Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Thoughts On Cuba

Obama seems to be casting about almost randomly for anything that will create a legacy for him. Too bad for him that he doesn't understand what the American public actually cares about, nor is he apparently capable of working well enough with others to get help in finding a legacy. Oh well. His latest effort, loosening relationships with Cuba, is a good idea, but ultimately pretty meaningless toward his future. Here are my thoughts...

This Is Long Overdue

I get that some conservatives are stuck in the paranoid world of Cold War politics, but loosening relationships with Cuba is something that should have been done long ago. Why? Because history has shown that the only way to change a regime, short of military occupation, is economic liberalization. Yep. Sanctions don't work. For sixty years now, we have done our best to change Cuba's government by imposing strong economic sanctions on Cuba. The idea was to cripple their economy so the government would collapse and capitalists (and mobsters) could return to Cuba and exploit its economic qualities, e.g. cigars, sugar, tourism, gambling, etc. Despite our best efforts, those sanctions resulted in jack... nothing... squat... zip... nada. Why? Because sanctions don't work.

Indeed, look at the history of sanctions and you won't find a single instance where they worked... ever. And the reason they don't work is really quite simple. First, sanctions allow the sanctioned country to create an us versus them mentality which makes enduring the sanctions into a matter of pride and loyalty. That keeps people from attacking the regime over the sanctions. It also lets the sanctioned regime blame their economic and political failures on the sanctioning country. This becomes the perfect excuse for all failures. Third, sanctions just don't work because they will always be overcome by the power of human ingenuity. You will see this time and again. In fact, interestingly, despite a total embargo and continual bombing, Nazi Germany actually produced more war material at the end of the war than it did even at the height of its power.

Heck, conservatives get this when it comes to places like Iran and China etc. Yet, when it comes to Cuba, somehow nostalgia kicks in and seems to make conservatives stupid... "James Bond can't be black! And by God, we'll get those Cubans in another couple hundred years!"

At the same time, economic liberalization has crushed communist regime after communist regime. The communist regimes in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China and Vietnam all fell apart when their people got a taste of economic freedom and the joys wealth can bring. Sure, China and Vietnam are still technically run by the communists, but their control is little more than an illusion today, with their leaders understanding that maintaining their massive growth rates are the only thing keeping them from being tossed out by their own people. In the Soviet Union and East Europe, the inability of those regimes to deliver wealth led to their overnight collapses and replacement by regimes that shut down the secret police and opened the stock markets. Was it always perfect? Hardly, but it was fast and furious and fundamentally transforming. Sanctions, on the other hand, never even started the ball rolling.

Cuba will be the same thing. As American money and businesses pour in, a middle and upper class will form within weeks and they will demand an end to the regime's dominance. These are the people who keep the regime alive today. And when the regime is stripped of their support as they find a better deal getting rich, the regime must either retreat or collapse. I guess they could call out the Army, but that's almost never worked to maintain control once the public gets money-fever. In fact, outside of a temporary victory in China, which gave way to liberalization almost immediately, I can't think of an instance where this has worked.

So the moral is simple: if you want to change a nation, liberalize economic relations and let greed crush ideology. If you want to pretend to change a regime while actually strengthening it, then pimp for sanctions.

Obama v. The GOP

Obama thinks this will help him and his legacy, but it won't. This change will mean nothing to Obama's legacy because the public just doesn't care about foreign policy or cold war relic policies. In fact, all it will do is add to the vague sense the public has that Obama is weak.

On the other hand, there is nothing to be gained by fighting this or attacking Obama. The best the GOP can do in that regard is to be ignored. A more likely result is they will be seen as being a pain in the ass who are obsessed with ideology and ancient feuds that no longer matter to the public.

