Obama’s bold move on relations with Cuba

Barack Obama seems determined to avoid irrelevance and have a real impact in his last years in office. Not long after stepping out unilaterally on immigration, he’s braving the potential ire of Cuban émigrés by stepping toward a more reasonable relationship with their homeland:

US President Barack Obama has hailed a “new chapter” in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties.

Mr Obama said the US’ current approach was “outdated” and the changes were the “most significant” in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years.

Cuban President Raul Castro said he welcomed the shift in a TV address.

The move includes the release of US contractor Alan Gross and three Cubans held in the US.

Wednesday’s announcement follows more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving the Pope….

Good for him. And good for the Pope, too. It’s good to have a Pontiff from Latin America, it seems…

28 thoughts on “Obama’s bold move on relations with Cuba

    1. Bryan Caskey

      I’m ok with the idea of normalizing relations with Cuba, but Obama could have extracted at least some kind of concession from the Cuban government on something (elections, formation of political parties, free speech, etc.) in return for granting status.

      I’m not sure if he’s really bad at it, if he doesn’t know how, or if he just doesn’t like to do it, but Obama just isn’t a negotiator. I can’t think of a single example of him really striking a substantial compromise with any opposing group, foreign or domestic.

      The ACA was the definition of a non-compromise.
      Not securing a base in Iraq was the failure to reach a deal. (Not assigning blame here, just noting that no deal was reached, when I think one could have been.)
      Immigration Order (No compromise, just executive action.)
      The defeat on gun-control legislation. (Again, not assigning blame, but no deal was reached. I think something small could have been done, but in the end nothing was done.)
      Grand Bargain? Nope. Fizzled out.

      Again, I’m not assigning blame here or debating the merits of whether negotiation would have been better than the actual result. In every instance, there was opposition. But that’s the nature of a compromise. You don’t need to compromise if there’s no opposition. In every one (or at least some) of these instances, I think there was a deal that could have been reached. It might not have been a perfect deal, but I think there was a deal to be had

      Am I wrong? What’s an example of a great compromise he has been a party to?

      To be clear, I’m not saying that there is anything necessarily wrong with him failing to negotiate in these examples. I’m not making a judgment about whether he should or shouldn’t negotiate, I’m just making the limited point of that he doesn’t.

      1. Silence

        He is clearly a terrible negotiator. I’m glad that Mr. Gross is home, of course, but it sounds like whenever Obama negotatiates on our behalf, he gives everything away. It’s like he’s not even trying!

      2. Phillip

        Could one not say that concessions of a sort have already been extracted from Cuba, to the extent that they made this move possible? According to the BBC article Brad links to, “limited economic reforms carried out by Raul Castro have begun to relax the tight grip of the state, and pique the interest of American business…Cuba has stopped exporting revolution to Latin America. In fact, it’s mediating the most successful attempt so far to achieve peace between the Colombian government and Farc rebels….Latin American countries [have] reintegrated Cuba into regional bodies by inviting it to the Summit of the Americas in April.”

        Also, as for compromises, I would suggest that the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was the product of compromise, between those who wanted a substantially larger stimulus (and believed that the slow pace of recovery was due to the insufficiency of the one passed) and those who opposed most of it. Also I don’t see how you can say that, at least in the long view, the ACA was not the product of extreme compromise, despite no Republican votes for it (which happened not because of sudden ideological opposition to ideas many of them had once espoused, but because of cold-blooded political calculations and gamesmanship, and a general desire to bring federal governance to a halt in as many ways as possible and to try to derail this President at any cost. In spite of all that, Republicans still got much of what they–at one time—had wanted. Compromise was also necessary to get the votes of conservative Democrats).

    2. Juan Caruso

      Normalizing relations with Cuba is Obama’s Step One. His Step Two is to return Guantanamo to Cuba — an irreversible move that mimics Jimmy Carter’s repatriatization of the canal zone to Panama. At the time, Senator Strom Thurmond responded to Carter’s appeal by stating in a speech later that day, “The canal is ours, we bought and we paid for it and we should keep it”.

      Thurmond and Jesse Helms regarded the turnover treaties 91977) as surrender of a strategic asset to a hostile government. The Torrijos-Carter Treaties allowed the United States to defend itself from charges of imperialism made by Soviet-aligned states. Note that Reagan had opposed the treaties, and there are no longer any Soviet states after Reagan.

      How is Panama’s U.S. debt repayment coming along? What do you think? In 1986, for example, US$1.1 million was repaid; in 1984, on the other hand, canal operations registered a US$4.1-million loss, and no payment was made. Since 1977, canal revenues have been generally down and Carter’s treaties allowed for zero repayments in times of poor management (no profit).

