Obama’s faulty logic on Cuba

Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post:

Obama’s faulty logic on Cuba

http://img.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=http://www.washingtonpost.com/rw/WashingtonPost/Content/Staff-Bio/Images/jackson-diehl-114x80.png&h=80&w=80The most revealing sentence in President Obama’s explanation of his radical revision of U.S. Cuba policy last week was his admonition to Americans, and Cubans, that they should not seek the “collapse” of the Castro regime. “Even if that worked,” the president asserted, “we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.”

Embedded in that short remark is the essential logic behind Obama’s decision to lift — or seek to lift — all U.S. sanctions on Cuba without requiring the “significant steps towards democracy” he once said would be needed for such a normalization. It is also the organizing principle of much of his foreign policy. If regime collapse is not a desirable outcome in Cuba — or, for that matter, in Syria, Iran and other dictatorships — it follows that the correct policy is U.S. “engagement” or “direct diplomacy” with such regimes, aimed not at overturning them but at gradually nudging them toward more civilized behavior.

The no-chaos rule explains why Obama would have declined to support the 2009 Green Movement in Iran while dispatching letters to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offering detente. It lies behind his refusal to provide decisive support to Syrian rebels, instead seeking a negotiated solution with the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And it answers those who wonder why he would provide what amounts to a bailout to the Castros just as they were facing the twin threats of losing Venezuelan oil subsidies and mounting popular pressure for basic freedoms.

Obama cited “hard-earned experience” for his nostrum, and he’s certainly had some he can point to: Libya, Iraq or Egypt, where the overthrow of regimes led to counterrevolution or civil war. The president, however, articulated his ideology before he took office — and the failures on his watch stem in part from his own reluctance to vigorously support democratic transitions.

They also don’t negate two historical facts: A large number of successful democracies have grown out of regime collapse; and U.S. “engagement” with Stalinist-style totalitarian regimes, such as Cuba, has never produced such a transition.

Obama’s chaos theory won’t make much sense to former citizens of East Germany, who last month celebrated the 25th anniversary of the sudden collapse of their regime — and the Berlin Wall. Nor to Romanians, who a month later lived through bloody anarchy in the streets of Bucharest and Timisoara as the Stalinist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu imploded — and for the past two decades have built a peaceful and increasingly prosperous democracy.

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