As President Obama prepares for his historic visit to Cuba, he faces a storm of criticism from conservatives. Those who opposed the Iran nuclear deal have been joined by some Cuban Americans and anyone else who thinks national security consists entirely of a robust military and bellicose bravado. For a number of reasons, however, the president's visit makes a great deal of sense on humanitarian and security grounds.
First of all, the capital of Cuba is Havana, not Miami. For too long U.S. policy toward the island nation has been dictated by concern for the sensibilities of an expat community in a swing state with lots of electoral votes. The views of that community, furthermore, appear to be changing. While older Cuban Americans favor continuing the embargo, the younger generation wants to normalize relations, even though they share their parents' dislike of the Castro brothers.
Second, continuing the embargo makes no sense. The Cold War ended a quarter of a century ago. Cuba has long ceased to be a Soviet outpost in the Western Hemisphere and poses no threat to the United States. Even if the Cuban government has violated human rights, continuing to punish its citizens will not improve matters. Embargos do not hurt dictators; they hurt ordinary people.
Anyone who wishes to see an end to communism on the island might consider how it ended in Eastern Europe. Once the communications revolution made it impossible for Soviet-backed regimes to hide just how much better life on the western side of the iron curtain really was, those regimes toppled like a row of dominoes. Free travel and commerce between Cuba and the United States will probably have the same effect.
Finally, constructive engagement beats confrontation nine times out of ten. The Obama's trip to Havana is not an endorsement of the existing system but an opportunity to engage the Cuban government in meaningful dialogue on further reforms.
Those who believe national security rests solely on the number of carrier battle groups, armored divisions, and air wings the U.S. deploys will of course be disappointed that the administration has not continued the tough stand of the past. The rest of us, however, can feel quite pleased that the president has ended a long standing conflict without firing a shot.