Where this change will actually matter is in Florida electoral politics. And in that, the GOP is best situated to be the winner. The Cuban community in Florida is largely Republican, though the younger ones are more Democratic. And while the older Cubans are generally opposed to liberalization, they will ultimately be the ones who benefit the most from this change because they will be the ones who fund all the businesses that will be opening in Cuba. That means the GOP's Florida base will soon be much, much richer. And if the GOP helps them in this, through the normal "client services" in which Congress engages, then the GOP will be directly responsible for helping that effort to go smoothly. You can make a lot of friends that way... newly rich, powerful friends. In theory, the Democrats could do this too, only they don't have the connections to the community that the GOP does and they are seen as sympathetic to the wrong people, i.e. communists. What the GOP needs to avoid is trying to throw up roadblocks to economic development which let the Democrats become the heroes of the Cuban community. They also need to avoid changing the immigration preferences for Cubans, which will not sit well with the community. Beyond that, they should seize this opportunity to transform Cuba and the electoral landscape of Florida... Carpe Florida!



LL said...

I see Obama's Cuba policy as a potentially big win for the GOP - as you point out. Otherwise, it does nothing for his base or his legacy.

Let's face it, he will be remembered for Obamacare - and even the progressive minions there are smarting from the sticker.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, That's exactly how I see it too -- potentially huge win for the GOP, nothing but frustration for the Democrats that they get no credit for this.

And you are right, Obama's entire legacy, barring something truly MAJOR and unexpected like a war with Mexico, will be Obamacare, and that's not a good legacy.

BTW, I suspect that within a couple years, Cuba will be the number one destination for cruise ships by a mile.

Kit said...

I just don't trust the Castro brothers that much. They've stabbed American (Democrat) goodwill in the back before (Eisenhower, Carter, Clinton). Of course, they no longer have a USSR to back them up and Venezuela is in the crapper.

I'm also worried that it might save the Castro regime in a desperate moment. I recently read in a book how the Clinton administration's decision to send foreign aid to North Korea during the famine of the 1990s may have saved the regime from collapse.

And I think sanctions can work but they have to work in tangent with other policies. And there should always be the offer of carrots in return for good behavior.

I guess I'm undecided on it right now.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, A couple points:

1. You don't need to trust the Castros. Once these kinds of events start, human nature kicks in and the public becomes an irresistible force that remakes the country. The government has a couple of choices - accept it and hope they can manage a soft landing for themselves, flee, or fight it and likely end up lynched.

2. Sanctions don't work. They've never worked in the history of man. So continuing them is basically an admission that we don't know how to get what we want.

3. In terms of Clinton saving North Korea, that was the plan actually. They sent the food aid to keep the country from imploding to prevent North Korea from deciding that the only way to prevent being murdered by their own citizens was to invade South Korea.

Anthony said...

Andrew, I'm sure there will be a flood of American money and tourists, but I strongly doubt many of older Cubans who are the driving force behind sanctions are going to visit or invest in Cuba while the Castros live.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

If trade with Cuba were going to help Cuba move away from communism I would be all for it.
However, I see it differently. We were one of the very few countries that had sanctions against Cuba's communist regime.
In fact, the sanctions would've worked better if most countries had chosen to help the US isolate and starve the communist regime there.
So why didn't trade with all the other countries have an impact on Cuba?

I tend to worry, like Kit that we are throwing them a life preserver, economically.
We certainly did so with North Korea, and would've done so with the former USSR if the democrats had their way in the 80's.

Don't get me wrong, I would like for this to work but I doubt the people of Cuba will get any of our money. It will be the Castro brothers and they will strengthen their grip.
After they die, time will tell.

What urks me the most, however, is that Cuba is a state sponser of terrorism, and we should never reward that or communism.

Tennessee Jed said...

thanks Barack!! :) ....... Seriously, it is a good point, Andrew. People will tend not to see this nationally because, well, the liberal media will always try and spin it differently. Keeping Florida's electoral votes on the side of free market capitalism is critical, though. I rarely feel comfortable with the G.O.P. successfully capitalizing on good opportunities, but one can hope.That said, while I have legally smoked Cuban cigars outside the U.S., I can't help but think they were overrated.That may be an issue with freshness, however, and besides, at my age, I rarely smoke a cigar anymore.

