Why did it take a mega election defeat to get Obama back on his feet?
Reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba represents the type of courageous, sure-footed foreign policy that has evaded this White House for years, and the polls have punished the president as a result. Obama deserves a vital public opinion boost now for being bold, in part thanks to the quiet, behind-the-scenes aid of Canada and the Vatican to help get the U.S. and Cuba to this 55-year-long finish line. So much for the Cold War, Mr. Putin!
The impact of Obama's decision is going to be felt far beyond Miami and Havana. America's standing in Latin America just received a zeppelin-sized dose of helium. Most importantly, the beleaguered, oppressed 11 million people of Cuba are finally going to enjoy a huge economic boost from trade and good old Yankee tourism. The two countries will start immediate talks to upgrade diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors (wonder who the first U.S. ambassador will be?). As reported by The Economist, the president will also use his executive authority to loosen the ban on travel to the island; raise the limit on remittances to ordinary Cubans and their small businesses from $500 per quarter to $2,000; and allow exports of building materials, farm equipment and telecommunications gear. Americans will be able to use their credit and debit cards on the island. The administration is also preparing to remove Cuba from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.
Why all this could even help the Democratic Party with Hispanic voters who have watched immigration reform be the equivalent of a Cabana cigar blowing up in their faces. But that surely had nothing to do with the president's calculations (or maybe???).
So why did the Castro clique agree to normalize now? Likely because Cuba's ailing economy was about to take, perhaps, a fatal blow. All politics being local, the Castro regime is wholly dependent on Venezuela. For the past dozen years, Cuba's economy has been subsisting on major subsidies from Venezuela, mainly in the form of cheap oil. And Caracas/Castro oil pipeline was about to have the faucet shut as Venezuela slides into a bottomless recession.
President Obama was absolutely right when he announced his Cuba opening: No paleo-Communist regime (except perhaps North Korea) will be able to enforce its Stalinist-island gulag for long as the inevitable winds of change sweep over the mega-island. After all, even the Castro bros (our hemispheric version of Uday and Kusay) are not immortal. But it is a mystery wrapped in a riddle where Cuba heads after the two are gone. That is why this opening is so timely and so long overdue.
Watch for an early 2015 announcement of a visit by President Obama to Havana. But there is one side-show on the eastern tip of Cuba that the president would like to close: Guantanamo Bay. Sources inside the administration have hinted that the White House wants to get as many remaining residents as possible of Gitmo out of Cuba before a presidential visit. Obama knows that it would take congressional approval to shut down Gitmo, but perhaps a landmark congressional-White House agreement to finally shut it down can be sown into legislation lifting of the Cuban embargo, which also requires an act of Congress.
It would be easy to dismiss critics of Obama's Cuba opening. Those who accuse him of capitulating to tyrants are clearly engaged in serial exaggeration. But for members of Congress and other Cuban Americans, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, who have lost so many family members to Cuba's gulags, normalization is an understandably difficult pill to swallow. Respect and compassion to these familial-driven outcries is deserved. How, after all, would you feel if you lost a mother, brother, or sister to Cuba's tyranny?
I really like this new "Obamojo." This "devil-may-care" path sets the stage for other necessary foreign policy achievements, including formulating a new cyber-warfare foreign policy to calibrate a justified response to North Korea's wanton attack on Sony Entertainment; creating a new bipartisan initiative to address the threat of the Islamic State that will remain a huge challenge after Obama leave's office, re-balancing a faltering Syria policy, and the ultimate goal: a breakthrough between Palestine and Israel after Israeli's March elections -- which just happens to be another passion of Pope Francis.
Mr. President, there is nothing that you and Pope Francis can't accomplish if you create a new Washington-Vatican "axis of achievement." How "Christmasy" is that in this season of, well, how about a little peace in a peace-deficient world. The possibilities could be limitless!