Bush Rules Out Quick Cuba Policy Change

cuban cigars Fidel Casto may have stepped down but the embargo aimed at his ouster is staying put.

The Bush administration is ruling out any changes in its Cuba policy — including lifting a five-decade trade embargo — after Fidel Castro’s resignation, deriding his brother and heir apparent, Raul, as “dictator lite.”

[…]

“They’re the ones who suffered under Fidel Castro,” Bush told a news conference in Rwanda. “They’re the ones who were put in prison because of their beliefs. They’re the ones who have been denied their right to live in a free society. So I view this as a period of transition and it should be the beginning of the democratic transition in Cuba.”

“Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections — and I mean free, and I mean fair — not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy,” Bush said. “The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.”

Fundamentally, of course, he’s right. The only thing that’s changed here is the name on the door. And not even the last name, for that matter.

Still, our policy has been an embarrassment. Not only has it not helped lead to freedom for Cubans but it’s made their economic lives much more miserable and given the Castro regime a scapegoat. Steve Clemons observes that,

Of all the low cost opportunities to demonstrate a new and different US style of engagement with the world, Cuba is at the top of the list. Opening family travel — and frankly all travel — between Cuba and the US, and ending the economic embargo will provide new encounters, new impressions, and the kind of people-to-people diplomacy that George W. Bush, John Bolton, Richard Cheney, and Jesse Helms run scared of.

Kevin Drum adds,

The accession of Raul Castro is unlikely to appease the electorally important (but less important all the time) Cuban exile community in Florida, but why not try pandering to the nation’s cigar smokers instead? “Vote for me and Montecristo #2s will be legal again!” I’ve heard worse campaign slogans.

Partisan sniping about a bipartisan policy started by a Democrat and carried out through nine administrations notwithstanding, this is right. Fidel is gone. It’s time for this policy to go with him.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John425 says:

    You mention key points in the meme but you then draw opposite conclusions. Political prisoners are still in prison. The Cuban government is the only trading partner because everything has been nationalized. More trade means more money to prop up their corrupt regime. It is a one party system and “voting” is a joke. Open travel merely opens the doors to more potential terrorists. Do you not recall the axis that Hugo Chavez is forging? (Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela) Why give them another port-of-entry? Every day Cubans are voting with their feet to get out of there.

  2. Triumph says:

    If anything, this should be a vindication of President Bush’s impressive leadership. Every president since Kennedy has tried to force Fidel from power. Only Bush has been successful.

    Only Bush, because of his steadfast leadership, strength of character, and iron will, has been able to force Fidel from his seat of power.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    Let’s take a simple test to see if you can match the candidate’s position to the change.

    If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades.

    a) Bush
    b) Clinton
    c) McCain
    d) Obama

    I would say to the new leadership, the people of the United States are ready to meet you if you move forward towards the path of democracy, with real, substantial reforms.

    a) Bush
    b) Clinton
    c) McCain
    d) Obama

    That is why we must press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections.

    “Cuba’s transition to democracy is inevitable; it is a matter of when – not if. With the resignation of Fidel Castro, the Cuban people have an opportunity to move forward and continue pushing for the moment that they will truly be free. America can and should help hasten the sparking of freedom in Cuba.

    a) Bush
    b) Clinton
    c) McCain
    d) Obama

    Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections — and I mean free, and I mean fair — not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy, the United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.

    a) Bush
    b) Clinton
    c) McCain
    d) Obama

    I’ll post answers in a bit. I would just like to see how many people can pick their candidates from their position.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    Triumph,

    You are actually right though I don’t think you meant to be. If Bush had caved on the war on terrorism in 2004, he would likely not have been elected. So it is only his “steadfast leadership, strength of character, and iron will” that brought him to office when the change over occurred.

  5. Tlaloc says:

    *Sigh*

    the cuba embargo seems to be like the drug war- a failed policy that has had the opposite of the intended effect and yet can’t be rescinded because it has a core of delusional supporters who demand it remain in place no matter how bad a job it does.

    Great.

    The best successes of the US to “liberalize” other countries have all involved soft power- trade, diplomacy, foreign aid. The iron fist does not suit democracy well. It is counterproductive (witness Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, et cetera).

  6. Tlaloc, your memory is too short, or maybe it’s just your perspective since you sound too young to remember these events, but I don’t think Hitler’s Germany or Tojo’s Japan were moved by soft power. And is there any person or policy that you don’t agree with that isn’t either stupid or delusional? Any person or policy that might in fact be reasoned well and effectively from a different set of grounded assumptions? Jumping Jeebus, the insults come fast and furious in everything you write. Try to respect people you disagree with because, believe it or not, you are going to eventually realize that you aren’t always on the side of the angels, no matter how pure your heart may be.

