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Robert L. Borosage

Robert L. Borosage

Posted: May 27, 2008 02:08 PM

McCain and the Cuba Libre


John McCain seems intent on embracing every failed policy of the Bush administration. Iraq, check; top end tax cuts, check. Privatization of Social Security, check. Unraveling employer based health care, check. And this weekend, McCain boldly informed the remnants of the Miami Cuban expatriots that he will sustain the most egregiously failed US policy of them all -- the Cuban embargo.

McCain was in his element, invoking freedom, denouncing oppression, invoking the threat Cuba poses to America; ah, 'twas like the salad days of the Cold War when he was young and easy.

But really, the Cuban embargo? Castro has now outlasted 9 US presidents. We've sponsored a failed invasion of the island, hired failed assassinations to take him out, tried to poison him so his beard would fall out (really), poisoned crops, fouled up bearings, and much else. And through thick and thin, missile crises and détente, Cold War and Soviet collapse, administration after administration has sustained an embargo against this little island 90 miles off our shores.

The embargo has helped, no doubt, to impoverish the Cuban people. It has also helped to make Castro a nationalist hero throughout Latin America and much of the world. It has done nothing for nearly five decades to advance democracy, civil liberties or capitalism in Cuba. Even its economic effects have diminished over time. It once cribbed tourism, and, once the Soviet Union went belly up, put a squeeze on oil. Now the Europeans and Canadians populate the Cuban beaches. And Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is happy to provide Cuba with the oil it needs.

Cuba is a small island, 90 miles off our shores. Its people are proud and nationalistic. They also get island fever. Their relatives across the straits let them know what they've been missing economically. There is little doubt that had the US normalized relations with Cuba, opened up trade, encouraged travel and exchanges, Cuba would have been transformed long ago. The détente that worked its magic on the Warsaw Pact countries in Eastern Europe would have been much more powerful in Cuba.

So why does McCain extol this tribute to folly? It's a good pander to the older generation of Cubans, still pining to see Castro's overthrow and to have a shot at taking back their old properties. But straight talking John McCain wouldn't adopt a goofy failed foreign policy just for political purposes, would he?

McCain's spokesperson, Nancy Pfotenhauer, tried to explain on Fox News:
We can't talk with Castro or lift the embargo until democracy descends on the island, she stated, because "the worst thing we can do is prematurely capitulate (emphasis added) and give them what they want the most without anything in return, and what they want the most is legitimacy, which, by the way, all that does is completely erode the confidence and the hopes of the people in Cuba who want freedom."

Can't "prematurely capitulate" after nearly five decades of a failed policy. We can't dash the "confidence and hopes" of the "people in Cuba who want freedom" who, no doubt, are biting their finger nails, hoping against hope that, after five decades, more of the same will somehow convince Castro to install a democracy.

We don't have an embargo with China, quite the contrary. Nor with Vietnam or Cambodia. We denounce Chavez as a dictator, but Venezuela's oil is a little too precious to fool around with. This isn't a matter of principle. It can only be explained as expressing a kind of purblind inertia. We do it because we can, who cares if it doesn't work.

The avid embrace of failed Bush policies seems to be a McCain hallmark, but this is simply ridiculous. Why not dub the embargo a failed policy of Democrats, blame it on Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton and go another way?

McCain ended his speech by noting that "For decades, in Republican and Democratic administrations alike, the United States has treated Latin America as a junior partner rather than as a neighbor, like a little brother rather than as an equal." Right, and the Cuba embargo is the symbol of that throughout the hemisphere. In his romance with the embargo, McCain scorns the opinions and policies of our allies and our neighbors, isolating America in the name of isolating Castro.

No one, I assume, except a handful of Miami Cuban intransigents actually cast a presidential vote on this issue. But doesn't the perfervid embrace of the ridiculous say something about McCain's qualifications to lead this country forward?