Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
They Said It:
We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his constitution a religious animal; that atheism is against not only our reason but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit drawn out of the alembick of hell, which in France is now so furiously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness by throwing off that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and comfort, and one great source of civilization amongst us, and among many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and degrading superstition, might take place of it.
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.
THE ASSAULT ON THE POLICE AND THE ASSAULT ON REALITY.
If we were to arrange our articles from the last five years by subject, postmodernism and its role in contemporary leftist politics would undoubtedly be near the top of the list of most frequently mentioned topics. The reason for this is because it affects the course of American society in profound and often dangerous ways. A prime example of this can be found in a close examination of the murder this past weekend of two police officers in New York City.
Let us explain.
The overwhelming majority of the protests that led up to this tragedy were at least nominally civil. Nevertheless, some of the marches and demonstrations included a troubling number of signs and placards demanding the killing of police, as well as number of individuals who chanted such things as, “What do we want? Dead Cops! When do we want it? Now!” Given this, no one should be even slightly surprised that a deranged individual took the protesters at their word and delivered to them what he thought they wanted.
In any case, all of the protests – civil and uncivil – centered on the same chief complaint, the charge made by the participants and their supporters that there is an “epidemic” of police violence against black men. Protest leaders like Al Sharpton insist that police “devalue” black lives and are, more or less, unconcerned about killing black men. In an archetypal piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, Rashad Robinson, the executive director of an online civil rights organization called ColorOfChange.org, put it this way:
There is a national epidemic of police violence, and we are just beginning to understand its scale. In recent months, there has been a constant drumbeat of high-profile police killings. Since Mike Brown was killed by a police officer on Aug. 9, we have seen four months of sustained outrage and activism demanding accountability. Black youth are leading huge numbers of people across the country in a unified call for dignity, justice and deep change.
The response to the well-known police killings of Brown, Eric Garner and others points to an underlying reality: These cases are just the tip of the iceberg, and they are so potent because they represent the stories of many others who were brutalized or killed at the hands of police. The protesters demanding police accountability know that the problem is big, and that it isn’t new.
Police kill black people, with little or no accountability. Black people in America know this, and we teach it to our children as a basic matter of survival.
Similarly, in a contribution to London’s Guardian newspaper, Isabel Wilkerson, a former Chicago Bureau Chief for the New York Times, compared the killing of young black men by police to lynching. “There are parallels between the violence of the past and what happens today,” Wilerson wrote. “Images and stereotypes built into American culture have fed prevailing assumptions of black inferiority and wantonness since before the time of Jim Crow. Many of those stereotypes persist to this day and have mutated with the times.”
Now, it is probably fair to say that a great many of the participants in the recent protester were as horrified as anyone else at the murder of the two New York police officers. And yet the operating theme of the movement is that police are targeting all blacks unfairly and engaging in increased violence against black men specifically, all of which gives the impression that black America is under siege by law enforcement.
The biggest problem with this theme is that it is simply not true. Black men and women are not under siege. If anything, law enforcement agencies in this country expend a far greater percentage of their resources protecting and serving high-density urban areas that are often home to minority populations. Enforcing the law and doing their best to deter crime for the benefit of the citizenry is, in many ways, the opposite of placing a population under siege.
Consider, moreover and more specifically, a case in point that comes in the form of this notion that there is an “epidemic” of state-sanctioned violence against black men. The term “epidemic” both connotes and denotes an “increase” or alarming rise in the incidence of a specific concern. And so when writers, journalists, protesters, presidents, and others insist that there is an “epidemic” of police violence against blacks, they are saying that this violence is increasing, that black men are being targeted more and more and with greater force. And yet there is no reason whatsoever to believe that this is case.
Some opponents of the protests – most recently Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly – have cited government statistics to disprove this notion of an epidemic. And critics have pointed out repeatedly and rightly that the official federal government statistics on the number and ethnicity of people killed by police are woefully incomplete, which is to say people like O’Reilly are simply not able to make their case credibly. The folks at PolitiFact and the other fact-checking media operations have gleefully reported this paucity of credible statistics and have noted time and again that no one really knows how many people are killed by law enforcement every year.
