With the announcement that Cuba and the U.S. will soon exchange ambassadors and reopen embassies in each other's capitals comes another spate of grousing. Opponents of normalization say that we ought to have exacted concessions of some kind from the Cuban government in exchange.
I'm not of that school. Almost sixty years ago we decided to try to isolate Cuba as a way of "punishing" Castro for his effrontery. Breaking off relations, putting in place a strict embargo on trade and tourism -- these were the tools that would bring him around, moderate his behavior, maybe even cause his fledgling revolutionary government to fail. Or, viewed from a slightly different angle, you might say that we expected to change his "behavior" (a word that incidentally, has no legitimate place in diplomacy).
We've seen how that worked out. Isolation can be counterproductive. It left us without any influence or channels of communication, and made Cuba totally dependent on and influenced by, the Soviets. It cut off trade and tourism, to no one's particular benefit, and virtually guaranteed that Cuba would try to export communism to other parts of Latin America.
Now, those who oppose normalization suggest that, having failed to leverage any concessions after six decades of embargo, we can now "require" Cuba to make changes we want as the political quid pro quo for our abandoning our (unsuccessful) embargo. That is inconsistent, to say the least.
I wouldn't rule out that the Castro government could be pushed to take a couple of steps in our direction, especially to pave the way for a visit by Secretary of State Kerry, or even by President Obama. But for now, I think, the reestablishment of dialogue is the main prize. Diplomacy is about talking. If, as many analysts suggest, Castroism is on the verge of total collapse, we'll be in a better position if we're on the ground beforehand, ready to talk to elements hoping for change.