Obama Shows Good Foreign Policy Judgment on Cuba
by Paul Hogarth, Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 07:02:54 AM EDT
I wrote this for today's Beyond Chron, San Francisco's Alternative Online Daily
One of the media narratives going around lately is that Barack Obama lacks the foreign policy "experience" to be President. So after he wrote an op-ed where he said we should loosen our embargo on Cuba, CNN was quick to gloat that he had caused "another foreign policy stir." But Obama is absolutely right about this issue: why should politicians pander to a fringe group of right-wing extremists when it comes to our policy with Cuba, just because Florida has 27 electoral votes? Hillary's response to Obama - that we should maintain the status quo - reinforced her bad foreign policy judgment, and is telling given that her husband signed the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. Far from showing a naivete in foreign policy, Obama's stance proves his ability to be the candidate of change.
It's hard to think of another issue where U.S. foreign policy is completely held hostage by less than one percent of our population. Like NRA members, anti-Castro Cuban exiles are single-issue voters who can make or break any presidential candidate. Clinging to an outdated and deeply flawed policy, the Cuban exile community has pursued a 47-year vendetta against their native homeland - without any regard for sanity, reason or justice.
And it's worked. In 1961, John F. Kennedy got the CIA to stage the Bay of Pigs Invasion, where Cuban exiles (most of whom had lived a wealthy lifestyle under the corrupt Bautista regime) tried to topple Castro's government - with disastrous results. And in a blatant act of pandering for his presidential bid, Al Gore publicly disagreed in 2000 with the Justice Department's decision to return Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. Of course, Gore figured that would help him win Florida.
If you read Obama's op-edin the Miami Herald, his stance is not really that controversial. He criticizes the Bush Administration's policy that prevents Cuban-Americans from visiting their relatives, and says he will grant "unrestricted rights" to visit family and send remittances there. He also says that if Fidel Castro begins opening Cuba to democratic change, he will revisit easing the embargo that has lasted for five decades.
Even the most fervent anti-Communists will admit that the U.S. embargo against Cuba is counter-productive. It gives Castro an excuse to blame America for his country's economic woes, while causing unspeakable damage to the lives of his people. Practically nobody outside of the Miami Cuban community disagrees. When Daily Kos did an informal survey on this question, 96% of respondents agreed with Obama.
But on this issue, Hillary Clinton sided with Bush. "She supports the embargo and our current policy toward Cuba," said spokesman Mo Elleithe, "and until it is clear what type of political winds may come with a new government - if there is a new government - we cannot talk about any wholesale, broad changes to U.S. policy." In other words, she would continue the American government's pander to the Cuban exile community.
Clinton's position is telling when you consider that her husband signed the Helms-Burton Act in 1996. Sponsored by Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) and Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN), the law says that any non-U.S. corporation trading with Cuba can be subject to legal action and its leadership barred from entry into the United States. It allows Cuban exiles to sue the Cuban government for lost property, and bars recognition of any Cuban government with Fidel or Raul Castro.
The Helms-Burton Act has been harshly condemned by the European Union and the United Nations. Canada and Mexico have passed laws in their own countries to protect their nationals who may get sued under Helms-Burton. Executives from Italy, Mexico, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom have been barred from entering the U.S. because their company does business with Cuba. While the law originally had a waiver that could prevent its enforcement, Congress removed it in 1999.
Bill Clinton signed Helms-Burton in 1996 because he was up for re-election and wanted to deprive Bob Dole of a campaign issue. For the same reason, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act and the Welfare Bill - two other laws that Hillary refuses to say she would repeal. But Helms-Burton helped Bill Clinton win Florida's electoral votes; with 40% of the Miami Cuban vote, he won the state.
Now that Obama says we should relax our draconian policy on Cuba, the media has framed him as naïve and inexperienced - while Hillary is politically smart for pandering to the exile community. But as Obama likes to say on the campaign trail, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had all the foreign policy experience in the world, and look where it got us. Good judgment, not experience, is more important when it comes to selecting our next President.
While Hillary tries to re-invent herself as an agent of change, reality is now stepping in the way. And with Obama's position on the Cuban embargo and her reaction to his modest proposal, the true difference between them is crystal clear.
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