What the PolitiFact operations do not mention, however, is the fact that Sharpton, Jackson, and the countless journalists who routinely use the term “epidemic” are on no firmer footing than O’Reilly. They have no more proof of such an “epidemic” than their critics have disproof of it. They base their claims purely on the “feeling” that black men are under attack. And yet no one bothers to point out to them that they are, therefore, making specious claims about an epidemic with nothing that could be called evidence of it.
At the same time – and here’s where the deception begins to look intentional – no one, to the best of our knowledge, has bothered to examine the readily available police use-of-force records for the jurisdictions that have received the most criticism. If no numbers exist proving this national “epidemic,” then surely, you’d think, there must be some evidence must confirming the existence of an epidemic in New York City or St. Louis County. But if that is, in fact, what you thought, you thought wrong.
In New York, where Eric Garner was killed and where the largest and most unruly protests have taken place, meticulous police records, released earlier this month, actually show that the number of incidents of police use-of-force hit an 11-year high in 2003, and have fallen steadily ever since. The numbers for 2013 (the last year for which statistics are available) were lower than the numbers for 2012. Moreover, the drop in police use-of-force incidents over the last forty years has been dramatic, to say the least. As the recent NYPD report noted:
The New York City Police Department began to collect in-depth documentation of firearm discharges during hostile encounters in 1971, for the purpose of “[increasing] the safety potential of each member of the force.” The policy quickly expanded beyond police-involved combat, however, and came to include the study of other categories, such as unintentional discharges. Today, the Department tracks any incident in which a Department firearm is discharged, even if the person discharging the weapon is not an officer.
Four decades of annual analyses have altered the way officers respond to, engage in, and assess the need for firearms discharges. Information gleaned from the annual reports has saved lives, and there has been Department-wide change with regard to firearms safety, retention, and tactics. The Department has made restraint the norm. When annual recordkeeping began in 1971, 12 officers were shot and killed by another person, and 47 officers were shot and injured. Officers, in turn, shot and killed 93 subjects, and injured another 221. By contrast, in 2013, three officers were shot and injured by subjects, while police shot and killed eight subjects, and injured 17 others; no officer was killed by subject gunfire in 2013.
For those of you scoring at home, between 1971 and 2013, the number of people killed by police gunfire in New York City every year DECREASED by more than 80%. This doesn’t mean that the police are doing everything perfect or that the numbers couldn’t be dropped further. It does mean, though, that the only way to make the actual numbers fit into a pattern that could be called an “epidemic” of police violence is to change the meaning of the word epidemic. Or to decide that the real, objective “truth” is irrelevant in the pursuit of more important ends.
Now, consider as well this idea that police violence against black men is somehow equivalent to lynching, an idea that is associated in print with Isabel Wilkerson, but which is prevalent on the streets among many of the protesters and their allies. Even setting aside the obvious logical flaws in the argument, the case falls apart under even slightest scrutiny. Wilkerson’s case – such as it is – is as follows:
[T]he rate of police killings of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of lynchings in the early decades of the 20th century.
About twice a week, or every three or four days, an African American has been killed by a white police officer in the seven years ending in 2012, according to studies of the latest data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That number is incomplete and likely an undercount, as only a fraction of local police jurisdictions even report such deaths – and those reported are the ones deemed somehow “justifiable” . . . .
The haunting symmetry of a death every three or four days links us to an uglier time that many would prefer not to think about, but which reminds us that the devaluation of black life in America is as old as the nation itself and has yet to be confronted.
The symmetry, Wilkerson claims, is “haunting.” But is it even symmetrical? Wilkerson is right, that superficially, the numbers and the rate are comparable. But they’re only “haunting” if you ignore the fact that the same statistics show that three times as many white people are killed by police every year as are black people. It is true, that based on their relative proportions of the population, blacks are killed by police at a greater incidence than whites, but that’s not the claim that Wilkerson is making. She’s claiming that the very fact that black people are killed by police is hauntingly evocative of lynching. But how then does she account for the fact that white people too are killed by police? She doesn’t, of course. Instead, she takes a mere coincidence and tries to turn it into a profound comment on the state of race relations in the country, even as she ignores the fact that objective numbers belie her assertion.
