Why American Foreign Policy is Broken

To be sure something as complicated as international relations is a tenuous business at best, however American foreign policy has been a stick and carrot mentality for over 100 years and with great emphasis on the stick. There are many examples, such as our military involvement with Iraq and Afghanistan whereby we not only planned regime change we expect their people will want to adopt democratic rule along with capitalistic economies. Success in the international community most often is judged by historical review and that’s where perhaps we need to take off the blinders.

The US clearly moved away from isolationism when it engaged itself in a war that to this day makes little sense, the Spanish American War. The 1898 Treaty of Paris, which followed the end of a 10 week war, was favorable to the U.S., allowing temporary American control of Cuba and, following their purchase from Spain, indefinite colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

WWI and II, and to a lesser extent the Korean war, were our last successful forays into gun boat diplomacy. Each of these wars produced “state offspring” which carried on with rebuilt nations, albeit Korea became a divided government. The prosperity and degree of freedom among the people of South Korea far overshadows the North.

It is the nation of Cuba which displays a vivid reminder of how poorly and in such an amateur way, the U.S. has failed to help secure a more free and just society. From the end of our late 19th century hostilities with Spain to this day, America has failed miserably in helping this country. John Quincy Adams, who as U.S. Secretary of State from 1817 to 1825, compared Cuba to an apple that, if severed from Spain, would gravitate towards the U.S. From the beginning of the 20th century to date, we did everything we could to corrupt and rot the apple.

When the U.S. was at the height of expanding it’s economy and population, selling soft drinks and automobiles at an ever growing rate, the darker underbelly of capitalism, arguably the same type of forces in play today, were exercising their influence on Cuba. Havana in particular became sort of the adult Disneyland in the 1950’s. The political as well as organized crime influence peddlers of the day had set up what they saw as a huge mecca for illegal foreign trade and gambling. The leadership was corrupt and mostly under the control of U.S. money, whatever it sources. The succession of puppet dictators provided fertile ground for revolutionaries such as Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

The indigenous Cuban population was treated badly for it’s Spanish heritage and strong allegiance to Catholicism by it’s English speaking mostly Protestant neighbor 90 miles north. Casinos and brothels were de rigueur for this island economy and the message of freedom combined with the anti-capitalist voice of Marxism were generally well received by the youth and the disenfranchised worker. Castro started out as a lawyer in Havana and took on the cases of those who could least afford it. He honed his oratory skills and saw an opportunity to realign the economy and appeal to the populist morality.

After elections were shown to be corrupt and the majority of voters could no longer obtain justice through the ballot box, revolution became their only viable option to change things. Despite the latest in U.S. armaments and financial support of the existing regime, the guerrillas lead by Castro won the support of the population and over threw the dictatorship.

What followed this change was where the U.S. in a continuous series of failed coup and assassination attempts pushed Castro in an alignment with an equally powerful ally, the Soviet Union. America’s attempt to embargo Cuba’s chief export sugar, and subsequent removal of technical support of the internal communication systems only exacerbated the problems. American politicians minimized diplomacy and with the guidance of the CIA aligned themselves with American Mafia leadership to come up with a plan to kill Castro or destabilize the country. Castro with every reason to become paranoid encouraged and supported efforts by the Soviet Union to become influential in the western hemisphere and permitted the construction of land based nuclear missile facilities in Cuba.

Numerous books and movies have dramatized and fictionalized the great diplomacy of the Kennedy administration in handling the “Cuban missile crisis” all the while absolving the American leadership of their part of the responsibility leading up to the crisis.

What can we learn from our failed Cuban diplomacy? Are there lessons we can take away from our half century of continual misunderstanding and characterizations? If our primary objectives are to influence people to become free of despots, clearly our actions toward Castro and Cuba have done nothing to enhance our credibility. We were supportive of Cuban dictators who were favorable to our economic interests, but did whatever we could to destroy their economy and leadership when Castro refused to see it our way.

In truth, we polarized a nation and it’s leadership in our actions toward Castro and Cuba. What we should have done with him and their country is take the John Quincy Adams approach of diplomacy. Using whatever means possible we should have acted as if we are a kind and forgiving nation, pretended to be their friend even if we really despised his leadership and offered trade and economic policy which would enhance our communication with the people of Cuba.

As-is, we did everything we could to isolate them, make them our enemy and ensure hatred and misunderstanding through 10 Presidents and 50 years of lost opportunity. Does that sort of bull headed attitude work on a personal level with you? If you had a family or a member of a family that attempted to prevent you in succeeding economically and even went so far as to attempt to kill you, how much of a friend or a member of that family would you want to be? Does this type of strategy really work anywhere? We are told it does but I can almost guaranty it won’t by looking at our history in world affairs. Perhaps we should reassess our gun-boat diplomacy in the middle east.