For those who continue to believe that John McCain’s realist advisers exercise real influence on his foreign-policy positions, the latest piece of contrary evidence was provided by the candidate today in Miami where he served red meat, hot and steaming, to the hard-liners who have made so much progress in promoting democratic change on the island over the last 48 years. His speech came less than a week after the Council on Foreign Relations, the Mecca of foreign-policy realism, released a major report on U.S.-Latin American relations that called for unilaterally relaxing sanctions imposed by Bush on travel and remittances “with the aim of lifting the embargo against Cuba.”
In any event, the speech offered no hint of difference between McCain’s policy proposals and those pursued by Bush. He belittled the transition from Fidel to Raul Castro as meaningless and declared that the embargo should remain intact until Havana releases “all political prisoners unconditionally”, [legalizes] political parties, labor unions, and free media, and [schedules] internationally monitored elections.”
He attacked Obama for, like the CFR, proposing to ease the embargo and for “want[ing] to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro,” a step which McCain said “would send the worst possible signal to Cuba’s dictators — there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in U.S. policy.”
He also insisted that maintaining the embargo would be “just one element of a broader approach” on Cuba that would include providing “more material assistance and moral support…, and increase Radio and TV Marti and other means to communicate directly with the Cuban people.”
“My Justice Department would vigorously prosecute Cuban officials implicated in the murder of Americans, drug trafficking and other crimes. While our Cuba policy will not always be in accord with that of our hemispheric and European partners, my administration will begin an active dialogue with them to develop a plan for post Castro Cuba, a plan that will spark rapid change and a new awakening in that country.”
Of course, you expect this kind of thing from a Republican in south Florida, but it’s interesting to note that, when McCain was still a maverick eight years ago, he was the only Republican candidate who said he would be willing to engage Fidel Castro in a ”step-by-step reciprocal” process of easing sanctions in exchange for political and economic reforms. He repeatedly cited the process that led to the normalization of relations with Vietnam as a model.
Now, however, consistent with the Bush approach of posing sweeping preconditions to any negotiation process, McCain appears more than eager to pander to the most hard-line sectors of the Cuban-American community.
Hillary and Obama are addressing Cuban-American audiences in Florida later this week.