Obama Taking Wrong Course with Conditionality Approach to Cuba

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President Obama has missed yet another chance to pressure Congress to end the self-inflicted damage of a “unilateral embargo” against Cuba and to take American foreign policy writ large in a new, more constructive direction.
Today, the President officially extended the trade embargo against Cuba for another year — putting the US at odds again with roughly 183 nations that vote against the embargo each year in the United Nations.
The President’s global mystique has been based on a perception that he would shift the Bush era gravitational forces in more constructive directions — that he would support engagement and exchange as tools of American foreign policy in order to try and get better outcomes in international affairs.
But by continuing an embargo that undermines American interests and even US national security, he chooses the continuity of failure over the opportunity for change and over his own principles.
By arguing that “he will not lift the embargo until Cuba undertakes democratic and economic reforms”, Obama is perpetuating a fallacy that conditionality produces results in Cuba’s domestic internal affairs. That approach has failed for decades — and needs to be dropped.
The President has made some progress on Cuba — but its mostly progress that the most hawkish, right wing elements of the Cuban-American community desired, not progress that was based on the interests of the nation as a whole.
Obama needs to fix his course on Cuba, or despite the modest creep forward recently — helping a single class of ethnic Americans access Cuba but keeping up prohibitions on other American citizens, he will be added to a long roster of Presidents who maintained a Cold War in the America’s backyard that is, as David Rothkopf called it, “the edsel” of US foreign policy.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

28 comments on “Obama Taking Wrong Course with Conditionality Approach to Cuba

  1. Mr.Murder says:

    Embargo tactics give rise to middle men and buffer states that thrive from the arrangements.
    They operate around the assumptions that embargos work in the static sense of a fixed arrangement. This actually becomes a lever to their shaping and increasing power in this tripartate network.
    Doing so actually spreads the influence of the embargo’s target. They end up developing contacts and support networks within this chain of enablers and middle men.
    Who will be the next Marcos or Noriega? Perhaps a banker from the Bahamas would answer that question better, while accepting bailout money from us in the meantime….

    Reply

  2. Michael Kahn says:

    The Presidential advisor:For Heaven’s sake, sir,end the embargo
    against Cuba. It’s a total disaster, and very cruel to the Cuban
    people. No one is for it but a few crazies in Miami.
    The President: The right wing is attacking me on health care, and
    calling me all kinds of socialist and communist. All I need now is to
    be seen cozying up to Fidel Castro. I don’t think so.

    Reply

  3. Carroll says:

    Want to see how nothing changes?
    How the “national interest” couldn’t be defined by our leaders even back in 1967?
    All the blah,blah,blah about Vietnam, the USSLiberty, the Jewish influence in congress, the ME and Israel, Russia, Cuba, NK, ad nausum?
    1967- 2009, same old yada,yada.
    Just change the names of the committee members and you have the same bullshit you have today.
    Same problems, never solved.
    That’s how Washington stays in business , by creating problems they can talk endless about but never resolve.
    Let me define the national interest has it actually is in DC:
    (…”that the most hawkish, right wing elements of the Cuban-American community desired, not progress that was based on the interests of the nation as a whole”…….”helping a single class of ethnic Americans access Cuba but keeping up prohibitions on other American citizens,”)
    The “National Interest” is the “political interest of the special interest” that corrupt politicans work for.
    http://www.fas.org/irp/congress/2007_hr/1967executive.html
    EXECUTIVE SESSIONS OF THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE TOGETHER WITH JOINT SESSIONS WITH THE SENATE ARMED SERVICES
    COMMITTEE (HISTORICAL SERIES)
    NINETIETH CONGRESS
    first session
    1967

    Reply

  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “And how are my ideas not pragmatic?”
    Well, perhaps we could answer that if we knew what your “ideas” were. But something tells me “your” ideas are pretty much someone else’s ideas. Thats how it comes to pass that sick fucks in positions of power get it in their heads that its patriotic to shove chemical lightsticks up Muslim assholes.
    “No actually, even better, how the fuck are your ideas helping yer country of the USA move forward?”
    Oh, your ignorant asssholishness of “my country right or wrong” is “moving us forward”? Taken a look around lately, bubba? You ignorant gorrillas have managed to put this country in the toilet, and now you’re working feverishly to get to the flush handle and finish the job. Thats your idea of “patriotism”.