Critch said...

I've long held a suspicion that our unwillingness to normalize relations with Cuba stems from the idea that Castro may indeed have had something to do with killing John Kennedy.

Kit said...


I disagree with you on sanctions. They do work, so long as there are other polices working within an overall plan in place. That is, an end goal.

I will admit in Cuba we haven't had an over-all plan in place aside from…

Phase 1: Embargo Cuba
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Bring down Castro regime.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - I agree with you almost 100%. Here is something to throw into the mix - Raul Castro is 83 years old & Fidel is 88 years old and in poor health. I have not heard of any little Castros in the wings ready or willing to carry on the family dictator business. And as a matter of fact, one of Fidel's daughters is an expat in exile and a vocal anti-communist thorn in Fidel's side. When Fidel goes which by all signs may be very soon, this may work out nicely for all concerned. It is just another signal that Communism may work in the short run, but it is not sustainable without a strong-armed dictator to purge the dissidents. Freedom of thought will always find a way.

That all being said, I sympathize with the expats who escaped after being tortured, jailed, and losing everything they had. They certainly don't want to see the Castro regime rewarded for their bad behavior. On the other hand, they have thrived quite nicely in the US.

Kit said...

Silver lining for me: The acknowledgement that Cuba does indeed have political prisoners. Probably makes some on the Left a bit uncomfortable.

I think the best thing for Republicans to do is to demand more political prisoners be released as part of the deal as well as the extradition of any criminals living in Cuba such as Assata Shakur.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, My guess is that they will actually become heavily involved in attempts to change the regime by becoming politically active on the island itself. And I don't doubt for a minute that those with money will try to open businesses on the island. They are ideally situated for that actually.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, If sanctions would have worked, it would have been an historical first. Considering that sanctions didn't work against the Nazis, the Japanese, the Russians, the Chinese, North Vietnam, Iran, or anyone else, it just doesn't make sense to think they would work this time.

In terms of the Castros getting rich... first, they already are. Secondly, their fate will depend on the people of Cuba. If they step back and let the Cubans get rich, they will likely survive -- though they may face charges eventually if they aren't careful. If they resist, they will likely find themselves at the end of a rope. That's what history suggests. And I would rather have a free Cuba even if it means they go unpunished than an imprisoned Cuba just to hang onto hopes that the government will one day collapse and the maybe the new government will let us punish them.

As for the terror charge, I'm not really aware of Cuban participation in "terror." They have done some things that are probably crimes against humanity or war crimes. And the way to handle that is to charge them with those and then use the liberal system of touchy-feeling far-overreaching prosecutions against them.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think the public just doesn't care what happens outside our borders unless it involves American troops.

I'm not a smoker, but I've always suspected that their cigar reputation is more about being illegal than being the best.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, In all honesty, it wouldn't surprise me if there is some secret that the government is trying to keep hidden by avoiding normalizing with Cuba. Of course, it also suits a lot of people to keep things as they are. Cubans get special immigration status. The sugar industry keeps out a competitor. Vegas only has to compete with Macau. No one gets to dig into Cuban archives on such things as the Bay of Pigs and JFK's killing. The Baby Boomers get to feel like their issues are still the big issues today. Pushing sanctions has been a sure-fire way to reach the Cuban-American community. Etc.

Self-interest will often trump the common good.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, When have sanctions ever worked?

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, The problem with waiting for the Castros to die is that you don't know what will come next. It's possible that they get someone even more anti-American. At that point, you're stuck again until they vanish.

Indeed, it makes more sense to do this now, with an aged, weak dying leader in charge because economic liberalization creates this rising class who are motivated by freedom and money, who will now be motivated and coordinated to replace that weak leader if needed. And since he's weak, he's easier to toss out because his support will desert him.