As far as we can tell, the major problem with all of this is that it makes the whole mess irresolvable. Everyone and everything distracts from the real issue, offering something wholly unrelated in its place. If the real problem were police violence against and profiling of black men, then we have little doubt that solving that problem would be relatively simple. Racist police could be weeded out of the force and greater care could be taken in dealing with minority populations. But that’s not the real problem.
The real problem is that some people, some political factions and ideologies, see every human interaction as a conflict over power. They see language as means to advance and attain power. And they are therefore unwilling to stick to strictly to objective “reality” or the language associated with this reality to make their case and to advance their demands. Therefore, debunking lies, falsehoods, and alternative, emotive interpretations of reality is the first step in resolving the issue at hand. And that, we’re afraid, is a far more difficult proposition than simply reducing police violence.
This first step is, we think, something new and disquieting. In past instances of large and violent street protests, at least in this country, both sides have generally agreed upon the facts of the dispute. In the clashes over civil rights, for example, no one argued that blacks were not being openly discriminated against. One side said this discrimination was illegal. The other said the states had a right to discriminate. During the protests over the Vietnam War, everyone agreed that a war was being fought, that people were dying, that it was extremely expensive, and that victory seemed a long way off. One side said the war was necessary. And the other said it wasn’t. More recently, everyone agreed that Rodney King had been badly beaten by the police. One side said it was a horrible example of police brutality. The other side said there was no other way to subdue him. The upshot was that in each of these cases there was at least a chance for eventual agreement on a solution.
Such is not the case in the present situation. As it turns out, the underlying purpose of the protests is not to resolve the problem that is the ostensible subject of the protest. The purpose is not simply to reduce police use-of-force against black men. Again, if it were, then that would be easy.
In reality, what we have here is the first street confrontation of notable size and violence pitting the traditional American notion that political differences should be worked out within the framework of the Western concept of truth on one the side, against the postmodern view that “truth” is relative and nothing more than a term used by people the manipulate the actions of other people.
By presenting the violence against black men as an “epidemic” or by invoking the struggle for civil rights – either as Isabel Wilkerson has done or as Jesse Jackson has done repeatedly – the leaders of the radical left are simply capitalizing on the these men’s deaths to alter the power relationships in society. And they are using one of the principal weapons in the post-modernist arsenal. Stephen Hicks explains it in his classic Explaining Postmodernism:
Metaphysically, postmodernism is antirealist, holding that it is impossible to speak meaningfully about an independently existing reality. Postmodernism substitutes instead a social-linguistic, constructionist account of reality. Epistemologically, having rejected the notion of an independently existing reality, postmodernism denies that reason or any other method is a means of acquiring objective knowledge of that reality. Having substituted social-linguistic constructs for that reality, postmodernism emphasizes the subjectivity, conventionality, and incommensurability of those constructions.
Hicks notes that what this means in practice is that the postmodern Left views reality as a construct of language and views language “primarily as a weapon” in the accumulation of power. And we’ve seen this in the protests over police use-of-force of late. Actually, in truth, we’ve seen precisely this in all sorts of matters lately, from police violence to sexual assault on campus to the insistence that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. The truth does not matter. The facts are irrelevant. Objective reality is a mere construct. All that matters, in the end, is the “narrative,” which allows the storyteller to frame events in the language that will best enhance his or her position.
Now all of this would be interesting but not necessarily threatening if it were not for the fact that the President of the United States, the Attorney General of the United States, the mayor of the largest city in the United States, and myriad major players in Congress and in the mainstream media have all taken the side of the postmodernists.
