Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw “Radek” Sikorski, husband of Washington Post editorial writer (and Polish cuisine expert) Anne Applebaum, is a compelling, brilliant, eclectic political intellectual who I admire a great deal.
In part, I admire Sikorski because while tenacious and committed to his own analysis and views, he maintains an open mind; he listens; and while tenacious, he debates his intellectual opponents without going into the gutter. And he is occasionally unpredictable in all the right ways.
One way that he surprised me when he was running the New Atlantic Initiative at the American Enterprise Institute — then the institutional beating heart of America’s neoconservative movement — he wrote a piece for National Review that called for an end to the US embargo of Cuba. It was called “Travels in Fidel-Land.”
An expert in the illiberalism and despotism of the former Soviet empire, Sikorski had long argued that people to people contact, exchange, free commerce and the like open up a society and make it much more difficult for a dictatorship to remain in power.
Sikorski gets it. The intent of his article then was to focus on altering the internal dynamics of the Cuban state, but to do so not by overt meddling but from the power of the American marketplace and from the constructive collision of American liberal ideas with the hopes and aspirations of Cuban citizens.
From my progressive realist perch, I think that the US has tied itself into self-defeating knots with five decades of a failed embargo and a regime change obsession with Cuba that has gone nowhere.
I don’t think that the embargo has produced results that have served the US national interest and have decreased American leverage in Cuba and Latin America. I think that removing restrictions on the freedom of Americans to travel and dropping the embargo eventually will have profound consequences on the political realities in Cuba and the United States. Both ways.
I don’t share the objective that many neoconservatives, even Radek Sikorski, have of fundamentally altering the internal arrangements of other countries — but I recognize that with an end to the embargo against Cuba — what Cubans call “the blockade” — that possibility exists and may even be probable. But that’s not the wave of change that is the American government’s right or role to surf — it is the Cuban people’s.
Here is a key clip from Sikorski’s “Travels in Fidel Land“:
The standoff between the U.S. and Cuba seems ultimately not just political, but also psychological. Cubans seem to think that they get noticed by big brother only when they stick him in the eye. Americans seem determined to put the little one in his place. How else do you explain the silliness of barring your citizens from visiting a country you are not actually at war with, or of imposing fines for importing Cuban cigars? We didn’t cease to enjoy caviar even at the height of the Gulag.
The law should not be an ass, and the U.S. can afford to be pragmatic in its policy toward a country that no longer poses a threat. As Mark Falcoff points out in his brilliant Cuba: The Morning After, to keep the embargo while granting Cubans privileges in immigrating to the U.S. is politically self-contradictory: It gives the regime an excuse for failure while simultaneously helping it get rid of its internal opposition. . .
But if neither Old Europe’s appeasement nor the U.S. embargo is likely to succeed in changing the regime, perhaps we need a coordinated transatlantic approach that would build on methods that have worked in the past. Human contact across the Iron Curtain was crucial in maintaining the conviction on the other side that democracy and free markets are superior to Communism: Fulbright scholarships that were granted to dissidents and nomenklatura alike helped to create alternative elites and weaned Communists off their zeal.
Sikorski has kept his own government of Poland on this track he articulated five years ago by instructing his Ministry’s Ambassador to vote along with 184 other nations against the US Embargo of Cuba in the United Nations a week and a half ago.
— Steve Clemons