The Current Discussion: The U.S. will lift travel restrictions on Cuba, but leave the larger trade embargo in place. Is that a smart move? Does it go far enough? Too far?
If five phrases could summarize shallow thoughts and frame failed, self-defeating politics of the last fifty years, the term economic sanctions will be one of them— along with the wisdom of projecting raw military power, using nuclear weapons, declaring the end of history, and leaving financial markets to self-regulation. Simply put, economic sanctions are self-defeating in the Global Age. It has never worked when visibly practiced (against Cuba, USSR, Serbia or Iran), or when fudged and fabricated of threats and negative, hyper-subjective postures (China and India until 1990s, pro-socialist France and Italy in 1970s, or Iran and Zimbabwe these days). There is no record of capitulation by a sovereign state since the second World War just because America decided to ban its own people from doing business or have contact with that country.
Sanctions are a product of a shallow thought process and a blunt and showy instrument of vindictive politics. They are bound to ricochet. A ban on a grandmother sending a pair of shoes from Florida, stopping Boeing from selling a few airplanes, or a pharmaceutical company buying knowledge from Cuba’s exemplary life sciences sector are simply ill-conceived grandstanding of people that have no passport, speak no foreign language and do not see the world as interdependent. The sum and substance of it flies in the face of the unemployed at home.
American politicians traditionally frame international relations in tactical and simplistic terms more befitting of a Friday night high school football game and fictional talk of “behavior” in a faux, skewed epic production of “good vs. evil” on television. In contrast, the rest of the world tends to side with practical national interests, jobs and trade, respectful cooperation and a cordial resolution of differences around a table. Thus half-steps of lifting travel restrictions, for Cuban-Americans of more than 30 years in exile, is just another elusive tactic that dances around grasping reality: the world has changed, it is now 50 years since Fidel Castro became prime minister, and Cuban political management style has survived a parade of American political leaders more fixated about getting job courtesy of votes from Cuban exiles in Florida. More amplified is the fact that the ideology of both sides have converged in an implosion of arrogance and ignorance on both sides: the Marxist and Leninist doctrine is only notionally recognized in the Chinese version of communist capitalism (as the biggest savers on the plant and No. 1 creditor of America) and America now subscribes to a modern version of capitalist socialism (a doctrine under construction with a scheme much larger than France of 1980s— socialized private losses after the collapse of the financial system, high unemployment and taxes on the rise). So, is it all about contrasts in freedom fries and human rights? Corruption? Or one-size-fits-all? Hardly, or so the rest of the world tends to think.
The American president is pacing himself over two presidential terms, angling for Hispanic (and Muslim) voters. Foreign policy is always a good diversion from bad news at home. Nevertheless he ought to snap to a reminder that the world has changed and his ideas about catching up with change must be bold, fresh and unsullied to be taken genuine and sincere. Iffy and hedged postures do not project an image of a strong agent of change. Perhaps he ought to heed to lessons from the mixed bag of political cross-dressing practiced by Tony Blair and other politicians not quite sure of the depth of the waters as he ventures out to swim. A 51-49 split merely half-baked and showy steps will haunt him. (Mr. Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo, but did not shut other secret prisons of CIA or ban torture and rendition.)
Without a quick second act after a short interlude, a wobbly closure of the stale old file of Cuba simply amplifies other proven flops such as an unsure approach towards Pakistan or the stuff of the stale and slow Clinton Era “road map” approach towards Vietnam.
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