The opening of Cuba’s US embassy after 54 years of isolation would be a significant accomplishment for any American President. The successful completion of a nuclear agreement with Iran would also be a major achievement. Outside of brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, President Obama has accomplished more than his two immediate predecessors ever dreamed of doing. That said, the world is a very different place with far more issues than it had even when George W. Bush was President.
Although uncertainly still rules US-Cuban relations and the Iranian nuclear deal, these are important achievements, because they make it easier to deal with the far more difficult issues assaulting the International Community. Unfortunately, global economic woes, the growing threat of globalized terrorism boldly exemplified by the Islamic State, power struggles with China and Russia, global climate change, declining reserves of natural resources and other emerging issues minimize the impact of the Obama Administration’s achievements.
When it comes to Cuba’s relationship with the United States, developments are progressing quickly. Outside of self-identified conservatives and groups of weary Cuban-Americans, the reestablishment of diplomatic ties with Cuba almost feels as though it was long overdue. Struggling under the oppression of a socialist government and the ripple effects of the US-Cuban Embargo, Cubans have learned to cope with significant barriers, so they will likely prove to be quite adaptive and successful once the Americans start doing business with the island nation.
Giving Cubans’ back their freedom, which they will enjoy the most when they are able to freely visit neighboring countries, will be disempowering to the Castro Regime, because undermining that newfound freedom will lead to civil unrest. Recalling the United States still maintains a Guantanamo Bay Naval Base on the far side of Cuba, the United States should be prepared to squash any military crackdown on the Cuban People. Consequently, the awakening of the Cuban People’s capitalistic and democratic impulses will naturally lead to political changes, which the Cuban government must embrace or face backlash.
More importantly, the Cuban diplomatic reset shifts the focus of US foreign and economic policy onto the Americas. For too long, the US has neglected its own hemisphere, because it was too busy engaging the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Not only does public interest in Cuban engagement draw the attention of Americans south of the border, it demonstrates to the Americas that the United States is still a young country willing to change with the times and engage in constructive, rational diplomatic efforts to address the concerns of its neighbors.
Coupled with the Iranian nuclear deal, this message resonates throughout the world. Certainly, US ties with Iran will develop much slower, but America’s willing to engage in the deal making process demonstrates America is willing to work with other nations and solve problems. Even if the US Congress ultimately rejects the deal, so long as it is done for well-explained reasons, the Obama Administration has demonstrated the United States is willing to address the interests of weaker countries instead of simply taking a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach. Forced to choose between the US and Russia or the US and China when conflicts arise, this will help persuade nations to choose America.
In the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear deal may not be popular, but it is a means for the US to reengage Iran and lead a regional effort to reconcile grievances against Iran. It will allow for greater Western influence inside Iran and empower moderates. If President Hassan Rouhani is truly a moderate and empowered by his success, hardliners in Iran will be weakened, the Iranian People will be strengthened, and Iran’s nuclear programs may soon fade away as the government loses interest in the costly burden. Instead, the threat of terrorism will become the priority. Like other regional sponsors of state terrorism, Iran will then be less compelled to sponsor insurgencies and more inclined to cooperate with neighboring states.
Finally, the Obama Administration has been emboldened by its recent successes. It may even try its hand at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like the standoffs with Iran and Cuba, the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians needs ended, so these two Peoples can focus on the far more hazardous threat of the Islamic State. Quite frankly, the Israeli People must stand with the Palestinian People, if they expect the Palestinians to stand with the Israelis against Hamas and other radical groups. Perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only distracts Israel from far greater dangers, makes it difficult for Middle Eastern governments to work with Israel, gives Iran populous support, and undermines the credibility of the United States throughout the Middle East. It is simply a conflict that must end in order to safeguard the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the whole of the Middle East.
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