May 16, 2002
9:19 AM   Subscribe

"Trade with x only benefits the repressive government of x; it does not get into the hands of the people." How does the White House policy towards x make sense in light of Bush's statement that "Free trade supports and sustains freedom in all its forms. When we open trade, we open minds. We trade with x because trade is good policy for our economy, because trade is good policy for democracy"? Well that's because the first x refers to Cuba and the second x is for China. How's that economic engagement working out with China? Why don't we ask the Tibetans, Falun Gong or the Uighurs? Which foreign policy is the right way to go? Economic isolation or engagement?
posted by buddha9090 (17 comments total)
This is funny, because the same leftists who called for boycotts and isolation for South Africa in the 1980s want to see the US open up to Cuba. Do these morons think there are no political prisoners in Cuba? Do you think Cuba is some sort of worker's paradise? It shows them to be crypto-communists.
posted by johnnydark at 9:33 AM on May 16, 2002

This is funny, because the same rightists who called for boycotts and isolation for Cuba in the 1980s want to see the US open up to China. Do these morons think there are no political prisoners in China? Do you think China is some sort of worker's paradise? It shows them to be crypto-facists.
posted by nofundy at 9:39 AM on May 16, 2002

Which foreign policy is the right way to go?

The short answer is that foreign policies should be region-specific. It would be stupid to think we could apply the same policy to both Cuba and China.

However, in an ideal world, the US gov't would vocalize ideals it strives toward in all agreements (democracy, etc.) implying that new, or expanded, agreements would be in exchange for political change at the trading partner's end. I think this is where the US is inconsistent in both vocalization and enforcement. In part, it is an artifact of our political system because our leaders change faster than international political issues do. I think our foreign policy would be a lot more coherent if presidents served 20yr terms (not that I support that, btw)
posted by plaino at 9:46 AM on May 16, 2002

It seems a consistent, coherent foreign policy based on principles of human rights would be too logical a course to pursue. Hypocrisy, however, breeds mistrust and contempt, which allows the growth of "defense" budgets.
posted by nofundy at 9:50 AM on May 16, 2002

Re: South Africa vs. Cuba...

I think the essential difference between these two situations is that the ruling class in apartheid-era South Africa was relatively large, wealthy, and democratic. In addition, South Africa had a relatively open society, with an independant media. This meant that the pressure from the boycott was applied directly to the white population of South Africa, which was in a position to interpret international opinion and elect leaders who were in favor of ending apartheid.

The situation in Cuba stands in stark contrast. The ruling class consists of Castro and his close associates, who cannot be subjected to any more economic pressure than they already have been (for the past ~50 years). The media is completely state-controlled, so the people tend to beleive that their suffering is the fault of the US, rather than of their leaders (do not underestimate the power of media to shape political opinion). The more pressure the US applies, the more the people look up to their leaders, who they have been told are bravely opposing American imperialism.

Before we can hope to change Cuban government, the society must open up a little bit. The best way to push for this openness is through trade: it worked for the communist block in the late eighties, and it can work for Cuba now. In the end, however, the real test of a policy is whether or not it works. Apartheid was ended within a decade of the initial application of international pressure, while the US has been pushing on Cuba for fifty years with no results.

And by the way, describing those who are pushing for free trade with Cuba as "leftists" is extremely ingenuine. There are alot of Republicans in the mix, as well as politicians more motivated by the hope of opening Cuba as a market than by any ideological considerations.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:04 AM on May 16, 2002

we have a consistent foreign policy based on corporate profits and political necessity, cuba is hardly the economic powerhouse china is. and the anti-cuban lobby is strong in florida, a key election state. it only becomes irrational when you think human rights has anything to do with it.
posted by rhyax at 10:07 AM on May 16, 2002

Two points:
  • Bush only pays lip service to free trade; his actions (see steel and softwood lumber) have been protectionist and harmful to America's consumers and allies. They might buy him votes in the rust belt and the Pacific Northwest, though.
  • The embargo on Cuba costs the US very little and pleases a politically powerful lobby. Imposing trade sanctions on a county of one billion potential consumers would have American business leaders screaming like scalded cats.
posted by timeistight at 10:09 AM on May 16, 2002

timeistight, agreed on the lip service to free trade thing. in my wildest dreams, i would never have imagined george bush as a protectionist, but that's what it looks like we got. i'm utterly amazed that a previous democratic president showed far more backbone on free trade than the current republican one has.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 10:14 AM on May 16, 2002

The short answer is that foreign policies should be region-specific. It would be stupid to think we could apply the same policy to both Cuba and China.