      Will Cuba operate Guantanamo as a communist prison or a launch site for Russian ICBM’s?

    1. Norm Ivey

      The US-Cuba rift is one of those things I think matters greatly to those it matters to, but is a non-issue to many of the rest of us. I’m too young to remember Bay of Pigs and the missile crisis. For me, and I think for others of my age not of Cuban descent, Cuba has always been this tiny little place off our coast that poses no real threat to us, but which has been treated like an enemy. Most of the world has a relationship and trades with Cuba, and our embargo, though it has significant economic impact on them, isn’t enough to break them by itself, especially since they are close with China. I see this as akin to Nixon’s visit to China, but with a much smaller impact. The embargo is the last vestige of the Cold War, and I’m glad to see it go.

  1. M.Prince

    Dang, I thought conservatives were supposed to be such realists. Not seeing much of that here. The things that critics are saying should have been obtained are things that generally are gained through invasion and occupation, not the opening of diplomatic relations. Did China establish a party system when the US normalized relations with it? Did East Germany allow free and fair elections when we normalized relations with that country? No, the purpose, simply put, is to open up Cuba by opening up to it. Even in the run up to this, Raoul Castro had already allowed certain modest liberalizations in the economy and with respect to dissidents. If nothing else, allowing a freer exchange will mean the Cuban regime will not longer be able to blame the US embargo for all of Cuba’s ills. Get real, folks!

    1. Bryan Caskey

      It was a unilateral act. We got absolutely zero in return. (Don’t sell me past consideration. Past consideration is no consideration at all.) We got nothing. Zip. Nothing. If you think that’s be best we could have done, please remind me not to send you to negotiate anywhere on my behalf.

      1. M.Prince

        What do WE get? Why, business opportunities, of course! That’s another thing I thought conservatives liked. Seems I may have to rethink that, too.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Bryan, I can see how you can saw we didn’t get anything of strategic importance. But it’s just inaccurate to say that we got “absolutely zero.” We got our agent, Roland Trujillo, as well as Alan Gross. I’m sure that’s not “absolutely zero” to their families…

      3. bud

        Bryan, the Cubans had nothing to give. We’ve tried isolation for half a century and they still have a repressive regime, but much less so than in the past. The Castro era will end soon and with Obama’s long overdue diplomatic overtures the people of Cuba are likely to benefit in the long run. This was an obvious move though by no means a panacea. It’s just common sense to bring an end to one last vestige of the cold war. No need to always gain concessions when all you really need to do is recognize reality.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    You know, it’s frustrating for me to see such blind stonewalling, and obviously willing suspension of disbelief in who I’m sure are otherwise intelligent leftists. It’s why I just give up on political discussions every so often and just retreat into other hobbies.

    The last three other comments are a perfect example of why political discussion seems absolutely pointless to me every so often, and it’s why lot of people hate politics.

    Look, I think Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba is a good thing in the long run. Heck, I think it’s great. I am simply saying that the normalization of relationship could have been even better, and we might have, could have, maybe! could have gotten a benefit that redounded not to the US, but to the Cuban people. We could have (maybe!) gotten something for the Cuban people’s benefit. As it is, it doesn’t even look like we’re even getting anything even remotely symbolic or non-binding, or even a fig-leaf of consideration.

    And, so I point that out, just as…you know…an observation.

    And then three comments just stubbornly, blindly, refuse to acknowledge an obvious point, because, somehow, someway, admitting that Obama didn’t do the most optimal thing, is somehow anathema to them. Don’t slander the God-King! He is immune from criticism! He is infallible! We cannot admit that something could have been done in a better way!

    I need a break from y’all.

    1. M.Prince

      Oh, so we shoulda maybe held out just a little bit longer? After all, our policy has been such a success so far, right?

      As for Obama, from what I can tell, we’re not the ones who’re so obsessed by him.

      Enjoy your break.
      But know this: We’ll still be here when you return!

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Don’t go anywhere, Bryan!

      I don’t think the president did “the optimal thing.” But ending the embargo is, I believe the right thing, independent of other considerations…

      1. M.Prince

        Actually, this change in diplomatic relations doesn’t involve lifting the embargo. Only Congress can do that — and the incoming Congress is unlikely to do so (despite the fact that most Cuban-Americans approve of the change in US policy and it’s very popular with the Cubans themselves). Cuba is consistently allergic to making concessions to direct US demands, but they have been willing to make changes at their own initiative (e.g. by releasing most political prisoners) to signal their interest in improving relations with the US. Not doing so only plays into the hands of hardliners in Havana, who don’t want to see any reform in Cuba or rapprochement with the US.