No one should be particularly surprised by this. We have been writing about the threat from post-modernism for almost twenty years. We put it this way in an article dated April 8, 1998 entitled “Let the Big Dog Run.”
One side in this conflict can be described as traditional Judeo-Christian. The foundation of this belief system was established some 3,300 years ago with the receipt of the Decalogue by Moses at Mt. Sinai. Besides Old and New Testament teachings, interpreted and clarified by such scholars as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who integrated Platonic and Aristotelian concepts respectively, this system embraces a host of traditions, customs and mores that developed in Western society over many centuries. It is supported by a rich heritage of art and literature, and historic struggles, both religious and secular. The twin concepts of “sin” and “truth” help bind this system together.
The opposing system espouses beliefs that are often referred to today as “post-modern.” This system is roughly based on the concept that there are no ultimate, overarching truths, and that judgments about right and wrong are little more than the means by which some people control others, or as Nietzsche, an icon of the movement, put it, the outward expressions of will and power . . . .
It is worth keeping in mind that capitalism and democracy eventually become extremely corrupt in societies where ethical and moral guidelines are arbitrary. The late, great Russell Kirk, the founder of modern day American conservatism, made this point brilliantly, as follows.
“A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.”
We did not speculate on the eventual outcome of this confrontation in that article or, as far as we can determine, in any follow up piece. But it might be getting about time to at least open the discussion given that the conflict finally became manifestly violence last week when the two defenders of America’s traditional public order were murdered in cold blood by a member of the “kill the cops” set.
Simply stated, the immediate friction can be traced to the necessity of increased police presence in a society in which a large percentage of people have lost their fear of God. This is, of course, not a novel thought on our part. In fact, Machiavelli put it this way almost 400 years ago in his Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy.
And as the observance of the ordinances of religion is the cause of the greatness of a State, so their neglect is the occasion of its decline; since a Kingdom without fear of God must either fall to pieces, or must be maintained by the fear of some prince who supplies that influence not supplied by religion.
What Machiavelli didn’t say was that a society with no fear of God becomes a breeding ground for people who resent all form of restraint on their animal appetites. And such is that case among the protestors. Hence their anger. And hence the risk that these protests have the potential to spawn a great deal more violence and to sap this country’s strength to remain a just society.
WHY DOES CUBA MATTER?
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the Cuba deal announced last week by the Obama administration. The right-wing Cuba hawks like Senator Marco Rubio think that Obama surrendered to Castro, betraying both Cuban-Americans and the citizens of Cuba as well. Rubio’s potential rival for the GOP presidential nomination, Senator Rand Paul, thinks that people like Rubio are nuts, that the embargo of Cuba has long outlived its usefulness, and that the only way to move forward in global leadership is to embrace new ideas, while abandoning the old and failed ones.
The Left, for its part, thinks that the whole thing is awesome and that it’s about time that the Castro brothers were rewarded for their bravery and their willingness to stand up to the nasty American imperialists. After all, they’ve been trying for 37 year now, since Jimmy Carter’s first 100 days in office, to lift the reactionary embargo. And they finally, at long last, have a president who is not afraid to be called “appeaser” if it means doing what is right.
As for us, we don’t really have much of an opinion about the deal. It’s too bad Obama gave up the Cuban spies in return for Alan Gross. And it’s too bad that Raul Castro is able to go around telling the world – as he did over the weekend – that he and his miserable and murderous brother “won” the fifty-five year standoff with the Americans. But beyond that, it strikes us as the kind of thing that all presidents do, especially when they begin to feel irrelevant, as Obama must right now.
Our interest lies in what comes next, or more specifically in how the rapprochement is handled by the American government. You see, once everyone finally comes to the realization that the old American policy for Cuba is dead and that the fight now is over crafting the next American policy for Cuba, the true nature of the two competing moral and economic schools of American political thought will be on display for the world to see.
On the one hand – the right hand, if you will – the focus of the attempt to craft American policy with respect to Cuba will be on property and property rights. This “Lockean” school of thought will support efforts by exiles to regain some of what was stolen from them by the Castros. More to the point, this school will also support “progress” for Cuba and especially for the Cuban people through development and concomitant economic growth.