By comparison, if we don't do this, then the next change of power will be entirely an in-palace affair as there will be no rising (capitalist) class which can coordinate to have its wishes known. So you will most likely get the most politically powerful crony as the new leader and the public, which would have driven the change before, will instead expend their energies trying to secure their positions under the new government.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, I doubt the left worries about that issue. For one thing, they are great at disassociating their own crimes from their own ideology, and for another, the public doesn't care and isn't going to hold whatever happens in Cuba against them.

In terms of the GOP, I don't see a reason why not to make this demand to at least hang it around Democratic necks, but this demand should not stand in the way of the policy change.

AndrewPrice said...

On France, let me offer my condolences to the terrorism victims who were murdered today. They have my deepest respect for standing up for fundamental human rights and freedoms against the retarded barbarians who somehow think a genuine god would condone murder in the name of oppression.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - I am not suggesting that we should wait for the Castros to die. Just the opposite. It think we need to progress with all due haste. so we can normalize relations/influence as much as possible to avoid your scenario of some even more entrenched cronies jockeying for dictatorship.

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - On France - Of the 12 who have been reported murdered so far, 4 of them were cartoonists...CARTOONISTS! As biting as their political satire can be, do those who think this is all just fear-mongering get it now? Islamic terrorists are willing to slaughter people over stupid cartoons.

Kit said...

"When have sanctions ever worked?"
By themselves? Never.

It's hurting Russia right now.
Reagan used them with some effect, I recall, to retaliate against Russia for the suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland.

Kit said...

The sanctions against Japan in the 1930s really hurt them. Of course, that kind of backfired when their leadership decided to take the gamble of going to war against the US.

Kit said...

I guess my view is that sanctions must work in tandem with other policies. By themselves they will not work.

And every situation requires different policies.

Kit said...

The terror attack is awful. And they still appear to be on the loose. Paris is looking very reminiscent of Boston a few years ago.

Kit said...

I know I've probably posted a bit too many comments but I feel like I have to say something on this.

It has been really amazing to see the large crowds in Paris and across Europe protesting the massacre and the trending of the hashtags #JeSuisCharlie, #LiberteEgaliteFraternite, and #LibertedelaPresse (Freedom of the Press).

I think I'm going to have to re-watch Casablanca tonight.

Koshcat said...

You are probably right, Andrew but there is still something about it that bugs me. Perhaps it is the idiot doing the normalization. This was not something that was being pushed by the Cuban groups as a whole in the US and president ding-a-ling just seems to be throwing everything he can against the wall to see if it sticks. Because it was done with little planning or foresight, it will generally fail unless he gets the Cuban caucus to back him. That would require ding-a-ling to actually sit down with some of them and actually work with them. I don't trust he actually has either Cuba's or our best interest in mind when he proposed it.

Koshcat said...

For some reason I have "actually" listed three times in the last 2 sentences. I need a proof reader or something.

Anthony said...

What gets me about the Islamic attack is that the killers were known for years to be terrorists but they were legally walking around free in France.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Sorry, I misunderstood your comment.

I find it ridiculous that their "god" can be so weak that he would need to command his followers to kill a heathen comic. Can a French comic strip really destroy Mohammed? I guess so.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, The problem is that the sanctions simply don't work... they only "work" when something else does the work. That's like saying that a cookie will cause you to lose weight if you eat the cookie while also sticking with a crash diet. Sure, the cookie was part of your diet, but it didn't help.

The only time I can think that sanctions ever worked might might might be South Africa, and that was only because the country was actually a democracy of sorts and because the then-current system was untenable.

Sanctions sound great, but they just don't work. And when you have a decimated, rural country like Cuba, sanctions definitely won't work because there is no industry to be affected.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I agree with you. Whatever I think of the idea, it annoys me that Obama stumbled upon this. And I can't believe he did this for the right reasons or even with much thought.

Still, we should seize the opportunity our Idiot in Chief has handed us.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I don't know why they let people like this roam free. It's tolerance to an insane extreme.

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