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Speaking With a Forked Tongue on the Cold War

Vladimir PutinIn the 19th century, American Indians had an apropos term for U.S. officials: “speaking with a forked tongue.” The term can mean saying one thing and meaning another or also just being hypocritical.

One could easily have applied the term to the New York Times yesterday.

In its lead editorial, entitled “Vladimir Putin Clings to the Past,” the Times takes Putin to task for threatening former Soviet republics for establishing closer ties to Western Europe. “The Cold War should be over for everyone,” the editorial quotes Germany’s Angela Merkel,” but not apparently for Putin, says the Times.

Okay, fair enough. The Cold War ended in 1989.

But on the very same day that the Times published its editorial chiding Putin for refusing to let go of the Cold War, the Times publishes a piece entitled “Why Sanctions on Cuba Must Remain” by Jaime Suchlicki, a history professor and editor of the Cuban Affairs Journal and director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.

Talk about “clinging to the past”! Why, the U.S. embargo against Cuba is about as Cold War as one can get! As  an Associated Press story entitled “50 Years After Kennedy’s Ban, Embargo on Cuba Remains,” that the Times published on February 7, 2012, stated:

The world is much changed since the early days of 1962, but one thing has remained constant: The United States’ economic embargo on Cuba, a near-total trade ban that turned 50 on Tuesday….

Although trade restrictions had been imposed by his predecessor, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mr. Kennedy announced the total embargo on Feb. 3, 1962, citing “the subversive offensive of Sino-Soviet Communism with which the government of Cuba is publicly aligned.”

It went into effect four days later at the height of the cold war, a year removed from the failed C.I.A.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion meant to oust Communism from Cuba and eight months before the Soviet attempts to put nuclear missiles on the island brought the two superpowers to the brink of war.

So, what gives? If the Times doesn’t want Putin returning to the good old days of the Cold War, then why is it publishing a piece like Suchlicki’s, which embraces the biggest Cold War relic one could ever find, one that continues to cling to the more than half-century-old hope that the embargo will finally bring the regime change that the CIA failed to bring at its Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Suchlicki says that ending the embargo against Cuba would do nothing to alter Cuba’s dictatorial system. He points to the fact that the millions of foreigners who have visited Cuba — people, that is, who aren’t jailed or fined by their own government for visiting Cuba and spending money there — haven’t altered Cuba’s governmental structure.

Whether millions of Americans freely traveling into Cuba and interacting with the Cuban people would or would not alter Cuba’s political system is a debatable point. One could argue that American tourism and trade would help build up a strong a strong middle class in Cuba to serve as a counterweight to the Cuban regime, not to mention all the free-market ideas, books, articles, and other intellectual ammunition that could be brought into the country and furnished the Cuban people. It might also show the Cuban people, by example, what genuine freedom is all about.

But the impact on Cuba of lifting the embargo is really beside the point. The real point — the point that Suchlicki not surprisingly doesn’t even mention — is that ending the embargo would be a dramatic step toward restoring the fundamental, God-given rights of economic liberty, private property, and freedom of travel of the American people.

From the very beginning of the embargo during the Eisenhower administration, the embargo has been an infringement on the rights and liberties of the American people.

Think about it: If you travel to Cuba without official permission and spend your own money there, the U.S. government — your own government — will have you indicted, prosecuted, and incarcerated for spending your money in a non-approved communist country to which you have traveled without the permission of U.S. authorities.

That’s not all. They’ll also come after you civilly, imposing and collecting a gigantic monetary fine from you. If you refuse to voluntarily pay the fine, they will seize your home, your car, and any others assets you own to satisfy your debt to the government.

How in the world can such a system be reconciled with the principles of a free society? Isn’t that one of the things that is wrong with socialism and communism — that they enable the government to control the economic activities of the citizenry? Genuine freedom entails the right to freely travel wherever you want and spend your money anywhere and any way you want.

Notice something else here: That the conduct that is criminalized is not malum in se — that is, it’s not bad in and of itself — which is the case with such criminal offenses as murder, rape, and theft.

How do we know that?

Two reasons.

One, if Americans get official permission from the U.S. Treasury — a “license” — then it’s okay for them to travel to Cuba and spend money there.

Two, Americans are free to travel to other communist countries, including old Cold War enemies such as China and Vietnam (both North and South) and spend money there without fear of U.S. criminal prosecution or civil punishment.

As the Times shows us, it’s so easy to point one’s finger at the faults and failures of foreigners. What the Times forgets is that when it points its finger at people like Putin for clinging to dinosaur-like Cold War policies, there are inevitably three fingers pointing back. That’s about as hypocritical as one can get.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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