“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” – Sun Tzu
Abraham Lincoln never thought of the South as the “enemy” but as brothers who had gone astray. Nixon did see the People’s Republic of China as the enemy, but knew if the United States did not open and maintain relations with China, peace would be near impossible on this planet. Clinton knew that North Korea wanted to develop a nuclear bomb, but saw open trade of fuel oil as a deterrent. George W. Bush stopped the trade and closed the door.
All of these efforts were called heresy, but are praised today as decisions of great insight and foresight. So why is the conservative movement so upset with President Obama extending a hand to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and extending a symbolic hand to Cuba’s Castro brothers? The “free world” supports open and honest communication, free selection of government, and open and free commerce — these are American ideals. So what is the problem?
For decades, American presidential hopefuls have courted the Cuban-American communities with vows to maintain the status quo as long as Fidel or Raul remained alive. The Bay of Pigs invasion, the embargoes, the lack of any real communication between the governments — all failed attempts by the United States and Cuban expatriates to install an honest democratic government. The closed-door policy, the doctrine of “Us versus Them” has not and does not work.
Venezuela has some of the richest oil fields on the planet. Otherwise, this beautiful country on the northern tip of South America would only have its militarily strategic location, its relations with Latin America and its unfortunate contributions to America’s drug trade as reasons to keep the doors open. OK, Chavez is a whack-job, but he is smart as a fox.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney is leading the opposition to opening relations with our neighbors, because they are “hostile” to our form of free trade and republicanism. Cheney’s black or white position is one that has strangled U.S. foreign policy since World War II. This false dichotomy only creates dissension.
Robert Creamer’s April 20 Huffington Post commentary notes the change of U.S. policy, of President Bush’s doctrine of “You’re either with us or against us.” The new foreign policy now recognizes shades of gray.
“Fundamentally, foreign policy is no different from any other kind of politics. And in politics the one message that will never be forgiven is ‘disrespect,’” Creamer writes.
Yes, the fact that Chavez gave the president the 1971 edition of "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent," by Eduardo Galeano could be seen as “disrespectful,” but it may be more of a history lesson. It provides the president and the millions who are seeking copies (it was the No. 2 seller for Amazon.com at one point) with the other side of Western hemispheric history. Remember, in Vietnam, it was the “American War.”
The collapse of the Soviet Union was not solely accomplished by Ronald Reagan, but by the efforts of every president starting with Truman. It took more than 50 years of maintaining open relations with the Soviets through the Cold War years and with a wary eye, while gaining the people’s respect and honoring free enterprise that took down the wall. It was keeping the “doors” open.
My friends from China no longer tout Mao’s “Little Red Book” as the bible of the nation. Business books, free enterprise and a government that is more tolerant of private ownership and entrepreneurship are now king. Richard Nixon opened the doors, a lesson we must learn. Yes, their culture does not weigh individualism as important as their American counterparts do, and the government still restricts access to certain Web sites and maintains control over the media and press, but it is much better than the 1960s and the Red Guard.
In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” History has taught us that political isolationism and disrespect does not work.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Besides the Missourian, David is also a featured columnist for MissouriTribune.com and TRCB.com. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.