It was a day no one thought they would be alive to see. After a half century of frosty relations between the United States and Cuba, the U.S. Embassy re-opened in Havana on Friday. Part of Barack Obama’s “make peace with everyone” tour, the move is the most visible example of the president’s pursuit of normalized relations with our southern neighbor. And, though probably not as ill-conceived as his nuclear deal with Iran, this move promises to be a costly mistake.
Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, was among the harshest critics on the historic day. “This is a one-sided deal that is a win for the Cuban regime and a loss for the Cuban people,” Menendez said. “The U.S. Embassy in Havana will be a hollow one. It will be diplomacy for show, not in practice. The United States’ flag should only fly in Cuba when the island is free, when dissent is embraced, and when democracy is restored.”
Menendez is hardly the only lawmaker coming out in force against the decision to open up the embassy. Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate for president, said the deal represented “the convergence of nearly every flawed strategic, moral, and economic notion that has driven President Obama’s foreign policy.”
As Obama’s deal with Iran was underscored by a hostile Ayatollah chanting “death to America,” his normalized relations with Cuba were met with a statement by Fidel Castro that shows how misguided this act of reckless diplomacy could be. Castro said the U.S. now owes Cuba “numerous millions of dollars” to make up for damage caused by the embargo. Knowing Obama, that money is probably in the mail.
John Kerry and Obama and their supporters want to make it seem as though opponents of this deal are stuck in the past. But that’s not the case. We’d all like to see normalized relations with Cuba. It could be of great economic and social benefit to both countries. In an ideal world, we would extend these relations to Iran, North Korea, Syria, and every other country with whom our relationships are strained. Obama is perfectly within his rights and responsibilities as a leader to pursue these aims.
The problem – and it is a big one – is how he goes about it. You don’t shore up diplomatic relations by giving away the farm and turning a blind eye to human rights violations. You don’t go in on your knees, begging. You go in with the full strength of the United States behind you and you make demands. If the other country doesn’t want to meet these demands, you tell them to take a hike. It’s really that simple. What are normalized relations worth if nothing has really changed?