Why Republicans should thank Obama for opening up Cuba

A Note from Paul Solman: A Republican of long lineage, but a Democrat for the past 10 years, George Cabot Lodge taught for decades at the Harvard Business School and helped start the “Biggie” (BGIE) program: “Business, Government and the International Environment.” His great grandfather was Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., the senator key to undermining the League of Nations — because it would tie the hands of the U.S. in foreign affairs. George’s father was Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., who ran as Richard Nixon’s vice presidential candidate in 1960. And George himself ran against a Kennedy (Teddy) for the Massachusetts senate seat in 1962, as his father had run against another (John F.) a decade earlier.

He is an occasional contributor to Making Sen$e, last writing in March about the economic policy President Barack Obama should pursue with Russia, and before that, arguing ahead of the 2012 elections that America doesn’t practice what it preaches.

He now returns to Making Sen$e to comment once again on foreign policy, specifically to praise Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts with Cuba. Before America’s historic opening with Cuba earlier this month, Making Sen$e contributor Lew Mandell predicted that capitalism in Cuba was closer than the U.S. thought, based on his own trip to the country this past spring. For a sense of the change afoot even earlier, watch my two reports from Cuba in 2001 (below), where I witnessed those capitalist flirtations and the futility of the embargo.

— Paul Solman

The last time that I was privileged to occupy space on this blog – a few months ago – it was to praise the sure-footed diplomacy of President Barack Obama in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. I suggested that the Ukrainian affair would end with Putin seeking help to service his prodigious debt. Using a football analogy, this would indeed be a rare moment, the offense asking for help from the defense.

Now Mr. Obama has scored again opening a new relationship with Cuba. It should have happened long ago, but still Republicans are against it.

Why do they want to deny the Cuban people the better life that will come with U.S. investment in their country and deny American business new opportunities? Ending Cuban isolation and opening its economy will expose the island to world markets and thus prod the government to adopt policies that promote international competitiveness, encouraging, instead of suppressing, innovation and enterprise. The result will not only be better jobs and higher incomes for Cubans but also a more open and humane society.

The Republican opponents to Mr. Obama’s plan seem to think that a U.S. embassy in Havana would bring legitimacy to an authoritarian regime of which we disapprove. The reverse is true. Years of isolation have protected if not fostered the regime, much as in North Korea. And according to the opponents’ logic, we should shut down our embassies in Moscow, Beijing and quite a few other places. Diplomatic recognition does not mean approval; it means recognition, no more no less.

Although we respect and do our best to practice democracy, it is important to recognize that democracy comes in many forms and varieties. Singapore comes to mind. Since its creation in the 1950s, it has had essentially one political party. Although popular representation – democracy – has flourished within that party, until recently, opposition parties were strenuously discouraged. At the same time, Singapore has become one of the economic wonders of the world. It is among the nations with the highest per capita income and the highest living standards, and it is at or near the top in health, education and housing. Those in the Congress who regard government as a scarcely necessary evil should note that government played a central and pervasive role in Singapore’s development.

Whatever path it chooses, it is time for the United States to use diplomacy to help convert Cuba from being a former foe to becoming a future friend. It is also time for Republicans to rein in their unthinking antagonism to Mr. Obama’s good ideas.

Editor’s Note: Paul’s introduction originally referred to Lodge as a longtime Republican, but has since been updated to reflect the fact that he became a registered Democrat 10 years ago.

Watch Paul Solman’s 2001 reports below:

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