And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
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“Wish You Were Here,”
Seven months after Dec. 17, President Obama’s process of normalization with the Castro regime seems as unstoppable as a runaway freight train. The new policy was heartily embraced by pundits, the media, and public opinion, and neither the warnings nor the informed arguments from seasoned experts have been able to curb their enthusiasm. This is certainly baffling, because all that supporters have against a wall of reasonable arguments is hope, mostly based on incorrect assumptions and unfounded expectations.
The old policy of containment did not work — they argue — and it is time to try something new. But they forget that, with all its flaws, it was the old policy that brought the Cubans to the negotiating table to begin with. Furthermore, the new policy of engagement is not really new. It has been tried and tested by the Canadians and the Europeans for over 25 years with no results whatsoever.
The new policy — supporters argue — will better foster U.S. interests such as the promotion of human rights, and will empower a rising class of Cuba entrepreneurs. Before Dec. 17, we conveyed our disapproval of the regime’s human rights violations via a diplomatic “statement of concern” from the Department of State. Now we will be able to do exactly the same from our embassy in Havana. How is the latter more effective than the former? Will Cuban entrepreneurs, created and regulated by the regime, be able to expand into a middle class capable of forcing regime change? Of course not. It hasn’t happened anywhere else, simply because in a totalitarian setting, entrepreneurs are as incapable of expanding political freedoms as politicians are of creating wealth. The same goes for American tourists.
What then, explains this irrational exuberance? There is no question that hope is a powerful positive feeling, but as Henry Kissinger said recently, diplomacy is not an exercise in good feelings. Rather, it is an ad hoc mixture of pragmatism and fundamental values, tailored to the needs of each case. Forsaking one for the other is never a good idea. In the case of Cuba, we have abandoned fundamental values inherent to our entire foreign policy in exchange for a fruitless pragmatism.
Change in itself could be invigorating, especially coming from a young and hip president. The combination of change and hope has proven exceptionally intoxicating, to the point of dismissing rational skeptics as a bunch of boring, resentful relics, and welcoming advocates as reasonable, sophisticated and, yes, hip. Because I am a boring skeptic, I must remind readers that most hope-change intoxications usually end in a nasty hangover, like the one Cubans still suffer from that riotous party back in 1959 — courtesy of another young, hip leader.
Smart and eloquent, President Obama has a tendency to oversimplify complex problems, which endears him to the media and uninformed voters alike. Oversimplification, however, betrays a one-dimensional view of the world that only makes any problem worse (remember when ISIS was just a JV team?). Eventually, enthusiasts will realize that the validation of this Cuba-policy turnaround is mainly the rationalizing of a personal crusade to make up for past excesses — both real and perceived — of American “imperialism,” as well as the banal attempt at legacy building. None of these rationalizations can possibly justify the concessions made to an obdurate regime, the forsaking of fundamental values in exchange for nothing, and the long-term damage done to both U.S. interests and Cuban democratic aspirations.
Sebastian A. Arcos is associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.