Washington, DC is not only the nation’s seat of government, it is has become the capital city of political non sequiturs. Just listen to just about any public affairs program. Audiences are bombarded with volley after volley of talking points, not ideas, based faulty premises. Gibberish detached from reality. We can do better.
A friend from a well-known conservative political family, may he rest in peace, believed political society had become a world of parrots. That was on a good day. On a not so good day, he’d opt for, circus seals, focused more on dispensing fish than fresh ideas. Modern political discourse will always have its share of ‘happy talk,’ that political consultants tell elected officials the voters want to hear. Yet, leadership by talking point is a really bad idea.
Programs such as House of Cards or Madam Secretary fuel a perception that, somehow, if you lie, especially lie, cheat, scheme, and debase yourself just enough, you’ll secure whatever you need from the government. These and many other shows, talking heads, and late night comedians have fueled a narrative that, rather than inspire confidence in leaders, it cheapens and distorts, rather than elevate and inspire. Yet why should we expect more from popular culture when all most politicians do is serve happy talk that, by its nature, is devoid of ideas?
Defenders of ObamaCare, for example, must engage in happy talk because if they spoke the truth about the long-term consequences of socialist social planning, an overwhelming majority of the American people would be calling for the President’s impeachment. The lied. They cheated. They rammed that bill through Congress and, what they failed to secure by the vote, are now securing via unlawful executive action. The same is true for many other issues such as immigration reform, Benghazi, IRS abuse, trade agreements, and, yes, even the U.S.-Cuba debate.
A frequent, but erroneous, criticism lobbed against U.S. policy toward Cuba, especially by Cuban regime supporters on Capitol Hill and K Street, is that sanctions have failed. They’ll invariably also add, again erroneously, that sanctions never work because, if they did, the Communist regime in Cuba would no longer be in power. It is an outdated approach, they’ll passionately cry, and we must try something new, just because. No logic. No rhyme. And, yes, no reason.
In the hands of an able executive, as well as a supportive Congress, the existing tools in the U.S.-Cuba arsenal, including carrots and sticks, can be wielded to, as we did to South Africa before the end of apartheid, to empower freedom loving people so they can free themselves from the grip of the iron fist that is the Communist Party of Cuba. That is the law, but, the law has never, ever been applied as Congress intended.
Yet despite the leadership malpractice by leaders in both political parties, the regime is obsessed with easing sanctions because, even anemically applied, they’ve worked better than anyone would’ve expected. But, again, in political discourse these days you’ll a whole lot of happy talk, and not a lot of fact or substance.
Even supporters of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act have engaged in a whole lot of happy talk, because, frankly, some have lost the urge to fight and lost sight of what the law is all about. Hint, it is a lot more than sanctions. Sanctions are a tool, a critical component, but it is not the policy that is contained therein.
Read, yes, read the text of the Cuban Democracy Act and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, and you’ll realize that regime change is not the focus. In my 1995 Georgetown master’s thesis, I believe I called the Cuban Democracy Act, a sort of politically neurotic approach to things. Sure, there were much-needed updates to the sanctions, but it was not a purely sanctions strengthening bill. It laid the seeds to whittle away at the sanctions, as has Helms-Burton.
The dirty little secret back then, or more like that humongous elephant in the room that nobody wants to say is in there but is, is that the only way to “help” back then, as it is today, is to cooperate with the Cuban regime. Want more phone service with Cuba (the primary reason for the Cuban Democracy Act), then you need to negotiate a deal with the Cuban phone company that is owned by the military. Same for food and medical exports to Cuba. Even more troubling about this situation, we are engaging transactions with individuals that should be tried for crimes against humanity and the Cuban people. Yes, human rights abusers, and in some cases, torturers and murders of American citizens.
These sanctions-easing concessions were applied without other portions of the law enforced. We were supposed to seek international support for economic isolation as well as defend private property rights and other uniquely American interests. No President has really ever tried, Republican or Democrat. In a few days we’ll lose a key component of this policy puzzle, Cuba’s, again erroneous, removal from the state sponsor of terror list. The Congress opted not to challenge the removal, telegraphing political weakness and, yes, defeat. Victims of Cuban terrorism have lost a powerful tool, and the regime, by removing the terror cloud, tossed a economic lifeline. I’ll discuss this issue in more detail in a future post.
The unchecked dual-track approach is the weakness, not the sanctions, of these laws and regulations. I was the primary reason why, back then when it was first hatched out in 1992 and 1996, that I opposed this two-prong approach. It afforded the executive way too much discretion that, as the recent policy shift by the Obama Administration has proven, the oversight power has failed to contain. We should expect no less. That is what happens when political leaders lead, or as the particular case may be, mislead, with non sequiturs.
Ronald Reagan once said about the Soviet Union during the Cold War, ‘we win, they lose.’ That rings true today. Always will. When it comes to Cuba, and just about every foreign policy and national security matter, we can, and must do better. Less happy talk, would be a good place to start.