    Reply

  5. ... says:

    maybe ”concerned” means – crazed, or whacked out?? knows how to talk tough with a lot of swear words though… that ought to impress some! open up your mouth and show us how foul it is now!!!

    Reply

  6. ConcernedCitizen says:

    @ TonyForesta:
    The world is on Fire.
    Why focus on the American conflagrations? Hey smartass, you said the world’s on fire, so next time do spend a sentence or two talking about the shit that’s going on in the world today (Iran? China? Russia? Venezuela?) and not just going off the rails (though you are right, your country has huge fucking problems that are the residue of the slimey criminal gang that is the Bush Administration) about USA this, USA that.
    Yeh?

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  7. ConcernedCitizen says:

    “THERE? Which means you are WHERE, ConcernedCitizen?”
    Why does where I am concern you? As far as I’m concerned, you’re still a mindless sex-slave in …’s whorehouse doing your daily masochistic ritual of public prostitution for the few retarded loons on TWN to see, so no even if I told you where I live, of what medicinal value can you derive from that fact to help you cure yourself of your pathological, obsessive, compulsive, slavish, make-a-post-everyday-on-TWN disorder?
    “There’s a reason that pragmatic ideas from posters such as (…) belong HERE.”
    And how are my ideas not pragmatic? No better yet, how the hell are …’s ideas pragmatic? No actually, even better, how the fuck are your ideas helping yer country of the USA move forward?
    “Your old school IGNORANCE doesn’t belong on this site.”
    People from glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
    “Kapeesh?!?”
    Nice catchword for the thought police slogan.

    Reply

  8. PissedOffAmerican says:

    *PHILADELPHIA LIBRARIES TO CLOSE DUE TO LACK OF FUNDS-OCT. 1ST.
    How many billion are we sending to Israel this year?

    Reply

  9. Outraged American says:

    Geez Tony, relax and go out and smell the dog poop. If you
    don’t have any I can ship you some. And the dogs, because,
    frankly , they’re just too demanding — always wanting to be
    walked and pet.
    And some dead birds too. Damn cat. I should feed it.
    The city of Phoenix and the state of Arizona are out of money so
    trash pick-up is spotty. I had to bury the kids in the backyard.
    No proper coffins just Hefty bags.
    But we can send Israel, fed-ex, her usual check. It was priceless
    when Israel asked for $16 billion a few years ago.
    About Cuba: I think Steve, who is me, just wants to visit a
    “friend” there. JUST KIDDING STEVE.
    Steve, where do you get time to read books? My parents beat
    into me that discipline is the key to success, your parents must
    have threatened to tear out your nipples, boil them and eat them
    in front of you to get you to work so hard. Or at least PRETEND
    like you do. Do we even know if you exist? Do you get your
    cape dry-cleaned or just wash it in the sink?

