USA*Engage Blog

The Way Forward With Cuba
Monday, 1 June 2015
by Richard Sawaya, Vice President of USA*Engage
The May 20 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing "Cuba: The Way Forward" provided a valuable, if rare, moment of clarity about U.S. hemispheric policy. In his testimony, Ambassador Thomas Shannon, one of our most able and accomplished career diplomats, quoted Hans Morgenthau: "Our purpose is not to defend or preserve a present or restore a past, it is to create the future," emphasizing that U.S. global engagement is meant to defend one kind of future against another kind of future.

All of the viewpoints expressed from the dais by senators opposed to, and supportive of, President Obama's historic decision to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba and seek a congressional end to the U.S. embargo of the island nation bore out the salience of Morgenthau's strategic distinction.

Predictably, senators in opposition recited a granular litany of facts from the historical record and from the present to condemn the Cuban communist regime's political repression, international acts against U.S. national security, and economic immiseration of the citizenry by means of state command and control. Their common refrain: both the United States and the Cuban people got nothing for our change in policy, which will only accrue to the material benefit of the regime.

Senators in favor channeled Albert Einstein, who famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. To wit: the unilateral U.S. embargo. As Ambassador Shannon's fellow witness, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson clearly stipulated the Administration's policy was not a matter of quid pro quo, but rather ending what has not worked in order to promote the conditions for change. In this regard, it is worthwhile noting one fact about U.S. sanctions: To have any hope of working, sanctions have to be multilateral.

Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia captured the strategic warrant for normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba when he detailed the state of North and South American hemispheric economic, political and cultural integration, and underscored that unlike the rest of the world, the two continents are at peace.

To which one might add:

• Geography: The Panama Canal expansion and Cuba’s location augur well for the island’s economic advancement in the region.
• Demographics: The bilingually fluent Latino population under 30 is the fastest-growing subgroup in the United States.
• Opinion: Americans generally support normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba, including a majority of Cuban Americans. And in a groundbreaking opinion poll, ordinary Cubans overwhelmingly support the Obama Administration’s opening.
• Global assessment: U.S. strategic exposures in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa speak for themselves in terms of sovereign power conflicts and economic interdependence. On the other hand, the United States holds the commanding heights in North and South America, in terms of internal market, regional trade (half of U.S. exports are to Canada and Mexico), cultural affinities, security on land and at sea, and with the Administration’s action, “soft power.”

The strategic conclusion: End the embargo and let commerce work for the benefit of the Cuban people and their American kin, for U.S. leadership in the Western hemisphere and for the U.S. economy in multiple sectors.