They will argue that by abandoning the socialist notion of the collective and thus by guaranteeing that property rights will be respected and enforced, Cuba can become an incredibly popular and lucrative tourist and commercial investment destination. But that can only happen if the two governments – the American and Cuban – first agree to start with the inviolability of property, the foundational right of any free society. This is, after all, foreign-investment/capitalism 101.
On the other hand – the Left hand – property will be unimportant. Indeed, the very notion of property will be offensive to advocates of this Rousseauian school of thought. They will not want American companies to be able to buy property in Cuba. They will not want to see the naturally beautiful island “exploited” for American benefit and turned into a giant shopping mall. They will want Cuba and its people to remain isolated, “rustic,” and perfectly immune to the charms of 21st century materialism. They will want, in short, for Americans not to “ruin” Cuba by getting their stinking, grubby hands all over the island. They will argue that the Castros did a beautiful job of preventing such things and that it would be a shame to take such an enormous step backward now and to lose the erstwhile good fight to crass commercialism and imperialist capitalism.
If you’ve seen any of the Left’s immediate reactions to the Cuba deal, you’ll understand that this is precisely and immediately the direction in which the “progressives” will steer the discussion. If we had a dime for every tweet, blog post, or TV comment bemoaning the possibility of McDonalds opening up a store in Havana or expressing a desire to visit the island before “Taco Bell comes in and ruins it,” we’d both be wealthy enough to retire. Shepard Smith, Fox News’s resident lefty, summed it all up with his first, knee-jerk discussion of the President’s “monumental” Cuba announcement. To wit:
I think the last time I went [to Cuba], I brought back Cuban rum, Havana Club, Havana Gold, for like four dollars. . . .
I think that’s what, I think that’s what it cost then. Maybe it was five dollars. But it wasn’t much more than that. . . .
You know the fear among anybody who’s ever been there or who cares at all about the Cuban people, as so many of us do, the last thing they need is a Taco Bell and a Lowe’s. I mean, we don’t need a —…That’s it. But y’know, it’s all one big idea and it all sort of comes together and, you wonder, are we about to get up in there and ruin that place?
If the idea that Americans are capable of nothing more than “ruining” a place isn’t offensive enough, think, for just a minute about what Smith and the rest of the Left are saying here. They aren’t just opposed to American development of Cuba, they are opposed to Cuban development of Cuba. They like Cuba the way it is. And they like it that way because it makes them happy.
Now this idea that Cuba is just fine the way it is and shouldn’t be “ruined” by big, bad gringos is based on two social myths, both of which are pernicious and destructive. The first of these is that which the inimitable Professor Norman Cohn called the “egalitarian State of Nature,” i.e., the belief in a pre-historical “Golden Age” “in which all men were equal in status and wealth and in which no one was oppressed or exploited by anyone else; a state of affairs characterized by universal good faith and brotherly love.”
The second myth, which has its roots in the first, involves the notion of the “noble savage.” That is, if an idyllic state exists or existed, someone had to inhabit it, and that someone was archetypical man, man uncorrupted by evils of materialism and modern society.
We described the noble savage and his place in Western political thought as follows in a November 2006 piece titled, “The State of Nature and the War on Terror”:
In the opening line of Emile, Jean Jacques Rousseau, the intellectual forefather of the modern left, declared that “Everything is good in leaving the hands of the creator of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.” Rousseau’s critique of modern society and his lionization of pre-societal man are, perhaps, his most consistent themes. They are also his most powerful and far-reaching contributions to political philosophy.
