Obama Policy on Cuba a Very Radical Moderate Approach

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Posted on: 12/24/2014 by Pat O'Brien

"Dogma is the chief rival of Radical Moderate thought."

I wrote that in "The Radical Moderate" in 2012. By ending the 50 year plus old embargo against the nation of Cuba, President Obama has struck a huge blow against dogma. Because dogma is the only remaining reason that the embargo exists. Furthermore, the President foreshadowed his move in an August, 2007 op-ed in the Miami Herald before he was even the Democratic nominee for President. In other words, he took some political risk by advocating the end of a policy that has no basis in common sense any more. And, he won the State of Florida - twice.

The United States policy in regards to Cuba is one of the most illustrative of why Radical Moderate thought needs to gain favor. To be fair, the Cuba embargo started off in October, 1960 with a very sound rationale. Fidel Castro had taken over Cuba in 1959 and made it a socialist state that would later become a Communist state. The rationale for the embargo reached its peak in October, 1962 when the Cuban Misslie Crisis happened. In other words, the embargo had its time and place. It did not start off with a bad rationale. The embargo was initially on the right side of history. It made common sense in the 1960s, 1970s and even into the 1980s. But, over time, the embargo started to lose its rationale for existing. And, yet, it existed nonetheless.

What year should the Cuban Embargo have been lifted? That is really hard to say. What is easier to pronounce is that it should have not lasted into the 21st century. There are several reasons why it should have ended at least a decade before President Obama made his bold move. First, it has not worked. The Castro Brothers have not been affected by the embargo and it failed in the attempt to turn the Cuban people against them. Second, the United States has long since started to trade with former rivals such as Vietnam and China. Third, the real reason for the existence of the embargo is that politicians have not wanted to anger Cuban voters in Florida - and that is the only reason the embargo has lasted this long.

The embargo just didn't work. History has shown us that socialist/communist states fail because of economics. The former Soviet Union fell because a command economy run from Moscow could not meet the daily needs of the people. Needs such as bread, water and housing. Communism doesn't work. It has never worked and it never will work. And, it has not worked in Cuba either. Cuba is still communist and because of that reality it is very poor. It exists but it does not thrive. And, Cuban communism presents no threat to the American way of life. In fact, we should take pity on the Cuban people for having to live under their failed leaders. Having said all of that, the embargo has done nothing to rid Cuba of the Castro Brothers. They exist in their own dogmatic way. The United States was absolutely right to attempt an embargo as a way to pressure the Castro Brothers from power. But, it just didn't work. We tried it in various forms for 54 years. And, it just didn't work.

Cuba is not a different set of circumstances than Vietnam or China. You will hear people such as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida try to make a distinction but their arguments are laughable. Let's take a look at Vietnam first. The United States fought a war against communist North Vietnam formally from 1964 to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Following that loss by the United States, Vietnam was governed as a communist state - and it still is a communist state in 2014. At least in name. But, something really interesting happened in the 1990s - the United States started to trade with Vietnam. In 2001, we actually took the time and trouble to sign the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement. The U.S.-Vietnam trade relationship now tops $20 Billion annually and that number is continuing to grow. So, for review: The United States lost tens of thousands of American lives to fight communism in Vietnam, we lost that war and now we gladly trade with the communist victors. Why? Because it just makes sense. Between 1975 and 2001, the two sides just moved on with life and now the past is just that. The dogma never really entered into the equation.

And China? Does this even need explanation? China is a communist state. They do not have free elections. They do not have equal rights. When Chinese citizens disagree with their government they are often sent to jail for an extended period of time. So, we have an embargo with them right? Oh, hell no we don't. In fact, we buy a ton of goods from them because they make things that we want and we don't care at all they they have a communist form of government. Again, there is no dogma involved. It just makes sense that the United States would trade with the second largest economy in the world. To do otherwise would betray the meaning of capitalism. It just makes sense and no one even takes the time to question it.

So, what is the real reason why the Cuban Embargo has lasted this long as U.S. dogmatic policy? Because, politics. Specifically, there are a lot of Cuban voters in Florida. And, Florida is the ultimate swing state having decided the 2000 Presidential Election in historic and controversial fashion. According to Nate Silver, the Cuban vote in a Florida Republican Primary is 8% and they tend to vote as a bloc. They can definitely swing a primary election. Even in the General Election, the Cuban vote is 6% of the total electorate and must be acknowledged as a big consituency.

Outside of Florida, few people feel strongly about U.S.-Cuba relations. In my home state of Arkansas, trading with Cuba would lead to more rice and cotton exports. But, our newly elected Senator Tom Cotton is for the embargo. And, most Arkansans could probably care less. In fact, most Americans could probably care less about whether we have an embargo. And that is exactly why we need more radical moderation in this country. Because, public policy matters. Dogma is wrong and it is bad for our democracy. Trade is good. Capitalism is good. Rejecting dogma is great. It makes us a smarter, freer country. That is important whether people are paying attention or not.

It should be noted that there are individuals that have experienced pain because of President Obama's decision. There are Cuban exiles that were persecuted by the Castro regime and their emotions are genuine. Their concerns about opening up relations with an authoritarian Cuba are real. But, the concerns of those relatively few people should not outweigh the interest of 300 million American citizens. Over 58,000 American lives were lost in the Vietnam War. But, we moved on because that is the American way. We honor those deaths by taking the next step in history instead of always looking backward. We can respect the pain that Cuban exiles feel but also reject dogmatism at the same time. That is exactly what President Obama did on December 17, 2014 and for that he should be commended.

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