GOP's dead-end Cuba gamble: Republicans' Cold War-era tough talk won't come to anything

Republicans vow to oppose and roll back Obama's Cuba policies, but their corporate masters won't let that happen

By Simon Maloy

Published July 2, 2015 12:00PM (EDT)

Jeb Bush; Ted Cruz; Marco Rubio   (AP/Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Julie Jacobson/Jim Bourg)
Jeb Bush; Ted Cruz; Marco Rubio (AP/Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Julie Jacobson/Jim Bourg)

After winning a great victory for communism with the Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies, Barack Obama went for broke this week and surrendered to Cuba, thus ending the Cold War in a crippling defeat for global capitalism. ¡Que viva la gran revolución! ¡Venceremos!

Okay, maybe that’s not precisely what happened. But what did happen is that the White House followed through on a key portion of the president’s plan to normalize relations with our tiny communist island neighbor. In a Rose Garden ceremony yesterday, Obama officially announced that the United States and Cuba would open embassies in Havana and Washington, DC. That announcement came just over a month after Cuba was removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

That’s two big changes to the United States’ Cuba policy, which had remained essentially unchanged for 50 years and made precisely zero progress towards its goal of dislodging the Castro regime. But Republicans in Congress and the 2016 presidential field are, as is their wont, pushing back on the president and insisting that we stick with what hasn’t been working. The two Cuban-American Republican presidential candidates, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, vowed to block Senate confirmation of any ambassador to Cuba. House Speaker John Boehner said “relations with the Castro regime should not be revisited, let alone normalized, until Cubans enjoy freedom – and not one second sooner.” 2016 hopeful Carly Fiorina outdid everyone, promising to Hugh Hewitt that as president she would close the U.S. embassy in Cuba.

I guess it’s not entirely surprising that the GOP would still be so gung-ho about fighting the Cold War more than two decades after it ended. But there’s no real reason to think that all this tough talk and posturing on Cuba will amount to anything, even if a Republican wins the White House in 2016.

The reason is simple: corporate America very strongly approves of Obama’s plans to open up Cuba, and Republicans try very hard to not piss off the business community too much. For half a century the island has just been sitting there off the Florida coast, a market completely shut off from thorough exploitation by American business interests. Those same business interests would love nothing more than to see the 50-year trade embargo come crashing down, but Obama can’t unilaterally end it because Bill Clinton stupidly gave up the executive branch’s authority over the embargo back in 1996. The only way to end the Cuba embargo is for Congress to vote to kill it, and statements like the one from the House Speaker quoted above don’t lead one to believe that that will happen any time soon. But America’s corporate masters are apparently massing their armies of lobbyists to try and convince enough Republicans in Congress to give up on this obsolete relic from the Kennedy administration.

There’s also some political blowback to be had for advocating a hardline Cuba posture. Polling over the past few months has shown that Americans are ready to abandon the embargo and generally approve of Obama’s moves to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. Even majorities of the Cuban-American population favor a less antagonistic posture towards Cuba. Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban-born commerce secretary under George W. Bush, just recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times explaining how he’d overcome his skepticism of the Obama administration’s Cuba policy, arguing that “it is now time for Republicans and the wider American business community to stop fixating on the past and embrace a new approach to Cuba.”

Obviously Republicans have legitimate concerns about the Castro regime’s human rights abuses and longstanding policies of censorship and repression. But none have, as yet, offered a compelling rationale for why diplomatic rapprochement should be abandoned and the longstanding and wildly ineffective policies of isolation and embargo should snap back into place, given that they did nothing to stop those abuses in the first place.

But they’ve promised to do it anyway, and in doing so they’re putting themselves into a box politically. Obama’s already set the country on the path to normalized relations with Cuba, and it’s tough to roll back that progress, especially when it is strongly supported by the public and all-powerful business interests. Any Republican who may feel impelled by ideological conviction to once again sever diplomatic ties and return to the Cold War days of total isolation will have to convince their corporate financial backers to sacrifice their bottom lines so that we can resume the dead-end fight against the Red Menace. Seems like it would be a lot more trouble than it’s worth.

Simon Maloy

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