávez is dead, oil is under $60 a barrel, and Venezuela is reeling. Who will bail Castro out this time? Now we have the answer: Barack Obama.
Put aside the prisoner exchange, which one can be for or against and still decry the rest of Obama’s moves today. It’s clear that Obama told the Cubans they had to let Alan Gross out before he could make the rest of his changes — and told them he would undertake those changes immediately. So the Castros not only get diplomatic recognition and a big financial lift — more trade, more tourism, more remittances to Cubans from family members in the U.S., and from which the regime can take a big cut — but they get it all for nothing. That is, the prisoner trade (whether smart or dumb) was a bargained-for exchange. They got three, we got two. All the rest in the Obama policy changes is simply a gift to the regime. The Castros made no promises at all to reduce oppression, allow freedom of speech or assembly, or make any political reforms or foreign-policy adjustments.
The Obama White House conducted these negotiations itself, with no meddling from the State Department. The centralization of all activity in the White House continues, and in this case the American negotiator was Ben Rhodes. Rhodes is a speechwriter with a graduate degree (M.F.A.) in creative writing, so one might wonder if he struck the hardest bargain possible. But of course those would not have been his instructions anyway: The president didn’t want a hard bargain. He wanted to destroy 50 years of American policy toward the Castro regime.
I’ve thought for some time that it was about time to consider a modification in our relationship with Cuba. The purpose of sanctions was to bend them toward democracy and it clearly did not work. Perhaps engagement would be more productive or perhaps some other policy to advance America’s national interests and promote representative government around the world.
Even with the opening of China, it is worth remembering that it took years of meetings and serious thinking. Mao was open to a relationship with the US and the US was open to a relationship with China because it was in their interests to do so – primarily to ward off the Soviet threat. And that relationship has evolved ever since. Agree with it or not, it was a serious change in foreign policy based on advancing national interests and large-scale geopolitical maneuvering.
In contrast, Obama’s move is an unserious farce motivated by ideological affinity for Cuba. There was no serious policy analysis from the professionals in the State Department. There was no larger plan. Obama gave the Castro brothers international recognition and oodles of financial resources with which they can continue to oppress their people. In exchange, America got to buy Cuban cigars. The prisoner exchange was a fig leaf so Obama could pretend that his gift was humanitarian. All he did today was give a tyrant more means to keep the Cuban people under his boot.