Castro, Central America, Cold War, Cuba, Cuban Missile Crisis, diplomatic relations, Monroe Doctrine, nuclear buildup, Obama, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Reagan administration, Soviet Union, Western Hemisphere
President Obama spent 12 minutes today announcing his decision to establish full U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961. My main reaction? That was about 12 minutes longer than justified by the decision’s importance. And you can imagine what I think about all of the government time, energy, and resources expended in preparation of this move.
Yet a scientific poll of the reactions they’ve generated indicates that my tweets this morning about this move’s monumental insignificance have caused widespread confusion, and even consternation. Specifically, my indifference to the Cuba news is seen as completely incomprehensible. So let me explain – in the hope that such apathy will spread!
Not that I don’t understand the symbolic milestone represented by the Obama decision. As a card-carrying baby boomer, I have vivid memories of air-raid drills as a second-grader at P.S. 20 in Queens, New York during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when we’d be told to duck under our little wooden desks and warned, “No talking!” And of course, Cuba remained a Cold War bugaboo long after – especially from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, when much of the American political class was frantic over the possibility that Cuban-advised forces would take over countries like Angola and El Salvador. (I kid you not.)
But that last sentence should start clearing up part of the mystery of my aloofness. For by that time, nothing should have been more obvious than that the East-West struggle had been reduced to little but a contest over countries lacking any intrinsic strategic or economic significance. Cuba – a charter member of their ranks – was stirring pots of no consequence.
Castro and Cuba did potentially (and for a short time actually) pose a serious threat to American national security. The island and any states brought into its orbit were always capable of hosting Soviet military forces and espionage facilities that could greatly complicate U.S. defense planning. The October, 1962 crisis itself was sparked by Moscow’s plans to base in Cuba nuclear missiles that could have struck the U.S. homeland in very short order.
But the best American response to these kinds of threats was never fighting proxy wars against communist or other radical foes in the Western Hemisphere, much less using foreign aid to innoculate its low-income countries against the ideological appeal of Moscow or Havana. It was using overwhelming U.S. strategic superiority in the hemisphere to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.
Indeed, I made this very proposal as the Reagan administration was embroiling the nation ever more deeply into Central America’s conflicts: Washington should inform those countries that their forms of government were of no intrinsic concern to the United States, but that America reserved the right to attack and destroy any concentrations of foreign forces on their territories it deemed worrisome. (I can’t find the article on line, but it was in the October 5, 1987 issue of The New Republic.)
(It’s now highly controversial how great a role this strategic superiority played in the resolution of the missile crisis itself, since we now know that a secret agreement by President John F. Kennedy to withdraw American missiles from bases in the Soviet Union’s neighbor, Turkey, also played a major role in preventing war. At the same time, it’s been long believed that Moscow’s decision soon after the crisis to launch a huge strategic nuclear buildup reflected a determination never again to run the local or global risks of nuclear inferiority.)
Cuba – and the prospect of leftist revolutions in Central and South America – became even less important once the Soviet Union fell and Havana lost its major sponsor. So it makes perfect sense to ignore whatever policies American presidents decide to pursue with this small, weak, dirt-poor country.
So if you’re of Cuban descent, or have family and friends who are, or if you live in Florida, or if you just find Cuba interesting for whatever reason, by all means follow this story closely. Otherwise, if you’re concerned about the well-being of the United States or the world in general, stick with or shift over to higher priorities. And for President Obama and other American leaders on both the Left and the Right, that goes double.