    Reply

  10. TonyForesta says:

    With all due respect and avering to our humble hosts penchent for allthings Cuba, – this is the least of our problems and frankly an issue I am in now way interested in discussing. The world is on Fire. America is comming apart at the siems. Wall Street shaiatans are robbing us blind and bribing politicians in the process to garner their illgotten gains and funnel trillions of taxpayer dollar into the offshore accounts of the predator class. Iraq and Afghanistan remain bloody, costly noendinsight horrorshows, and unwinnable wars against unknown unknown adversaries with no clear vision for either victory or an exit strategy. 47 million Americans are uninsured and a public option is sadly off the table. Millions of American are unemployed (approaching 10% of the population), and millions more are under employed with no hope for job security, decent wages, benefits, or job security. Antartica is melting faster than you can say wingnut idiocy. Wingnuts freaks are sporting assault weapons at Presidential gatherings. Our infrastructure is collapsing. Wall Street shaitans who are singularly responsible for ushering the world to the brink of economic collapse are fleecing the America taxpayer, and funnelling trillons of dollars into the offshore accounts of the predatorclass and unrepentent for their FAILED policies, and FAILED management bruting FAILED products. 9/11 is a festering unrequited horrorshow, that will cripple America ability to moveon, until and unless there are real investigations, (not whitewashes pimped by the fascists in the bushgov) into what happened on that dark day and who is responsible.
    This list is long and haunting, and yet our humble host chooses to waste time, space, and energy on Cuba. Please Steve. This conduct is below you. Focus on the issues that will impact our worthless lives, and quit parroting the Cuba thing. We’re good with that. Cuba should be recognized and welcome into the community of nations, but come on – the world is a roiling incinerator, and the important issues are being ignored.
    Why waste time on the inane?

    Reply

  11. ... says:

    easy e – hard to know what ‘citizen’ is ‘concerned’ about at this point… the usa’s attitude towards cuba is in the ditch, but he has nothing to say over that…

    Reply

  12. easy e says:

    Posted by ConcernedCitizen, Sep 14 2009, 8:28PM -
    @ …:
    Walk the walk and talk the talk sounds like a good advice that you’d do well to keep. If you hate the United States that much, why the fuck are you even there?
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    THERE? Which means you are WHERE, ConcernedCitizen?
    There’s a reason that pragmatic ideas from posters such as (…) belong HERE.
    Your old school IGNORANCE doesn’t belong on this site.
    Kapeesh?!?

    Reply

  13. ... says:

    concerned citizen – i’m not! always open your mouth depending on your foot size…

    Reply

  14. JohnH says:

    Yes, ending the Cuba sanctions because they are morally wrong is a much more convincing argument than “national security.” That I could support.

    Reply

  15. WigWag says:

    The juxtaposition of Chief’s question about George Kennan and Steve’s post on Cuba is an interesting one. Like Steve, Kennan was the quintessential realist while Nitze, (who replaced Kennan after Dean Acheson fired him), was what we would today call a liberal internationalist or even a neocon (certainly Nitze was a Wilsonian).
    I wonder what George Kennan would have to say if he were alive today about American policy towards Cuba. I have a strong feeling that he would completely agree with Steve that Obama is being much too timid when it comes to abandoning a failed policy.
    Although Kennan is credited as the father of the “containment” strategy he spent much of his life arguing that the U.S. was much too belligerent towards the Soviet Union and that containment need not imply such hefty defense expenditures. How ironic is it that the father of containment and one of the most important foreign policy “realists” of the 20th century actually favored a softer line towards the Soviets unlike realists such as Zbignew Brzezinski who took the phrase “cold warrior” to whole new heights?
    Kennan opposed development of the hydrogen bomb; he favored engaging rather than isolating Soviet satellites as a way of weaning them from their dependency on the Soviet Union, he opposed expanding the Korean War and criticized the Viet Nam War. Late in life, after the Cold War had been won, Kennan suggested that had the U.S. been less belligerent towards the Soviets and had engaged them more and threatened them less, the Cold War would have been won even sooner and at much lower cost. Certainly Kennan would have had nothing positive to say about fellow realists like Brzezinski who used the Afghan mujahadeen as an American proxy in the cold war fight against the Soviets.
    Kennan served in both the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations and he was in government during the Cuban Revolution, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
    On the one hand Kennan was against military adventurism and believed in abandoning failed policies; on the other hand, there can be no doubt that current day policy in Cuba has its roots in Kennan’s containment strategy or rather how Kennan’s concept of containment was interpreted (or misinterpreted) by others.
    I think Kennan would have advised Obama to give up the sanctions in favor of a more enlightened policy.
    And unlike his fellow realists who are loathe to advocate policy changes on moral grounds (that’s why they spend so much time rationalizing about American interests that aren’t there), I think Kennan would have wanted to see sanctions ended simply because they are wrong.
    Steve doesn’t usually do book reviews; but when he finishes “The Hawk and the Dove,” it would be great to get his take on it.

