When President Obama first announced his plans to normalize relations with Cuba last year, he lectured opponents up front, as is his wont:
Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation. But it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for 50 years. It shuts America out of Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people.
Hard to understand how maintaining U.S. policy, when Cuba was for the first time without an outside state-sponsor (i.e., when our policy might actually have worked), was turning back the clock. Still, in short order, President Obama was joined by throngs of Americans who thought all this was a great idea. They wanted to travel to Cuba. They saw Obama as opening a great deal of new free enterprise with and in that country. This was not a uniquely partisan position. Prior to his statement and new policy, Obama was encouraged by Republican Senator Rand Paul and after his statement and new policy, the president was joined and encouraged by Republican Senator Jeff Flake.
But remember President Obama’s words. The policies of the past 50 years, the same policies generally agreed to by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and both Presidents Bush were a failure. It takes some ego to think that entire club was wrong and you—alone—would be the first to get it right. But in President Obama, ego is never in short supply. When Dennis Prager heard of the plan to “normalize” relations with Cuba, his remark was an entire lesson in foreign policy, but perhaps too simple and clear for today’s academy and professoriate: “If you want to normalize relations with a country, here’s a condition: that country should be normal.”
What could Prager have meant? And what have he and those of us opposed to the Castro-regime seen that the likes of Obama, his supporters, Paul, and Flake don’t? One would not have to look very hard and could easily enough dismiss or discount the reports of exiles and first- and second-generation Cuban Americans if one wanted to discount their stories as, say, partisan, ideological, or simply part of some kind of resentment or grievance community. Everyone and anyone could simply try the Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2015 published by the U.S. State Department. In clear and easy-to-read sharp relief, one can see Cuba under the Castros is a place of
[T]he abridgement of the ability of citizens to choose their government; the use of government threats, physical assault, intimidation, and violent government-organized counter-protests against peaceful dissent; and harassment and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly.
Not bad enough? The report continues:
[H]arsh prison conditions; arbitrary, short-term, politically motivated detentions and arrests; selective prosecution; denial of fair trial; and travel restrictions. Authorities interfered with privacy by engaging in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and press, restricted internet access, maintained a monopoly on media outlets, circumscribed academic freedom, and maintained some restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and otherwise exercising their labor rights.
Now, for a quick lesson in hypocrisy—aside from the government controlled media parts—recall what much of the Left shouted and hysterically charged about America throughout the War on Terrorism, shouts and charges without any merit or actual comparison to places like Cuba: same words but with entirely different meanings, same worries but with entirely different realities. One country actually engages in such policies. But it gets a pass—nothing like fake charges to indict the United States with when real charges require not blaming America first.
Did President Obama’s policy “work”? Of course not. Cuba has not become a “normal” country. Even more dissidents have been arrested and more repression has followed our change in policy. But it is true, one country in this arrangement of “normalization” has changed: the United States. And that change—most of all our abdication of moral authority and leadership—has paved the way for allies to engage in the repugnant kinds of encomiums Canada’s Justin Trudeau and others have issued following Fidel Castro’s death.
What the United States does and says still matters, and the renunciation of our own moral authority on human and political rights, in exchange for nothing, will constitute a necessary and challenging part of the great re-teaching and re-learning of common sense our dedication to making America great again must commence. As we begin to define what a new “America First” foreign policy will mean for the 21st century, it can easily enough start with simply not always blaming America first. I can think of some 12 million Cubans who might care about that, just about now.