I don’t think anybody is suggesting that we should apply the same policy to both Cuba and China, but we should apply policies that support political modernization/ democratization, which free trade, by itself, simply does not. Without basic democratic infrastructure, “free trade” quickly devolves into corruption, cronyism, and nepotism. China and Russia, among many others, are perfect examples of this.

If free trade is the magic wand that the Bush gang seems to think it is (it makes the birds sing and the flowers grow, don’tcha know) then why shouldn’t we apply some of that magic to Cuba?

To answer my own question (and on preview, others have answered it as well): because the anti-communist Chinese lobby in the U.S. is weak relative to the pro-engagement business lobby (there’s just way too much money to be made), as opposed to the anti-Castro Cuban lobby, which is much better organized, although the pro-engagement-with-Cuba business lobby is slowly but surely picking up steam. The point is that none of this has anything to do with long-term support for democracy, and everything to do with profit (not that there’s anything wrong with profit, it’s just the wrong way to motivate foreign policy.)
posted by Ty Webb at 10:19 AM on May 16, 2002

another interesting bit related to the Chinese is that some of this trade that is supposed to help free their society and make it more democratic may in fact be having the effect of aiding the Chinese government in exerting even more autocratic control on their people. Greg Walton has written a nice piece titled China's Golden Shield that details how some corporations are aiding the Chinese government in building a total surveillance network.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 10:33 AM on May 16, 2002

Put simply: there is a huge market in China; there is not the same size market in Cuba. Whether one or the other policy is the bettter one a sense of consistency might convince the world at large that we are not being hypocritical but applying the same standards to one and all.
posted by Postroad at 10:42 AM on May 16, 2002

There was an interesting hypothesis I read a while back, about how presidents tend to make a fair number of policy decisions against the wishes of their core constituency and in favor of the most "vulnerable" constituents of their opponents. No die-hard Republican is going to vote for Edwards instead of Bush in 2004 because he signed some grotesque farm bill and imposed steel tariffs, but some farmers and steelworkers who would otherwise vote Democratic might. The same thing happened with Clinton and welfare reform - he did much more than Bush or Reagan did, even though he was ostensibly a democrat.

I think that Castro is a pretty nasty leader as leaders go, but I also think that it's clear that the sanctions aren't doing a whole hell of a lot of good.
posted by jaek at 12:58 PM on May 16, 2002

jaek, your point shows exactly why it will have to be a republican who breaks the ice with Cuba (as Nixon did with China). Democrats would be too vulnerable to charges of being patsies to communism.
posted by timeistight at 1:19 PM on May 16, 2002

On the contrary, timeistight, Cuban exiles in Florida represent a "vulnerable" constituency for the Republicans: any Repulican candidate supporting lifting of sanctions loses those votes. Those are incredibly important votes--Florida is a swing state, and if Bush hadn't had the votes of the exile community, he would have certainly lost the election. Don't look for the Republican party to abandon this key constituency any time soon.

Democratic candidates, on the other hand (at least on a national level), can support lifting of sanctions without losing any votes, since they don't have any exile votes now. Plus, they might be able to grab some swing votes from the Republicans in Southern states that would benefit from trade with Cuba. There is no core Democratic constituency that vocally opposes lifting of sanctions.

In this day and age, accusations of "being patsies to communism" are hardly made, let alone taken seriously. If there's anything striking about the current Cuba discussion in American politics, it's the lack of cold war rhetoric being bandied about: everything's debated in terms of "human rights". Even the right criticizes Castro not for being a communist, but for being a dictator. I think this probably goes back to the Cuba/China dicotomy, as well as the fact that Americans no longer take communism seriously.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:21 PM on May 16, 2002

Point taken.
posted by timeistight at 3:09 PM on May 16, 2002

My real problem with our Cuba policy is the fact that the ban on travel to Cuba is a DIRECT violation of my freedom as an American. It looks like Bush is going to block attempts to roll back the travel ban. I guess that's what he meant when he said "there should be limits to freedom". Hey, we gave it 40 years, when will it be time to try a new tactic?
posted by ArkIlloid at 9:11 PM on May 16, 2002

Do rich, succesful, right-wing, American businessmen really smoke second-rate, non-Cuban cigars?
posted by niceness at 3:32 AM on May 17, 2002

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