    Reply

  16. JohnH says:

    It’s all gobbledygook. The term meaningless rhetoric does not do it justice. Mindless nonsense is more like it.
    “National Security” and “vital strategic interests” are the two headed god of the foreign policy mob. And just like the preacher who, every time he got stuck trying to explain something, bailed himself out by invoking God, these self anointed high priests of foreign policy invoke “national security” and “vital strategic” interests in an attempt to prove a point.
    From now on I will refer to them not as the chattering class, but as the muttering class, because every time they say something, you have to ask, “What did you say? What did you say?”
    Interestingly enough, the term gobbledygook was coined by the Texas Representative, Maury Maverick, likening the chatter of Turkeys to the inflated, involved, and obscure verbiage of characteristic of the pronouncements of officialdom. Finally, a Texan I can admire!

    Reply

  17. Jackie says:

    Nadine,
    It has been policy longer than 45 years. I’ll list the presidents: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama. Cuba must be a really dangerous place.

    Reply

  18. ConcernedCitizen says:

    @ …:
    Walk the walk and talk the talk sounds like a good advice that you’d do well to keep. If you hate the United States that much, why the fuck are you even there?

    Reply

  19. ... says:

    nothing gets done in washington of benefit, unless it’s pork barrel politics it seems…the 2 party system isn’t working and the usa can’t find a way out of the juggernaut..
    cuba may not be at the top of the priority list but the usa’s attitude in just this one area speaks volumes on it’s inability to walk the walk that it likes to talk… all talk, but little else.. freedom my ass..

    Reply

  20. DonS says:

    . . . the saying, which got cropped above, was “perception is reality”. Sorry for the poor proof reading.

    Reply

  21. DonS says:

    There is the saying that ‘perception is which is our modern way of saying that real leaders have a way of capturing the imagination of the populace, at its best, or its worst.
    Obama seems to be lowballing expectations, certainly on Cuba. As to ‘too much on his plate’, walking and chewing gum at the same time is expected of a President. Really, the failing is not in the difficulty of execution, but in the vision. Obama either lacks the vision to be a real leader in the direction of positive change for an America that inspires world confidence, or lacks the temperament to grasp the moment.
    He shows all the signs of lacking greatness, which too many unrealistically expected. But he is fast descending into plain vanilla.

    Reply

  22. nadine says:

    Between Cap and Trade, Health Care Reform, and now Wall St Financial Reform domestically, and Mideast Peace, Iran’s Sprint to Nukes and now Chavez’ Push to join the Nuclear Club in foreign affairs, it would seem that President Obama’s plate is rather full as it is. I would even venture to say that altering the United States’ forty-five year old policy on Cuba must come rather low on his list of priorities.

    Reply

  23. JohnH says:

    “An embargo that undermines American interests and even US national security.” What the hell does that mean??? This is just more foreign policy techno babble.
    I can see how the embargo might “harm” US special interests, such exporters of agricultural products. But do they represent US national interests? Or is Steve talking about the natural gas lying offshore?
    Asserting that something harms American interests and national security without providing any examples is no way to make a point. Are we supposed to take these assertions on blind faith?
    Unfortunately, that’s what most foreign policy experts expect–that their assertions be taken on blind faith. And we saw where that led us undert the Bush administration. It’s what got us into Iraq, keeps us threatening Iran, and keeps us occupying Afghanistan.
    As I have been repeatedly asking for the past four years: what are those mysterious and unstated vital strategic interests that everyone keeps talking about? In my mind, foreign policy “experts” have absolutely no credibility unless they talk specifics about the stakes and ambitions.

