Obama Scraps Our Failed Cuba Policy

by Dish Staff

How the deal came together:

The initiative comes after more than a year of secret talks, with a major impetus provided by Pope Francis, who hosted the final discussions between Cuban and U.S. officials at the Vatican in the fall. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro spoke on the telephone yesterday for the better part of an hour, going down the checklist of measures that had been agreed in secret talks over the course of more than a year.

The agreement includes a “decision to reopen embassies, closed since 1961, and a dramatic expansion of the kinds of licenses that will allow Americans to travel legally to Cuba”:

Even if “tourism” is still barred by law, it is difficult to imagine that anyone wanting to visit the island will not be able to find some category that allows that to happen.

More on the accepted reasons for travel here. And yes, you can bring back cigars. Massie approves of Obama’s actions:

This is not – repeat not – going soft on Cuba. It’s getting tough with Cuba.

The old approach has had half a century to work and yet, golly, the Castros are still there, still running their sunshine-soaked island gulag. By any reasonable measure the old approach has failed. Every sensible person knows this. Every reasonable person knows just about any alternative policy could hardly do worse. So why not try something different? If the embargo was going to topple the Castros’ nasty little regime it would have done so by now. Perhaps capitalism should be given a chance instead.

There are other benefits to this startling eruption of sanity. American relations with the rest of Latin America have long been complicated by the stupidity of its Cuban policy. A reset here allows – in theory at least – an improvement in this area too. It is hard to see how this opening can hurt the United States anywhere in the western hemisphere.

Rubio, of course, is pissed:

“The President’s decision to reward the Castro regime and begin the path toward the normalization of relations with Cuba is inexplicable,” said Rubio in a statement. “Cuba, like Syria, Iran, and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism…Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naiveté during his final two years in office. As a result, America will be less safe as a result of the President’s change in policy.”

Goldblog dismisses such criticisms:

Critics of Obama’s Cuba initiative have a point: There is no way to guarantee the success, in human-rights terms, of this dramatic new opening. But time has discredited the alternative vision. The seemingly never-ending embargo did nothing to bring about the conclusion of the seemingly never-ending rule of the Castro brothers. After 50 years of trying one thing, and seeing that thing fail, and fail again, it was about time that the United States try something else.

Yglesias adds that “US policy towards Cuba isn’t really about human rights”:

While the Cuban government has a genuinely awful human rights record, it’s hard to argue that that explains US policy towards Cuba. While Cuba is the only country in the Western Hemisphere rated “not free” by Freedom House, it’s hardly the only such country in the world. The United States conducts normal diplomatic relations with China and Vietnam, who run similarly repressive regimes. And the United States considers not-free states such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Jordan to be close allies worthy not only of normal diplomatic relations but deep military and security assistance.

Cuba policy, in other words, has been driven by Cold War strategy and domestic politics much more than by human rights. That’s why with the Cold War issues now obsolete and the domestic politics changing, US policy is set to change too — even without significant change in Cuba’s human rights situation.

Keating provides some more important context:

[W]hile we certainly can’t say that Cuba is on the path toward democracy, Raul Castro’s government has carried out some meaningful reforms, including loosening rules on travel and private property. Even the country’s best-known anti-Castro dissident, Yoani Sanchez, thinks the embargo is now counterproductive.

Larison’s take:

The administration deserves credit for trying to make such a significant change to Cuba policy. When relations are restored with Havana, it will be a genuinely praiseworthy achievement of Obama’s second term. Normalization with Cuba is broadly popular in the U.S. and has been becoming more so over the years, but there is a dedicated core of supporters of the status quo that will presumably put up strong resistance to these changes. Let’s hope that they’re unsuccessful in any attempt to delay or derail this rapprochement.

And Noah Feldman supports Obama fighting the Cuba Lobby:

The risk that Obama carries in taking on a concentrated lobby isn’t totally unfamiliar to him. After all, he tried to take on the NRA by pushing gun control after the Newtown shootings. When he lost, the political cost to him was much less than the cost of doing nothing. With regard to Israel, Obama has tread much more carefully, limiting himself to the unmistakable message that he thinks West Bank settlements are an obstacle to peace and that Benjamin Netanyahu is, too. Many pro-Israel lobbying groups detest him for it, but they haven’t yet had the occasion to go to war against him.

With the end of his presidency in view, Obama has to take risks if he wants to score some legacy points. His gamble on Cuba may not be fully realized. But the results will have implications for the structure of American interest group politics more broadly.

Earlier Dish on the deal here.