Tuesday, April 16, 2013

President Obama: Go to Havana ... by gimleteye

In 1976 I was in my final weeks as a Yale undergraduate, drinking coffee from a fire hose and hopelessly anxious that I would ever graduate.

The final obstacle to my diploma was a senior thesis. As the clock wound down, who stood in my way was a post doctoral assistant professor in the political science department from South Korea.

I was a Chinese language major. Yale, at the time, was the quiet feeder for bright, young people ready to serve the nation. As a Chinese language major, I was in the running.

In my senior thesis I attempted a point of view unpopular in certain circles. Namely, that the US State Department failed to parse the difference between Mao and Stalin during the early 1930's, and this miscalculation reverberated all the way to the Second World War.

With a little more worldliness, I might have taken a different approach, since a South Korean recipient of Yale's support was unlikely to be sympathetic to this version of history.

Memory of this distant event flooded back while reading the recent article in Foreign Policy by William LeoGrande, "The Cuba Lobby". Mr. LeoGrande begins his essay, lamenting the bureaucratic inertia that has stymied US foreign policy to Cuba with the China example:
"A wasteland." That's how W. Averell Harriman described the State Department's Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs when he took it over for President John F. Kennedy in 1961. "It's a disaster area filled with human wreckage.… Some of them are so beaten down they can't be saved. Some of those you would want to save are just finished. They try and write a report and nothing comes out. It's a terrible thing." As David Halberstam recounts in "The Best and the Brightest", the destruction of the State Department's expertise on Asia was the result of the China Lobby's decade-long assault on everyone, from professors to Foreign Service officers, who disputed the charge that communist sympathizers in the United States had "lost China."

LeoGrande goes on to lament the influence of the Cuba lobby in the inner workings of the state department, through junior staffers and into the ranks of political appointees. He ends his piece wondering if President Obama will have the courage to do what Nixon did in China, in 1972.

A visit to Havana by President Obama would do a great deal to exorcise the ghosts of a policy that has served neither American nor Cuban interests.


Anonymous said...

I just returned from a two week trip to China, really amazing place. Spent a few days in Shanghai with a friend who majored in Chinese at Georgetown and has been living there for 7 years. It was very interesting seeing his take on the cultural differences.

Getting back to the point of your article, visiting the country, China or Cuba, will mostly only help the situation for the people there. For example, our tour guide had only seen the famous college student/tank in Tiananmen Square photo when a guest of a previous tour group showed it to him (and this tour guide biked to school PAST Tiananmen Square as a teenager). Hearing me complain about not being able to access Facebook or Twitter has to make citizens wonder as well...

Anonymous said...

While I understand your sentiments, I don't think Obama has the luxury of just going to places because his presence "would do good". He is real busy now, has a lot on his plate, needs to be focused on our business, and any movement by him requires the expenditure of vast resources. At a time when seniors are being asked to eat cat food, Cuba will have to fend for itself.

Anonymous said...

He'll go if they have a golf course.

Anonymous said...

With Cuba's population being over 80 percent Black, he may go there before he leaves office. It is a Black country that will need help during the transition.

Anonymous said...

Race has nothing to do with it.

Cuba is not China. It will never be as important to our country (and the world) as China is.

Outside of Miami, and a few small pockets of Cubans living elsewhere in the States, most Americans don't care about Cuba.

Illegal immigration issues that are being discussed now have nothing to do with Cubans. And it's not because of the difference in policies (which is completely unfair in my view.) It's because the US population doesn't think of Cuba as anything more than a minor nuisance.
Mexico is the country most Americans associate with problems.

So why should Obama go to Cuba?