Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Credit Where Credit is Due, Part 1: They Call Me Cuban Pete

After six years of the lying, cheating, stealing, and overall farce that defines the Obama administration, it's refreshing to see one thing coming out of that den of iniquity called The White House that actually makes sense. Two, actually – or let's say one and one-half. The first is the normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the “half” is the easing (but not total elimination – at least not yet) of prosecutorial zeal directed at users of marijuana. And some will say, well, this is, at long last, the “real Obama” -- returning to his roots as a community organizer, radical, liberal, outsider. Because, after all, six years in, what does he have to lose? He can offend anyone he wants to (and usually does) and get away with it, because he won't be running for office again, and maybe he wants to make a statement – especially one that will serve as contrast to his “inevitable” successor, namely Hillary Clinton, AKA Big Nurse. Maybe he simply wants to say that he hasn't totally sold out to the white male establishment. Whatever. I'd rather someone did the right thing for the wrong reasons than continue to do the wrong thing for whatever reasons. And in terms of the political and cultural distortions that have been a chronic infection in this society for decades, nothing stands out quite as starkly as marijuana “policy” and foreign policy when it comes to Cuba. They are holdovers from an earlier time; they were a mistake then, and they're even more of a mistake now. So pretty much any change is likely to be in the right direction – not that it will salvage the overall reputation of Obama & Co., but it will at least be part of his legacy. Just as even a stopped clock is right twice a day, even a bad president can do something right now and then, if only by accident.

To take Cuba first. The breaking of diplomatic relations and the boycott were ostensibly based on Cuba's conversion to communism, “only 90 miles from our shores”, and the confiscation of American assets (both legal and illegal -- more on that below).  And the missile crisis that soon followed (assuming it really was a crisis, and this can be called into question as well) did nothing to reassure the populace that they had nothing to worry about from that pipsqueak, cigar-chomping, bearded dictator an easy boat ride from Key West. But there were communist or communist-inspired countries all over the world at that time, complete with Russian “advisors” and Soviet military “aid”; did we boycott them? Did we break diplomatic relations? Not that I'm aware. Was it just about the military threat? Well, when you're talking about ICBMs, it matters little whether they are coming from 90 miles away, or 900, or 9000. And we had deterrent; the arms race was on, with all the talk about the “missile gap” and so forth.

So what was it really? Unlike most of the comparable cases, we felt that Cuba was, in some sense, our property – or at least it was within our immediate “sphere of influence”, and thus the Monroe Doctrine kicked in. But that wasn't the whole story by any means. Cuba was owned, all right – not by the U.S., but by the Mob. It was a border town writ large, bursting with gambling, prostitution, and all the other niceties that typify places where we have a “presence” but which are not, officially, our territory. And who, pray tell, happened to be president during those early years? John Kennedy, of course – and did his family have Mob connections? And did the Mob help put him in office with the help of Mayor Daley? And did the Mob expect him to “do something” about Cuba, take it back, and put them back in charge? I submit that these are rhetorical questions. And I also submit that it was his failure to take Cuba back that caused a whole lot of resentment in Mob circles, and which contributed to his demise. (There were many spoons in the pot on 11/22/63, but my guess is that the Mob's was one of the larger ones.)

So we learned our lesson with the Bay of Pigs, and the Russians learned their lesson with the missile crisis, and we wound up with a 50-plus-year standoff, with Castro thumbing his nose at Uncle Sam every chance he got... and college students putting posters of Che in their dorm rooms (as they continue to do to this day). So Cuba became a symbol of intransigent, in-your-face communism. Plus, we had a hotbed of Cuban refugees in Florida, and, with the possible exception of the Israel lobby, never have so few held so much political dominance over so many, particularly the Republicans, who morphed into the Neocons, who are still fighting the Cold War, because as long as a single communist, or even vaguely communist, country exists anywhere in the world, the Cold War is not over. Right? And this was despite Nixon's (a Republican!) opening up of China, even while Chairman Mao was still in charge. (Apparently a billion people on the other side of the world was less of a threat than a small island in the Caribbean.)

In the meantime, the more cynical, or pragmatic, or both, countries decided that Cuba was no big deal, and maintained diplomatic relations, trade, etc., while we held fast and gradually became more isolated in our fanaticism (as we are at present vis-a-vis Israel). And one would have thought that the breakup of the Soviet Union (with which we had diplomatic and trade relations, by the way) would have brought about a change of heart, but this was apparently not to be. Bush I could have done it... Clinton could have... Bush II could have... but no dice. And now comes Obama, and six years in, he, or someone, woke up and realized that we've been acting like a bunch of retards.

It also bears mentioning that boycotts seldom work. I say “seldom” because once in a while they do seem to work, as in the case of South Africa in apartheid days. (We haven't seen the final results when it comes to Iran, and now Russia, but I smell failure in both cases.) And it should also be pointed out that boycotts tend to hurt the ordinary people of the target country much more than the leadership or the elite. So doing it for the sake of “the people of _____” is pure malarkey.

And another thing – we always claim that our best weapon when it comes to “spreading democracy” is trade. The Russian bear is a mere cub compared to the big, brawny arms of American business – right? We say this, but we apparently don't believe it. I suspect that if we had not been so pouty and resentful all these years, Cuba would have risen out of the communist morass much faster – maybe completely by now. Fidel Castro would continue to be an icon, the way Mao is in China, but their economic system would be nothing like the one he envisioned and then created. (This is not a perfect analogy, given that he's still alive, but it would certainly have been worth a try.)

And what was more absurd than making friends with communist Vietnam, and granting them favored trading status, even though they defeated us in a war, but remaining stiff-necked with regard to Cuba? Yeah, I know – halfway around the world vs. 90 miles, etc. But Vietnam wasn't too far away for us to send our military over there to help a corrupt government, was it?

And I'm sure there are many other arguments besides. Even if it kind of made sense in the 1960s, it got old fast, and yet we held on because... well, because they shouldn'ta done that, doggone it! It's the principle of the thing, no matter how absurd or ineffective. Cuba was a thorn in the side of the American Empire, and it will likely continue to be for some time to come... and Obama is nothing if not an abject servant of that empire and all that it entails and implies. And yet, for some reason, he has seen fit to, again, make a statement. Maybe it's just to spite the Republicans – but that's OK too. Anti-communism, which was perfectly justifiable at one time, has degenerated into a racket; it's a war against something that no longer exists, or if it does, barely. We've got bigger fish to fry right now, and maybe this is part of what went into Obama's thinking.

It is also fascinating to consider that Pope Francis had a facilitating role in all this. One recalls the role Pope John Paul II had when it came to the breakup of the Soviet Empire. Of course, for the liberal media to give any pope credit for anything would be to commit the greatest of political offenses, and yet it happened.

And don't expect “academe” to be celebrating any time soon. Castro remains one of their heroes, standing high on their pantheon, and as long as Cuba stood “alone” against the forces of capitalism, it was considered an admirable – nay, ideal – society. (Can you say “free medical care”, boys and girls?) But with the likely welcoming of Cuba into the global... OK, North American... OK, our economy, there will inevitably be compromises and “sell-outs”, the way there were with China. So the heroes of the revolution will turn out to have feet of clay after all, seduced by the great American shopping mall. Sic transit gloria...

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