Even before the results of the recent midterm election were fully assimilated, conservatives were referring to the president as worse than the proverbial “lame duck”. With both the House and Senate under Republican control he was not just marginalized; he was now irrelevant. Except it isn’t working out that way.
Obama’s Executive Order on immigration has put a hard squeeze on House Speaker Boehner who now has to find some way to act get his GOP cohorts to pass some sort of proactive legislation or risk losing the Latino vote for a generation if not longer. And of course, there is the president’s call to end the embargo on Cuba, a topic to be covered in depth, next.
Way back over 60 years ago, the US was on friendly terms with the island-nation and it’s Communist-hating President Batista. Havana was a popular tourist location and we had a number of profitable industries going there, especially one related to the growing of sugar cane and its processing.
Fidel Castro, promising democracy to the populace, led a successful revolution as Batista was deposed and the aforementioned industries were all nationalized. But Castro reneged on his promise of a democratic society and turned Cuba Communist. By 1959, with such a nation just 90 miles off our shore, we imposed an embargo with the idea that it would inflict sufficient suffering on the people that they would rise up and send Castro packing.
As this history was unfolding, more and more Cubans found ways to escape and come to the US where many took up residence in south Florida (1). Their presence here, and vocal opposition to Castro, added fuel to the growing antagonism between the two countries. In 1961, after undergoing CIA-sponsored training, a group of them sought to liberate their homeland with an invasion. They were quickly overwhelmed at the Bay of Pigs, and there were no further attempts at regime change through military action.
The next pivotal event in our relations with Cuba came a few years later when the then-USSR was sneaking intercontinental ballistic missiles onto the island. Caught in the act, and being called to accounts triggered a confrontation that had all the makings of a nuclear war between us and the USSR. It was only through back-channel diplomacy and a show of US resolve, that this frightening situation was defused. But, in the aftermath, president John F. Kennedy, racheted up the pressure on Cuba by adding more restrictions to the embargo. That move was widely supported and regime change was seen as an absolute necessity!!
All this history needed to be recounted so that we can fast-forward to the present to better understand President’s Obama’s change in our policy vis a vis Cuba. He recognized that in well over 50 years, our fundamental goal of regime change had not been achieved. Indeed, it is even more accurate to say that absolutely no progress had been made towards that end. That the old policy remained in place for so long in spite of its demonstrable ineffectiveness can be chalked up to domestic politics; i.e. any elected official who suggested that the embargo be ended ran the risk of being accused of being “soft on Communism” and summarily UNelected.
Outside our electoral politics, support for the embargo began to unravel. It has repeatedly been condemned by the community of nations (2) speaking through the UN’s General Assembly, and among Cuban-Americans whose enthusiasm for it has diminished to the point where now, by a slim majority, they favor its repeal (3). We also have the voice of the new Pope who has objected to the embargo on both moral and humanitarian grounds. Thus, and relative to the matter at hand, the net effect of these changes has left the US geopolitically and morally isolated.
The president has now forced the issue with his call for the end of the embargo. However, he cannot eliminate it by fiat. That is because the original embargo and all its subsequent iterations were passed by Congress. Therefore, it will take Congress (the Senate in particular) to undo it, in part or in whole. Already, Obama’s opponents are arraying against him because that has been there modus operandi for the past six years, regardless of the issue, and out of fear of the aforementioned voter backlash.
No matter how this all plays out, those members of Congress who want the embargo left in place are going to have to explain how they came to that decision in spite of 55 years’ worth of evidence that this policy has been an abject failure in achieving its stated goal; i.e. regime change. Those same representatives would do well to heed Einstein’s dictum that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
1. One such enclave has been labeled “Little Havana”.
2. The only nation to join the US in voting against ending the embargo has been Israel.
3. See “Polls Show Cuban-American Views on US-Relations”