The Real Reason Obama Went to Cuba
The Real Reason Obama Went to Cuba
He’s a master of optics, despite reports to the contrary.?
BY STEPHEN MARCHE
MAR 24, 2016
The President’s landmark trip to Cuba showed, yet again, what a
masterful performer Obama is on the world stage. The press conference
with Raul Castro was a masterpiece in and of itself. He went to Cuba to
end the embargo and to encourage a change of regime in Cuba. He
understood that the embargo justifies the Communist regime. Because of
the embargo, the Castros are able to explain away Cuba’s terrible
poverty as a result of foreign oppression, and justify their repressive
political tactics as a means of national self-determination. Obama
brought Raul Castro onto a stage and stripped away those justifications
in front of the whole country. Not only that, but he forced Raul Castro
to answer questions about human rights abuses from the American press.
And Castro stumbled. He was not used to having to answer questions. And
the people of Cuba saw him stumble. They were not used to seeing that.
Through this series of tiny gestures, Obama achieved what 50 years of
American resistance to Cuba was not able to. He defused any lingering
military tension. He showed the Cuban people that America has good
intentions. And he managed to humiliate the Castros, utterly, without
appearing, even in the slightest, aggressive. He did all that in a
couple of hours. There’s only one word for it: genius.
Obama’s domestic legacy has been established for a while now.
Unemployment peaked at 10 percent and he brought it down to five. The
number of Americans with health insurance has expanded enormously over
the past eight years. Gay marriage became legal under his presidency.
Obama’s more fundamental promise—to unite Americans of both parties in a
single transcendent vision of a country beyond partisanship—has
utterly failed. But at least, on the domestic front, the size of his
achievements and his failures has been widely recognized. Recently, the
much more complicated issue of Obama’s foreign policy legacy has come
into focus—mainly through Jeffrey Goldberg’s deep dive into its
intellectual basis in The Atlantic, but also through his recently
concluded trip to Cuba, which is a case study of that policy in action.
The Obama Doctrine, as it appears in Goldberg’s account, is much less a
coherent foreign policy ideology than a basic recognition of the world
as it is: the moral dilemmas of American power in a post-Iraq world make
anything as simplistic as an ideology at best silly and at worst
destructive. Other commentators have found Obama’s reticence to attempt
to solve all the world’s problems timid. But, if Obama has failed in
Syria, it is at least unclear that the failure is America’s. Obama is
willing to state the obvious: Despite what you hear during Republican
primaries, the United States cannot create outcomes in the world at
will. The law of unintended consequences is a powerful force. Whichever
president follows Obama will almost certainly lack this kind of
intellectual flexibility and humility.
But that is not what will be most missed next January.
The limp-wristed hand-raise alone shows that Obama’s game is simply on a
different level than any other American politician or any other foreign
leader. The quick thinking required to understand how it would look is
astonishing; it’s like some great athlete making a clutch play. Just by
standing beside Castro he was able to demonstrate that America was cool
and positive and progressive and Cuba was run by a ridiculous old man.
But it was not only the press conference. Obama’s decision to attend a
baseball game after the attacks in Brussels was another significant
gesture. “The whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s
ordinary lives,” he said as a justification. Was I the only one to
breathe out a grateful sigh at this humane and calm response? I thought
immediately, in contrast, of George W. Bush reading to The Pet Goat
after the news of the September 11 attacks came in, sitting there trying
to figure out what to do and then rushing out to react blindly and, in
the end, stupidly. Obama’s cool was not an act of disrespect to the
victims, or any other nonsense the Republicans have been claiming. It
was not just cool and calm; it was displayed cool and calm. The world is
much better, much safer, when America displays cool and calm.
The decision to end the embargo with Cuba was a radical change in United
States foreign policy. But is so obviously correct that any return to an
embargo is already inconceivable. Anyone who still believes that the new
openness is somehow going to support the Cuban dictatorship, should
listen to what Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of Cuba’s largest dissident
group, told The New York Times, about the Obama visit: “It was a light
in the dark.”
Unfortunately, whoever comes next, whether Democrat or Republican, will
have nowhere near the skill that Obama has at making meaningful gestures
like those he showed in Cuba. Whoever wins in November, the next
American leader will inevitably be less effective—whether it’s Hillary
Clinton with her compromised inertness or the impotent savagery of Trump
or Cruz. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the Obama doctrine, in
2017, the United States will be missing its greatest foreign policy
asset: the man himself.
Source: The Real Reason Obama Went to Cuba –