In The Second Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau argued forcefully that private property was the source of society’s ills. “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to whom it occurred to say this is mine, and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.” More to the point, he argued that human existence in the absence of societal and societal contrivances was far nobler:
Observation fully confirms what reflection teaches us on this subject: Savage man and civilized man differ so much in their innermost heart and inclinations that what constitutes the supreme happiness of the one would reduce the other to despair. The first breathes nothing but repose and freedom, he wants only to live and remain idle, and even the Stoic’s ataraxia does not approximate his profound indifference to everything else. By contrast, the Citizen, forever active, sweats and scurries, constantly in search of ever more strenuous occupations: he works to the death, even rushes toward it in order to be in a position to live, or renounces life in order to acquire immortality. He courts the great whom he hates, and the rich whom he despises; he spares nothing to attain the honor of serving them; he vaingloriously boasts of his baseness and of their protection and, proud of his slavery, he speaks contemptuously of those who have not the honor of sharing it.
In the 19th century, this conception of savage man as ideal man was literalized, expounded upon, and eventually became a staple of the intellectual case against European imperialism. In the 20th Century, Rousseau’s intellectual heirs continued to romanticize primitive man, and, indeed, they made his inherent righteousness a fundamental component of their self-loathing critique of Western society.
Much of the left’s attack on Western civilization is premised on the idea that the institutions of society – and Western society in particular – are inherently corrupting. The revolt against globalization, the neo-Luddite attack on modern technology (most especially the attack on the internal combustion engine), the squishy left’s fascination with organic foods and opposition to “genetically modified organisms,” “back to nature communalism,” the incessant degradation of America and American actions and motives, the unrelenting and ill-informed charges of economic exploitation and neocolonialism, and the irrational and brutal assault on Christianity are all, at least in part, underpinned by the idea that modern Western society is, by its very definition, corrupt and corrupting.
The natural outgrowth of this belief, of course, is the concomitant conviction that non-Western societies are, simply by virtue of being non-Western and non-Christian, less corrupt and therefore nobler.
In short, then, a major problem with the Left’s foreign policy approach in general and its likely approach to Cuba in particular is the fact that it is based on a wholly preposterous myth of man and his place in the world. Like all Utopian fantasies, this one has led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth and has been the foundation for a great deal of foolish and deadly foreign policy blunders. To embrace it again in the case of Cuba would be to ensure, again, that the American policy will be a failure. How can a policy based on a myth be anything else?
The second major problem here is that such a policy will not only be a failure for Americans, but it will be an absolute catastrophe for Cubans. Shep, for example, claims to care about the Cuban people and, more importantly, to know something about them and their country. Neither can be true. Because if they were, then he did he simply could not, in good conscience, hope to preserve Cuba’s “state of Nature.” That state has been deadly before, and it is on the verge of turning deadly again.
With this in mind, it is worth recalling what happened to the people of the Republic of Cuba when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Soviets had been the Cubans’ only source of economic activity, and when that source dried up, the Cubans suffered mightily. The “Special Period in Time of Peace,” – which was the Castro regime’s euphemism for the Cuban economic depression that accompanied the Soviet Union’s disintegration – was horrific by any measure, as the folks at The Economist noted just a few years back:
Soon after Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, goes an old Cuban joke, the signs at the Havana zoo that read “Please do not feed the animals” were changed to “Please do not take the animals’ food”. When the Soviet Union crumbled and withdrew its aid to Cuba, triggering the so-called “special period” that began in the early 1990s, times became even harder and the joke changed. The new signs, so the story went, begged visitors not to eat the animals.
For those who lived through it, the special period was anything but funny. Domestic cats disappeared from the streets and reappeared on the dinner table. The zoo population thinned out. “The peacocks, the buffalo and even the rhea [a South American bird that resembles an ostrich] disappeared,” says a Havana resident. “The hyaenas became vegetarians, the zoo was depopulated and even the tigers had only sweet potatoes and a bit of cassava to eat.”
In his book, Cuba: Between Reform & Revolution, Louis A, Perez, Jr., the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and Director of the Institute for the Studies of the Americas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explained how and why things became so awful in Cuba:
The Cold War was over and the international balance of power that had so powerfully shaped many of the policies and programs of the Cuban revolution tilted decisively against the government of Fidel Castro. Cuba found itself alone and isolated, without political friends, without military allies . . . .
