The White House announced Thursday that President Obama will visit Cuba in March. Though this marks a historic moment in U.S.-Cuba relations, it is only one part of an ongoing campaign by the Obama Administration to reach out to the once-isolated nation. Overshadowed by the diplomatic victories are the less talked about but equally important economic developments. This past week, the Treasury Department approved the construction of an American tractor factory in one of Cuba’s government-controlled economic zones. Figurehead diplomacy is cheap, but the Obama Administration’s larger diplomatic and economic policy toward Cuba deserves praise for putting its money where its mouth is.
Money, to be sure, is not the only factor in good international relations. In the case of Iraq, the U.S. government invested billions of dollars to improve conditions only to see the money vanish into the war zone, likely into enemy hands. Carelessly throwing money at the problem is not sufficient for creating goodwill and fostering reform, and improperly directed aid can often be counterproductive. Constructively directed monetary and economic policies are finely tuned instruments for change. Permitting U.S. companies to build in Cuba provides average citizens employment, advanced manufactured goods and opportunities for future foreign capital investments in the country. A publicized presidential visit conveys good intentions, but a U.S. company creating jobs shows a deeper commitment to the Cuban people.
Cuba is a shining example of the Obama Administration’s departure from past treatment of ostracized nations. Previous administrations have taken radical steps to isolate countries, but too often the hard line has been the only line — indeed, some presidential hopefuls have espoused as much. However, a brief survey of U.S. foreign policy reveals that diplomatic pressure must be paired with an alternative avenue in order to create reform and improved relations. From Richard Nixon’s initiative of opening up Red China to Ronald Reagan’s close cooperation with Gorbachev, it is clear that successfully reforming troubled nations requires a carrot-and-stick approach.
Learning the lessons of history, the Obama Administration reached out to formally marginalized nations, and saw its efforts bear fruit. Iran, after being pressured by an international sanctions regime headed by the United States, released U.S. sailors and prisoners within a week of the nuclear sanctions being lifted. And just last week, Cuba returned a U.S. missile that had been mistakenly shipped to the island, a rather poetic reversal for an island that has spent more than half a century trying to live down an infamous missile crisis. With Cuba, the Obama Administration is making good on its pledge for hope and change.
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