Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has lunged into the spotlight, harshly criticizing President Obama's Cuba opening as if we were still in the 1960s, in the deep freeze of the Cold War and Russian nukes were about to be deployed on an island a few miles from American shores.
But it's not the 1960s. To the dismay of Republican Cuban-American politicians in Florida, the easy days of giving fiery anti-Castro speeches on Calle Ocho and then winning the vote are coming to an end.
The Cuban-American community is no longer dominated by exiles from Fidel Castro's revolution. Younger Americans of Cuban descent voted for President Obama and are ready for a change in U.S. policy -- as is the rest of the country.
The Rubio diatribe -- calling for the U.S. to maintain its decades-old stance in the hopes of forcing Castro and his cronies out -- against Obama and the United States' new policy on Cuba is hackneyed and strategically foolish. As I have written previously, if the U.S. were to be truly serious about throwing out Cuban dictators, harsher policies would have to be implemented.
After 50 years, it is safe to conclude that American policy toward Cuba until now has been a failure. Defended by Cuban-American politicians exploiting the emotions of people genuinely hurt by the revolution, and lauded by the exile community, the policy has not achieved its goals of deposing the communist regime, promoting democracy or even safeguarding the Cuban people's basic human rights.
Imagine if America's Cuba policy were a war, rather than an economic embargo. Would the U.S. pursue an ineffective war for more 50 years? Or, as was the case in Vietnam, negotiate with the enemy to end it? Today Vietnam is run by hardline communists, but the U.S. maintains a robust diplomatic and economic relationship with these former enemies. Moreover, in the face of China's aggressions in the South China Seas, it looks increasingly likely that the U.S. will forge some military ties with the country that was our implacable enemy for decades.
And to look more closely at China, President Nixon sat down with one of the 20th century's most notorious mass murderers, Mao Zedong, and ended decades of hostilities with the uber-repressive Chinese communist regime.
Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio's mentor and now competitor for the Republican presidential nomination, objects to the United States negotiating with current Cuban President Raul Castro because "Cuba is a dictatorship, plain and simple. The United States should only have a new relationship with Cuba when there is progress on basic human rights of the Cuban people."
Under this formula, President Reagan would have never sat down with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to negotiate arms treaties and effectively end the Cold War.
Clearly, both Rubio and Bush are playing for the support of the exile community, even at a time during when the relative influence of this group in Florida politics is in rapid decline. Obama won the state in 2012 despite the loud disdain of these voters. Not a day goes by on Miami's radio airwaves that Obama is not called a "communist," as if that were the most obvious analysis of the president's policies.
Rubio, desperate to establish some foreign-policy credibility before the primaries, jumped into the Cuba announcement like a novice bullfighter, with more bravado than skill, to lambast Obama as the "worst negotiator" since President Carter. Perhaps betraying his scant knowledge of history, Rubio seems to be unaware that Carter negotiated the historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Israel's most powerful enemy.
The purpose of Rubio's carping from the back rows of the American foreign policy machine is purely political: The aspiring candidate is not only playing to his base of supporters in Miami-Dade; he is also eager to be redeemed from his curriculum vitae-embellishment scandal, still haunting him since it first broke in 2011.
According to Politifact Florida, Rubio changed his own biography in order to transform his family into victims of Castro's brutality:
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio sold his American success story as he stumped across Florida two years ago. His parents left Havana in 1959, he told a Panhandle audience, implying, at least, that they fled Fidel Castro's communist revolution. Now records show that they left in 1956, while Castro still plotted in Mexico -- and that even when Rubio doubted his dates, he didn't correct the record. ... The original statement is False.
To put Rubio's lie into proper perspective, it's important to understand that Cuban exiles put great stock in their status as refugees from a revolution, not as economic-driven immigrants. They identify as a displaced people who merit a special status in the context of the fight against global communism. And they are right -- they were the first victims of the savage violence unleashed by Fidel Castro and his brigands as they drove out the previous dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. (Full disclosure: One branch of my family is made up of Cuban exiles who had to flee the island with only a few suitcases.)
While largely ignored by most Americans, Marco Rubio's career as a Florida politician was built on the manipulation of exiles. From the beginning of his race up the greasy pole, he told a big lie -- a lie with real transcendence for Cuban-Americans, and that is a red flag to all Americans about his integrity.
Having gotten to the U.S. Senate riding that lie, now Rubio seeks to once again bathe in the glow of exile status, defending a failed policy and hoping to regain lost credibility.