Bush Ups the Ante on Cuba
In Washington today, George W. Bush reinvigorated his counterproductive and anachronistic crusade against the Castro regime in Cuba. As the New York Times reports, President Bush used an address to an invitation-only audience of Cuban exiles to proclaim "the United States will not accept a political transition in Cuba in which power changes from one Castro brother to another." But while Bush's increasingly hard line may please his brother and the monolithically Republican Cuban community in Florida, his dangerously myopic posture undermines the economic, security and political interests of the United States.
While White House press secretary Dana Perino and an anonymous "senior administration official" claimed there was no significance to the timing of Bush's address, the 45th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis no doubt seemed an opportune moment to up the ante against the Castro regime. (Two of President Bush's three previous speeches on Cuba commemorated Cuban Independence Day in 2001 and 2002; the third in 2003 also came in October.)
Falling just short of calling for an insurrection by the Cuban people, the President's aggressive speech targeted Raul Castro, the likely successor to his older and infirm brother Fidel. As the Times previewed on Wednesday morning, the speech:
...will introduce the relatives of four Cuban prisoners being held for political crimes. A senior administration official said the president wanted to "put a human face," on Cuba's "assault on freedom."
In effect, the speech will be a call for Cubans to continue to resist, a particularly strong line coming from an American president. He is expected to say to the Cuban military and police, "There is a place for you in a new Cuba."
The official said Mr. Bush would make the case that for dissidents and others pursuing democracy in Cuba, little has changed at all, and that the country has suffered economically as well as in other ways as a result of the Castro rule...
...The administration official said Mr. Bush was expected to tell Cuban viewers that "soon they will have to make a choice between freedom and the force used by a dying regime."
Unfortunately for the American people, President Bush's escalating rhetoric comes as the threat from Cuba and the need for the 45 year old embargo fades into distant memory. Reprehensible though the communist Castro regime may be, the American policy of isolation and confrontation is a relic of a world which no longer exists.
Surely, Cuba presents no security threat to the United States. There are no Soviet nuclear missiles or brigades of troops on the island. Cuba's days as a Russian proxy are over; Cuban troops have been out of Angola for decades. Havana is not about to become a safe haven for Al Qaeda and Cuba is not going to join Venezuela and Bolivia in a new Axis of Evil.
Economically, too, the Cuban embargo, President Bush's tough travel restrictions and the onerous Helms-Burton law are counterproductive for the United States. U.S. companies and farmers could be the dominant players in a future Cuban economy. Instead, European firms are best positioned to benefit from trade and tourism in post-Fidel Cuba.
A quick tour of U.S. foreign policy highlights the hypocrisy of Bush's pandering to the Cuban exile community in the U.S. Communist China, for example, is likely the major security challenge for the United States in the 21st century. Yet the Bush administration encourages a policy of economic engagement with the rapidly militarizing Beijing, a country with which the U.S. now runs a trade deficit topping $200 billion and to which America is deeply in debt. As for decrying authoritarian nepotism, President Bush is quite content with Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. will always accept a political transition that passes power from one member of the House of Saud to another. (As for the claim that by some conservatives that Castro's Cuba is somehow analogous to apartheid-era South Africa, the 1959 disenfranchisement of Battista's backers in no way resembles the race-based oppression of most of South Africa's citizens.)
Just last month, President Bush rightly recognized the dangers inherent in the making the grievances of a powerful ethnic lobby the policy of the United States. But Armenians don't control the destiny of electoral politics in Florida. Ultimately, the prospect of true democratic change in Cuba may not be tied to the passing of Fidel Castro, but instead to the exit of George W. Bush.