Why did Obama renew ties with Cuba?

Three months before deadline for a political agreement, Iran may yet look to Cuba as a view into an alternative path.

December 19, 2014 04:06
2 minute read.
Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama speaks during CBS News interview, November 9. (photo credit: screenshot)

WASHINGTON – Critics and fans of the president agreed on one thing this week: Historic change in US policy toward Cuba is entirely consistent with the Obama foreign policy mantra.

Since 2007, then-senator Obama expressed confusion as to why the United States would compound animosity with its enemies with continued silence and ostracization. From the start, he vowed change: Offers of alternative paths to leaders blaming their country’s troubles on Washington and its longstanding punishments.

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As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, spread his message of the possibilities of change through the Middle East and Latin America, and supported sanctions policy to wrestle Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. And she called for a new direction with Cuba.

“Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power,” she said on Thursday.

“The best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information, and material comforts of the outside world.”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who has all but declared a run for the White House, called the president’s policy “disgraceful” in a passionate press conference on Wednesday.

“It is disgraceful for a president who claims to treasure human rights and human freedom,” Rubio said. “This president is the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.”

Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), also a Cuban-American, lashed out with sweeping criticism of the president on Wednesday, calling the policy misguided, a fallacy, a failure, a false narrative, and an extraordinary disappointment.

Menendez and Rubio have been consistent critics of the Obama administration on Iran, as well, expressing concern that the White House is overly keen to clinch a nuclear deal. That desperation for a foreign policy success, Menendez says, has led Obama’s team to offer concessions that ultimately undermine America’s longterm interests in the region.

And yet, to this president, what is true for Cuba may be true for Iran.

Obama believes the only way to push past the conflicts of the day is to offer fundamentally alternative paths.

To sow that pivotal change, the president’s policy has been to slowly incentivize governments of Tehran and Havana to pivot policy and rhetoric on Washington. He wants them to see the light.

That is the change he promised as a candidate and, like it or not, has become the change that will define his foreign policy legacy. He has now delivered on Cuba. And three months before deadline for a political agreement, Iran may yet look to Cuba as a view into an alternative path.

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