The United States President Barack Obama is on a diplomatic drive to turn foes into friends. Apart from ending combat operations by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has been mending fences with Iran and Cuba, countries considered to be archenemies of the United States.
Only a few ultra-optimists would have thought a decade ago that a day would dawn when the US Secretary of State would shake hands with his or her Iranian counterpart. Who would have imagined a decade ago that the Presidents of the United States and Iran would have a friendly telephone conversation?
Now President Obama is on a fast track to normalise relations with Cuba. Why shouldn’t he? After all, he is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won in 2009 even before he had taken any concrete steps to end wars or bring peace.
With just 20 months remaining of his presidency, he apparently wants to end it on a note of peace or on a claim that the world is safer now than it was when he took over in 2009, although the scale of violence in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East may belie the claim. But one cannot put the blame only on the US for the new crises in the Middle East. Israel, Saudi Arabia and European nations such as France and Britain should also share the blame for the violence in Iraq, Syria, Libya and now Yemen and extrajudicial regime changes in Libya and Egypt. In most of these conflicts, the Obama administration’s role was cooperative rather than causative and it got involved in these conflicts at the behest of its allies.
That the Obama administration has managed to play a controlled role in the Middle East conflicts and strike a nuclear deal with Iran while taking measures to normalise relations with Cuba despite pressure from various lobbies, neoconservative critics and hardline Republicans is indeed an achievement. Perhaps, Obama is like the character Nancy in Oliver Twist – a good soul, despite her complicity in the crimes of Fagin and his gang.
Like Nancy during her last days, Obama is on a redeeming exercise. After more than five decades of declared enmity, his administration is now on a path to normalise ties with Communist Cuba, although most of the US allies have long done so. Since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has been passing an annual resolution titled “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”. As years passed by, the number of countries which voted with the US dwindled. In October last year, when the resolution was taken up for voting, 188 countries in the 193-nation General Assembly, voted for it. The only countries that voted against were the United States and Israel, with three US puppet states in the Pacific island -- Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia -- abstaining.
The resolution may be non-binding, but it has exposed the moral nakedness of the US. Even its NATO allies are not in favour of the unjust, repressive and punitive sanctions on a country that has many achievements to share with the rest of the world in areas such as health, education and culture.
The steps taken by the Obama administration since December last year indicate that the General Assembly will not see this resolution during this year’s annual sessions. By September there could be embassies operating in each other’s capitals. The steps taken by the Obama administration include the relaxation of travel restrictions, the release of the Cuban Five political prisoners, and of course last week’s handshake and the one-on-one talks in Panama between President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, brother of the legendary Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
On Tuesday, the White House announced that President Obama would remove Cuba from the list of states, which in the US eyes, are sponsors of terrorism. Cuba was included in the list in 1982 after Washington accused Havana of supporting rebel groups that tried to topple pro-US regimes in Latin America. But Cuba’s foreign policy has undergone much change in tune with political realism after the collapse of the Soviet Union, its chief ally during the Cold War days.
Officially, the delisting of Cuba will take place 45 days after the notification to Congress. The notification was sent on Tuesday with a message from Obama.
In his message to Congress, Obama said the government of Cuba “has not provided any support for international terrorism” over the last six months and Cuba “has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”
Analysts say Obama is determined to use his veto power if the Republican-dominated Congress votes against the move.
But much work needs to be done and much history needs to be forgotten or frozen before the formalisation of the thaw. Part of this history shows an ugly side of the US foreign policy, which it has still not forsaken – supporting regimes regardless of their human rights violations. Washington was propping up Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista with economic and military aid in the late 1950s while people movements led by Fidel Castro and the legendary revolutionist, Che Guevera, were fighting to oust him.
Another part of the history – the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 -- brought the world dangerously close to a nuclear holocaust. Also to be forgotten and forgiven are the numerous attempts by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assassinate Fidel Castro and the CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, which ended in a disaster for the US. Another page of the history book records the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 because Cuba was building an airport in that country.
Besides erasing these hostilities, the US should close down the Guantanamo Bay naval base and let Cuba take back its territory. It was ceded to the United States under the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty in recognition of the US’s positive role in Cuba’s War of Independence (1895–1898). The return of the Guantanamo Bay territory is one of the demands of Cuba for the normalisation of ties.
With the Republicans slamming the Obama foreign policy as a failed policy, one has to wait and see how the Obama administration’s moves aimed at normalising relations with Cuba are going shape the Democrats’ battle to retain the White House in 2016.