Adams & Jones: It’s Time to Reconcile With Cuba

Posted September 1, 2010 at 10:07am

U.S. reconciliation with Germany took about a decade after that terrible war introduced words such as “genocide” and “Holocaust” into the global vocabulary and claimed the lives of more than 400,000 U.S. military personnel.

[IMGCAP(1)]By helping Germany transition from occupation to sovereignty, we kept the peace in Europe and established a beachhead against expansionary communism that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and reunification of the two Germanys just one year later.

U.S. reconciliation with Vietnam took 20 years after Americans were stunned by news footage of men and women clinging to helicopters making their flight to freedom from rooftops in Saigon. In an act of political foresight, President Bill Clinton, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) skillfully navigated the emotional wreckage left by that war and its 58,000-plus U.S. casualties and restored diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995.

This not only produced an invaluable economic and diplomatic presence for our nation in Southeast Asia, but enabled Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to visit Hanoi in July to commemorate the 15th anniversary of normalization and to express our concern about the human rights record of our former adversary on its own soil.

If we can reconcile with Germany and Vietnam, why not with our neighbor Cuba? Why cling to our failed Cuba policy with its self-isolating diplomacy and unilateral embargo? Our current policy hurts two groups the most: the Cuban and American people. Why don’t we replace it with forms of peaceful engagement that have a proven history of success?

Cuba has not been a military threat to the United States for more than 20 years; its military has been downsized, troops have withdrawn from Africa and Latin America, and its presence on the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism is based on politics, not sound policy. It undermines the credibility of our policy against terror. Our failure to engage Cuba diplomatically puts the United States at odds with every other nation in Latin America and is a continuing source of unnecessary friction in the Western Hemisphere.

From a security perspective, we maintain this diplomatic distance from Cuba at some peril. The Caribbean is fraught with danger — from drug cartels to forms of instability that could trigger mass migrations — and our inability to deal directly with Cuba’s government, except on a case-by-case basis, subjects us to risk with no compensating reward.

Venezuela, Syria and Iran have active political and commercial relationships with Cuba. Given how divergent their agendas are from ours, it makes little sense that America remains on the sidelines as these nations fill the political and economic void we’ve created.

Economically, Cuba needs American products and expertise. It imports more than 80 percent of its food, is dependent on Venezuelan oil and has an infrastructure in disrepair. Our economic embargo of Cuba undermines an 11 million-person market for U.S. businesses, jobs and ingenuity — not to mention our influence on human rights conditions on the island. Economic security is national security.

By these and other measures, our Cuba policy is an ongoing failure based in the distant past.

It’s time for common sense to prevail. In 2009, President Barack Obama took courageous first steps toward reconciliation and is reportedly ready to allow some Americans to travel Cuba. This is the right way forward, and Congress has legislation before it that contains the most obvious and productive next steps.

The Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act would lift the ban on travel by all Americans to Cuba and will help U.S. farmers and ranchers enter the Cuban market.

The bill has bipartisan support and would help our agriculture businesses, small and large, and create jobs in tough economic times. It would assist our travel industry and create jobs in our travel agencies, cruise lines and airlines.

It would end the practice of using food as a lever against the Cubans and liberate all American citizens to do in Cuba what they did in the Cold War so well — function as goodwill ambassadors on the streets of Cuba and provide a massive influx of information for average Cubans, who deserve to know what Americans are really like. It would put needed cash directly in the hands of the Cuban people and increase our influence on human rights conditions. Considering that American citizens can travel to every other country in the world, it makes little sense to restrict our freedom to visit Cuba.

The American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, American Society of Travel Agents, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, American Baptist Churches USA, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch and many other religious, agriculture and travel groups have all expressed support for an end to the ban on all Americans traveling to Cuba.

In sum, the U.S. and Cuban peoples, American businesses and human rights in Cuba would benefit from this bill. Our country needs to look forward, not back, as we make this important policy decision.

Retired Brig. Gen. John Adams is an independent defense consultant. David W. Jones is director of federal government affairs at Vigilant Worldwide Communications and a partner with Capitol Counsel.