Engaging Cuba Is the Right Move

For too long the United States’ only policy toward Cuba consisted of sanctions and non-engagement. Engaging Cuba is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama is doing it the wrong way.

When Cuba fell to communist control, the United States began covert operations to destabilize the regime and aid anti-communists seeking to overthrow their hardline overlords. For the most part, CIA-backed efforts to wage this covert war were harebrained and unsuccessful. Tim Weiner in his critical history of the CIA details some of the more unorthodox methods contrived by the agency to eliminate top Cuban leaders, including Fidel Castro himself.

Attempts to replace the regime in Cuba ground to a halt with the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. The discovery of Soviet nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba placed an extraordinary pressure in the Kennedy Administration. Desperate to rid the isle of the missiles, which posed a national security threat to the nation and a political threat to the Kennedys, President John F. Kennedy agreed to tacitly recognize the legitimacy of Castro by halting all U.S. efforts to overthrow the regime, and remove outdated U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for the removal of the Soviet missiles.

Since that time, the United States has not pressured the Cuban regime beyond the imposition of economic sanctions and travel restrictions. That has been a mistake.

It could be argued that Kennedy’s deal with the devil pledge to not overthrow the Castro regime should have endured for as long as the Soviet Union remained a world power. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, U.S. policymakers should have seized the opportunity to review Cuban policy and change the nation’s approach to the nearby communist state. No longer were communist powers ascendant or peer threats to the free world, then was the chance start an active – as opposed to passive – policy of destabilizing and challenging the communists that rule from Havana.

There is ample historical precedent for vigorous U.S. policy in the Caribbean and Latin America. The Reagan Administration engaged – covertly – in Nicaragua, and overtly in Grenada, and the Bush (41) Administration engaged in military action in Panama. Much earlier in the 20th Century, President Theodore Roosevelt championed an active interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine in Panama, and President William McKinley in the waning days of the 19th Century waged war against Spain in Cuba (something that didn’t help U.S.-Cuban relations).

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