    3. bud

      Bryan I actually agree, it is frustrating dealing with the other side of the political spectrum. But I see it from the other side. It simply boggles my mind that folks consider Obama a worse president than W. But in an attempt to engage I’ll make a small concession regarding the Cuban issue. Perhaps the president could have extracted some small token of political freedom from the Castros. Rather than defending the right or the left on this it seems a more honest debate would recognize both the positives and negatives of the end result.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    The president has just begun the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. It ain’t over yet.

  4. M.Prince

    I feel a need to add a couple other comments:

    1) For myself, I reject the label “left” or “leftist”. I consider myself instead part of the sensible center, while occasionally holding opinions that may be further to the left in some cases and further right in a few others. Moreover, what’s considered “left” and “right” varies from place to place and even person to person. In general terms, however, SC’s political center is further to the right than in other parts of the country.

    2) I do not worship Obama or support what he does simply because he does it. Instead, I have views that, over all, tend to align much more often than not with his positions and policies. In short, he (and other Democrats) is the instrument for achieving what I’d like to see achieved.

    3) A last word on Cuba. The types of concessions that some folks want from Cuba as a precondition to normalizing diplomatic relations generally aren’t the sorts of things that occur as part of normalization. Moreover, reopening diplomatic relations is the START of a process, not the end point. Achieving the sort of liberalization that most would like to see in Cuba will only come as part of a process of give-and-take that occurs over the longer term – similar to the back-and-forth with China.

  5. Bart

    “Achieving the sort of liberalization that most would like to see in Cuba will only come as part of a process of give-and-take that occurs over the longer term – similar to the back-and-forth with China.” M. Prince

    And how is that democracy and free election thing working out in China? Hong Kong, once a free city is under central control of Beijing. Elections have been eliminated to the objections of Hong Kong residents. Apparently mainland China didn’t get the memo about long term give and take on the personal freedom thing.

  6. Mark Stewart

    At some point, battling for the sake of maintaining the battle is a pointless proposition. We have reached that point with Cuba. The embargo is never going to achieve more than it has already. What does it do? The only thing maintaining our acrimony does is keep Cuba associated with Venezuala and Russia and China.

    We should not view Cuba the way China views North Korea. China is afraid of the consequences of a failed NK regime; and therefore brings upon itself having to deal with that regime. Cuba will inevitably move away from Communism. By maintaining the embargo, we simply put off that day further into the future. What made sense in the 1960s and 70s (the 80s even) has long since faded as geopolitical strategy. Cuba has been crippled – mostly by its own doing. By changing the game, the United States has the ability to reacquire influence.

    Thinking that we need to get a “win” for relaxing our outlook on Cuba is, too me, completely missing the long-term strategic possibilities inherent in making nice in the neighborhood. Unlike the regime in NK, the Castros in Cuba are going to fade from the scene. Giving up our opposition is not showing weakness, it is instead a clear, unequivocal, presentation of strength. This isn’t Checkers, it’s Chess being played.

  7. Rusty Inman

    I actually think the president’s recent initiative relative to the United States’ relationship with Cuba is one of the most sensible, humane, and forward-looking (excuse the hyphenated word—I understand Amazon just removed a book from its website because one buyer/reviewer said that the number of hyphenated words annoyed him such that he could not continue to read it; ah, Amazon) foreign policy proposals made by an American president in, well, a right long time.

    And, as opposed to our present policies in regard to Cuba, it is eminently defensible, which is no small thing given the poisonous vapors that permeate the dysfunctional embarrassment that constitutes the present iteration of the American political system.

    The Cuban embargo and the refusal of the United States to establish any kind of working dialogue with the Cuban government has never advanced a single American interest. Not. One. It has certainly advanced the interests of a number of American politicians—bless their hearts!—but not the interests of the country itself.

    Worse, it has never advanced the cause of freedom for the Cuban people, which was, ostensibly, its reason for being. Never.

    And, worst of all, it has served for fifty-odd years to make the lives of everyday Cubans more and more difficult.

    I confess to not understanding, for the life of me, why some of those who still have family and friends in Cuba are so vehemently opposed to President Obama signaling the possibility of a shift in our relationship. At worst, it is a zero-sum move. At best, it could signal, through increased trade, travel and dialogue, better times ahead for the people of Cuba.

    Which is what we want, isn’t it? Well, isn’t it?

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