Cuba found itself increasingly unable to import the goods it consumed and without markets to export the goods it produced. After decades of favorable trade relations with socialist bloc countries, Cuba faced a far-reaching realignment in commercial relations. Soviet trade and aid so vital to Cuban development strategies during the 1960s and 1970s began to dwindle in the late 1980s and virtually ceased altogether by the early 1990s. Soviet oil and oil byproducts, at prices below world market, had accounted for an estimated 90 percent of Cuban energy needs. Socialist bloc merchant vessels had carried 85 percent of Cuba foreign trade with costs usually assigned to the island’s debt.
The rise of market economies in eastern Europe had calamitous consequences in Cuba. The old socialist bloc Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) had accounted for almost 85 percent of Cuban trade, transactions conducted almost entirely in nonconvertible currency. Commercial relations with the former Soviet Union declined by more than 90 percent, from $8.7 billion in 1989 to $4.5 billion in 1991 and $750 million in 1993. Trade with eastern European countries ended almost completely. Soviet oil imports decreased by almost 90 percent, from 13 million tons in 1989 to 1.8 million tons in 1992. Shipments of capital grade consumer goods, grains, and foodstuff declined and imports of raw materials and spare parts essential for Cuban industry ceased altogether. Fertilizer imports declined by 80 percent, from 1.3 million tons to 25,000 tons; animal feed supplies fell by 70 percent, from 1.6 million tons to 450,000 tons.
The economic crisis deepened through the early 1990s. For the second time in thirty years, Cuba experienced calamitous dislocations associated with disengagement from its principal trading partners. The effects were immediate and far-reaching and in fact of far greater consequence the second time, for on this occasion Cuba was unable to obtain easily alternative sources of aid and assistance. Scarcities increased and shortages of almost every kind became commonplace. Goods and services previously plentiful became scarce; what had earlier been in short supply disappeared altogether.
The economic crisis assumed a logic of its own and all though the early 1990s conditions across the island rapidly deteriorated.
We mention all of this today because history is, to some extent, about to repeat itself. Today, Cuba has three economic patrons, Venezuela, Russia, and Iran. And all three are suddenly – because of the massive slide in oil prices – unable to spare much for extraneous expenses. And Cuba is most definitely an extraneous expense. Indeed, if you ask us, the Castro brothers decision to make nice with the United States and to accept Barack Obama’s overtures is directly related to their belief that none of the three of Cuba’s current patrons will be able to maintain the present relationship. And that, in turn, means that very hard times are about to return to Cuba – or at least they will return unless someone else can be found to pick up the slack.
Enter the Americans.
Truth be told, we’re not all that excited about seeing Cuba turned into one giant strip mall. But then, we don’t think that the alternative is better. Indeed, we think it is far worse. Moreover, we understand what every American president from least McKinley through Bush has understood, namely that American business and developing countries can have a mutually beneficial relationship, with the latter providing markets for the former, and the former providing economic opportunity to the latter.
Shepard Smith and the State of Nature-fetishizing Left are presently worried that America will ruin Cuba. They want to save Cuba, you see, even if it means sacrificing a few Cubans to do so. Unfortunately, they have already begun making their case, unlike their counterparts on the Right, who are too busy complaining about Communism to notice that the argument has passed them by.
We suspect that the current President shares their sympathies and is the first American president in more than a century who doesn’t see American capitalism and property rights as a blessing for the poor and starving of the developing world. We suspect further that this means that he will side with the myth-believing fetishists and deny the Cuban people the opportunity to lift themselves out of 500-plus years of dependency and poverty.
The real question, of course, is what the NEXT president will believe. Would Hillary Clinton, if elected, align herself with her husband’s legacy? Or would she embrace her inner leftist? Would a Republican have the sense and foresight to ignore the urge to punish the Castro regime and retreat into the embargo? Would he or she be able to move forward and manage to promote markets, capitalism, and property rights in Cuba?
We can’t say, obviously, but for American government and especially for the Cuban people, the answers to these questions, which are only now starting to be asked, will be critical.