    If Fidel Castro is going to be credited yet again by Big Media types for outlasting nine US presidents (the 22nd amendment notwithstanding from this always piquant analysis), then why shouldn’t George W. Bush be credited for bringing him down? It’s silly, sure, but then I’m one of those “oppponents” of Castro who have always considered him a dictator rather than a liberator.

  7. Tlaloc says:

    Tlaloc, your memory is too short, or maybe it’s just your perspective since you sound too young to remember these events, but I don’t think Hitler’s Germany or Tojo’s Japan were moved by soft power.

    Oh, yes they were. They ABSOLUTELY were. There was the war period of course, but what matters more is the period afterwards when we helped reconstruct their nations and slowly but surely eased off on the restrictions instead of humiliating them and trying to keep them oppressed. The Marshall plan and the period immediately after WW2 is the very textbook case of using soft power wisely.

    And is there any person or policy that you don’t agree with that isn’t either stupid or delusional?

    I didn’t call anyone stupid here. I did use the term delusional- but what else can you call people whose reaction to failure is to try the same thing again expecting different results. Seems like “delusional” is very appropriate.

    Try to respect people you disagree with because, believe it or not, you are going to eventually realize that you aren’t always on the side of the angels, no matter how pure your heart may be.

    I’ve owned up to the places where I’ve been wrong. And I do respect people who are honestly wrong, that is people who argue in good faith for what they believe and who then admit when they are shown to be wrong.

    But how can anyone argue for the embargo in good faith when it failed for almost fifty years to accomplish its goal. Notice that Cuba is about the only old school communist country left on earth. Everyone else moved on but them. Coincidnence? Probably not. We *maintained* Castro through our actions. That’s been clear for years if not decades. So tell me what good faith argument is there for the embargo that wouldn’t have long ago admitted it was wrong?

    If Fidel Castro is going to be credited yet again by Big Media types for outlasting nine US presidents

    It isn’t about “crediting.” It is about pointing out that our policy is clearly ineffective. 9 US presidents have maintained a policy designed to do only one thing- remove Castro from power, and the guy eventually steps down due to failing health at age 82! Obviously something is wrong with the policy.

  8. yetanotherjohn says:

    Well no one seems to be able to tell the difference between the potential new boss and the old boss.

    If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades.

    This one is easy. To paraphrase Biden, a noun, a verb and either change or hope.

    I would say to the new leadership, the people of the United States are ready to meet you if you move forward towards the path of democracy, with real, substantial reforms.

    Another easy one. The ‘I’ is the dead give away. Who is the most egotistical of all the candidates?

    That is why we must press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections.

    “Cuba’s transition to democracy is inevitable; it is a matter of when – not if. With the resignation of Fidel Castro, the Cuban people have an opportunity to move forward and continue pushing for the moment that they will truly be free. America can and should help hasten the sparking of freedom in Cuba.

    Harder, but consistent. Ask yourself this question, who would go the most bonkers if the embargo was lifted? Now read the quote and tell me if lifting the embargo would be ruled out as part of ‘hastening the sparking of freedom’.

    The last one is equally obvious to anyone who read James original post.

  9. Bithead says:

    Fidel is gone. It’s time for this policy to go with him.

    Not until his policies do.

  10. Michael says:

    If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades.

    d) Obama

    I would say to the new leadership, the people of the United States are ready to meet you if you move forward towards the path of democracy, with real, substantial reforms.

    b) Clinton

    That is why we must press the Cuban regime to release all political prisoners unconditionally, to legalize all political parties, labor unions and free media, and to schedule internationally monitored elections.

    “Cuba’s transition to democracy is inevitable; it is a matter of when – not if. With the resignation of Fidel Castro, the Cuban people have an opportunity to move forward and continue pushing for the moment that they will truly be free. America can and should help hasten the sparking of freedom in Cuba.

    c) McCain

    Eventually, this transition ought to lead to free and fair elections — and I mean free, and I mean fair — not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy, the United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.

    a) Bush

  11. yetanotherjohn says:

    Very good Michael. You scored a 100.

    Now for extra credit, explain how Obama or Clinton’s position is any different from Bush’s. Further extra credit if you can show how Obama is clearly the candidate for change given his position on Cuba.

  12. Michael says:

    Now for extra credit, explain how Obama or Clinton’s position is any different from Bush’s.

    They didn’t use his trademarked “free and fair” three-word sound-bite? At least that was the giveaway for me.

    Further extra credit if you can show how Obama is clearly the candidate for change given his position on Cuba.

    No fair offering extra credit for impossible tasks, unless I can earn them by effort alone.

  13. Al-Dean Louis-Fernand says:

    Obama is sensibly and subtly saying that as Cuba changes towards democracy on its own, the U.S. will change at the same rate, lowering the embargo, and easing tension. A change towards democracy wont be forces by the U.S. but rather by the Cubans themselves.