    Reply

  24. Dan Kervick says:

    I think WigWag is basically right.
    However, Steve does make an important point. As low a profile as Cuba might have for most Americans, so that the domestic downside can appear much higher for Obama than the domestic upside, still Obama’s Cuba policy might affect his political capital abroad. Although I doubt Cuba is all that much more inherently important to people in other countries than it is here, it still might play an outsized role as a signal on a symbolic issue – one of those highlighted signals people are interpreting to determine whether the Obama administration represents any real change. To the extent that Obama is perceived as representing a mere continuation of existing policies, his ability to get things done abroad will be harmed.
    Cuba has a particular symbolic importance, because it is probably the clearest case of the tension between foreign policy rationality and submission to domestic political entanglements and obligations. People might look to Cuba as one important index of just how much power Obama has at home, and how much independence and rationality can be expected from him as he acts abroad.
    Obama is also going to suffer another little blow abroad if he doesn’t get behind the growing international calls for reigning in compensation in the financial sector. If he lags on this too, people are going to begin to conclude that America is just America, and it doesn’t matter who they put in charge.
    I think there are various US foreign policies, and domestic US policies that have a high foreign profile, where Obama genuinely expected to be able to make changes and has now found himself ensnared in political constraints of various kinds. So far he has nothing major that he can point to, other than speeches and initial gestures, that constitutes a really significant substantive change in US policy, or a foreign policy triumph. Either the intentions are not there, or the good intentions have not yet seen the results of follow-through and execution.
    I understand foreign policy is hard, and requires influencing the behavior of sovereign governments over which the US exercises limited influence. It’s not like exercising influence over Democrats in the US Congress. But it sure would be good if Obama could come up with one really significant accomplishment, a “win” that might help to generate momentum and progress on other fronts – something that would make people sit up and say, “Wow. Now there’s a significant change for the better on the world scene.”
    Talk isn’t enough. A breath of fresh air quickly turns into fetid stagnation if the talk doesn’t produce accomplishments.
    There are few things on the fall agenda that could help to get things moving. Let’s see something happen, please.

    Reply

  25. WigWag says:

    Obama is reticent to move ahead too assertively on Cuba for the same reason he’s about to relent on the hard line he took on Israeli settlements; he doesn’t have the political capital he needs to sustain a change of course.
    While even many Republicans believe it’s time for a new Cuba policy, if Obama announces one, he will just be handing the Republicans a new stick to flay him with.
    Lifting the trade embargo against Cuba is just too far down on the list of Obama’s priorities for him to stick his neck out at the same time he’s trying to win a health insurance reform package, enact a new energy bill, and reinvigorate a Middle East peace process (that was actually quite invigorated before his strategic blunder on settlements arrested that progress.)
    If Steve’s disappointed now, just wait until the 2010 elections and then the 2012 elections get closer. Given the importance of Florida, my guess is that it won’t be long before Obama forgets where Cuba even is.
    Other than to a few farmers and Steve, Cuba policy just isn’t that important to most Americans.
    And when realists like Steve start using terms like “a change of policy is in American interests” you can bet the house that American interests won’t be impacted at all.

    Reply

  26. WigWag says:

    Chief, there is a brand new biography of George Kennan and Paul Nitze that comes out this week written by one of Paul Nitze’s grandsons. The book is entitled “THE HAWK AND THE DOVE: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War.” It is by Nicholas Thompson (403 pp. Henry Holt & Company. $27.50).
    If you’re interested, it was reviewed quite positively in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review.
    Kennan himself wrote several autobiographical works that include:
    Memoirs: 1925–1950, Boston: Little, Brown and Company (1967)
    Memoirs: 1950–1963, Boston: Little, Brown and Company (1970)
    Sketches from a Life, New York (1989) (More of Kennan’s musings than an autobiographical work)
    An American Family: The Kennans, the First Three Generations, New York: W. W. Norton & Company (2000) (the last book he wrote before he died.)
    I hope this helps.

    Reply

  27. Steve Clemons says:

    Chief — I am really enjoying the new book by Nicholas Thompson on Kennan and Nitze called “The Hawk and the Dove”. I think it’s quite even handed and reveals a lot about Kennan I didn’t know. The book is garnering rave reviews and just came out in last couple of weeks. best, steve

    Reply

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