Stephen Walt is a smart guy, but he isn’t a political scientist. So he was wrong about Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba, “See what presidents can do in foreign policy when they no longer need to get elected & therefore worry less about special interest groups?” The main problem with this assertion was pointed out by Jonathan Bernstein yesterday in, Obama, Cuba and Politics. This decision didn’t come out of a vacuum. There are lots of people across the political spectrum who have been calling for exactly this change. And it isn’t just voters, “Obama’s statement and actions today echo what Hillary Clinton said about Cuba in her recent book, which was written mainly to further her presidential campaign.”
I feel the same way about Cuba and Iran. We just don’t get any benefit from not having diplomatic relations with these countries. It strikes me as more like a middle school tiff than the behavior of adults. And behaving this way doesn’t cause the leaders of these countries to think, “You know, we ought to be more like them!” It makes us look petty and is hardly a good advertisement for joining the “free world.”
The other aspect of this that always struck me as strange was that we would have nothing to do with Cuba while we did have complete diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. What was up with that? As far as I can tell, it all comes down to Kennedy and his overwrought reaction to Cuban. Garry Wills wrote an excellent article about this back in 1982, Did Kennedy Cause the Crisis? The answer is: yes; Kennedy created the mess and then dealt with his own mess fairly badly — in a way that ought to appeal to Republicans today:
Stuff like this is shameful. But of course the country has never come to terms with it. In fact, the Cuban Missile Crisis — the closest we’ve ever come to nuclear war — is one of the crowning achievements of Kennedy’s presidency, as far as most Americans are concerned. Lost in all of this is the fact that Cuba was always a small and weak country that shouldn’t have bothered the United States at all — except that as a people we are neurotically insecure.
From an electoral standpoint, I don’t see the problem with normalizing relations. There are some people who absolutely hate Cuba. But as far as I can tell, they are mostly Republican voters anyway. And, like most Republican voters, they are quickly dying off. What’s more, they are mostly just people who are angry because they lost a bunch of money and prestige under the corrupt Batista regime. Is that what our national goal should be: to get rid of the Castros and replace them with another dictator? People don’t think about it that deeply, but clearly Cuba hasn’t been an exporter of terrorism these last fifty odd years. In fact, it has been the opposite. Regardless of what you think has gone on inside Cuba, it has been the United Sates that has export terrorism to the island nation.
So it is about time that we normalize relations with Cuba. We ought to do the same with Iran. But we won’t do that. And I suspect that Stephen Walt knows very well why that is. The pro-Israel lobby in this country is far more powerful — especially with the Democratic Party — than the anti-Cuba lobby. And Israel would find it frightening if we were to treat Iran as just another nation. Even though it is.