If matters continue progressing on the path begun mid-December 2014, then what is tentatively being called the "Cuban Thaw" could well be the most significant geopolitical legacy of Barack Obama. For over 50 years prior, the US and Cuba have been locked in an icy glare. Most of that time the situation was purely Cold War posturing, since Cuba had embraced communism under the firm grip of Fidel Castro, and had aligned itself with the Soviet Union. But when the Cold War ended, disaffected Cuban expatriates concentrated in Florida exercised enough political influence in an important enough state that the country was unable to let go of this last hangover from the foreign policy of John F. Kennedy. And then, suddenly, weeks before Christmas of 2014, the ice broke with a prisoner swap -- a US contractor jailed in Cuba several years ago for trying to bring the people the Internet, plus another unabashed American spy being held in Cuba for three Cuban spies in jail in the US since the late 90's. And more than simply a swap, the countries simultaneously announced a host of other openings, increased allowance for communications and tourism, more openness on the Cuban side, less closedness on the American. A break, it appears, in one of the last Cold War facades, and perhaps the one act of Obama's presidency which truly (if retroactively) justifies his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize win.

But what is really going on here might very well be realignment in a greater clash of civilizations. The current framework of conflict around the world is not based on the old conflicting economic ideologies, but is a far starker collision between religious fundamentalism (primarily that of Islam) and the very idea of civilization itself. For civilization can not exist where men publicly behead helpless victims for thought crimes and institute rape slavery of women of any territory where their belief does not predominate. The bloody borders and tendrils of this brand of Islam are seen from India and Israel to China and Russia, all across Northern Africa, and reaching on occasion into the midst of Europe and Australia and North America. Though Christianity seems innocent in this row, there are those who claim to be Christian who chomp at the bit to fight the apocalyptic fight. And in this greater conflict, Cuba and the US are natural allies. Cuba has no natural affinity for Islamic dictatorships, men who behead journalists and use rape both as a means of subjugation and as a religious rite. And it makes no sense for the US to pursue an old policy which pushes Cuba to align with these enemies of the US.

Naturally, a few nagging hooks remain in wholly eliminating the dissonance which has long plagued the relationship between Cuba and the US. The Cuban expatriate community (nicknamed the "Miami Mafia" by the Castro regime) still has stone-hard feelings, not to mention property interests from the time when the newly-communist state took all the land from the wealthy and compelled many to flee. Nothing grates them more than the thought of Castro getting his way in anything, even if it is an ailing nearly-90-year-old Castro (or his not-much-younger brother Raul, who now heads Cuba). Any true normalization of relations must get the stamp of approval from an incoming US Congress which is now dominated by men who would shun to give Obama a positive talking point -- though notably, libertarian-leaning Rand Paul came quickly to champion the freedom of travel and trade for which this thaw ultimately stands. And there is still Guantanamo, which does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon (it was a thorn in Cuba's side long before it was notorious as a prison for a group of people caught up in the aforementioned clash of civilizations, its current occupants ranging from outright terrorist masters to teenage goatherders swept up in US military actions; just watch A Few Good Men for a nostalgic glimpse of Guantanamo as simply another, albeit provocatively placed, military base). And there are still a few lower-level "political prisoners" to grouse about on either side, and some fugitives from US justice living as virtual prisoners in Cuba instead of as actual prisoners in the US.

But with the existence of civilization itself very much on the line, and strange alliances perhaps needed to preserve it, these few hang-ups may well turn out to be piddling issues indeed.


spiregrain says re Cuban Thaw: "Your analysis omits what I consider to be the main reason for the Thaw. Cuba has been propped up by various other states since the revolution - first the USSR and more recently Venezuela. Venezuela however, is on the decline, and the current oil-price crash is a decisive nail in the coffin of their largess. Havana has no-where else to turn; and the US business community would probably quite like to participate in/profit from the modernisation/sale of widgets to of a nation of 11 million people."

I would agree that that is a significant set of factors from the perspective of Cuba, but there still needed to be an imposing impetus pushing the US to change its path as well.

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