Editor’s Note: For years, we were told that, once the Soviets stopped propping up the Castro government financially, it was sure to collapse, if we just kept the pressure on with our trade embargo. Like the Second Coming, this event is always on the horizon, but never happens. We really have no right to punish the Cuban people with such an embargo, especially after their government had stopped making mischief around the world, but we’ve kept doing it anyway, largely because our politicians are so totally spineless with regard to the anti-Castro Cubans in Florida. However, now it looks like the tide may be turning. This column also included the debut of my picture next to my byline, a little head shot that is unlikely to make the readers’ morning corn flakes go down any easier.
think that this situation absolutely requires a really
futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.
— Otter, “Animal House”
Americans love to solve problems — even those that don’t actually exist — by making grand gestures that often don’t actually accomplish anything. This attitude has permeated U.S. policy toward Fidel Castro since the end of the Cold War, and, only now, does change seem to be in the wind.
President Obama recently honored a campaign pledge by loosening some of the sanctions against Cuba, while leaving the trade embargo in place. To hear the right-wing response, you’d think he’d appointed Kim Jong-il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to his cabinet.
Castro came to power in 1959 and promptly converted to communism. He became a thorn in our side by supporting leftist insurgencies in our hemisphere and in Africa and by enabling the Soviets to base missiles on his island. A murderous totalitarian who imprisons, tortures and executes those who oppose his repressive regime, Fidel has always considered ideological orthodoxy more important than the well-being of his people. Yet, he’s been inexplicably admired by many American leftists for decades.
Even during the 60s, I never wore a T-shirt with Castro’s or Che’s or Mao’s picture on it. Nor did I venerate Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot or the other disgusting communist leaders who stained the 20th century with their brutalities. So I never lost sleep over the Cuban embargo.
Some aspects of our policy were sensible, and some were extreme, and possibly illegal under international law, but, in the context of the Cold War, they were justifiable and understandable. At least the embargo forced the Russians to subsidize Cuba for decades, expending scarce resources they could ill afford.
On the other hand, our sanctions never achieved their ostensible goal of bringing down the Havana regime, which continued even after its Kremlin patrons lost the Cold War and stopped financing Castro’s “revolution.” Nonetheless, despite almost 50 years of futility, the embargo has continued.
Of course, there are domestic political reasons for this. Florida is a swing state, and south Florida contains a crucial, often-monolithic bloc of rabidly anti-Castro Cuban voters who make sensible decisions about Cuba problematic. Without this group, George W. Bush probably couldn’t have been elected in 2000, and we might not be enjoying our current recession. No candidate dares alienate the Florida Cubans.
Einstein defined insanity as repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Most Americans aren’t insane, but we do like to solve problems with gestures that makes us feel good about ourselves. We enjoy making things right by controlling other people, whether they want us to or not. And, we feel the same way about our own problems, real and imaginary.
After 911 and the toppling of the Taliban, frustrated by our failure to capture Bin Ladin, we “solved” our problems with Saddam Hussein, which didn’t actually exist, and became mired in an expensive and pointless war in Iraq. This grand gesture brought us death, debt and worldwide opprobrium, but many still see it as Mission Accomplished.
We love battles that make us feel we’ve accomplished something. We’ve been fighting a war on drugs for decades, wasting billions to jail marijuana smokers (a dubious problem), while turning drug cartels into profitable businesses, losing billions in tax revenue and fomenting turf wars among criminal enterprises. Meanwhile, this gesture doesn’t even dent the availability of drugs.
Just as we love a war on [fill in the blank], we love conflicts that contain the word “defense.” Nothing excites the Religious Right as much as the “defense of marriage” against the hordes of homosexuals conspiring to destroy matrimony, paradoxically by embracing it. Never mind that right-wing serial adulterers and divorcers like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh damage the institution more than gays, Christian conservatives insist on defending marriage, even though not even the most-rabid opponents of same-sex marriage can explain how it threatens “real marriage.”
Similarly, anti-flag-burning legislation periodically surfaces, even though American flags are almost never burned. This problem is merely a rare exercise of free speech, but the defense of Old Glory requires the grand gesture of eviscerating the First Amendment.
On a lighter note, there’s Bill O’Reilly’s annual campaign against the liberals’ war on Christmas. Every autumn, this problem, which doesn’t exist, precipitates boycotts and endless outraged tirades on Fox. When they’re not bankrupting the French by patriotically refusing to buy their wines and cheeses, BillO and his culture warriors feel they’ve accomplished something by defending mangers, shepherds and frankincense.
Someday we’ll realize Cuba really isn’t much of a problem anymore. Maybe we’ll even recognize that our grand gesture toward Havana sustains the Castro brothers by enabling them to blame the U.S. embargo for their own failures and the inefficiencies of Marxism.
After the next presidential election, I’d like to light up a Cuban victory cigar, the best in the world, rather than the smelly Honduran I smoked back in 2008. Are you listening, Mr. Obama? It’s about time.
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