President Barack Obama took office amid widespread hopes. Within a year the Nobel Peace Prize was his. Today, those hopes have dimmed and the prize is tarnished.
Even The New York Times that strongly urged an accommodation with Havana now concedes that “It would be naïve to expect that the Cuban government, a dynastic police state, will take big steps in the near future to liberalize its centrally planned economy, encourage private enterprise or embrace pluralistic political reforms.”
The president’s legacy on the Middle East is not better. Longtime American allies the Saudis and Israelis, Egypt, Jordan and the smaller Persian Gulf states are alarmed by the president’s nuclear-arms deal with Iran, an ally of Cuba and a rogue state abetting the region’s terrorists and holding four Americans hostages.
Cuba's democratic opposition on the island feels betrayed. Many see Iran and its nuclear ambitions as a threat to U.S. security, but they do not see Cuba the same the same way. Yet it was Havana that partnered with Moscow to install nuclear missiles on its soil and point them toward Florida and Washington. That was in 1962 under Fidel Castro. In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev said Fidel urged him to carry out a nuclear attack against the United States. These days, Fidel’s brother and successor Raúl Castro, welcomes Russian spy ships to berth in Cuban harbors.
Havana and Tehran are miles apart but share common interests: supporting terrorists, suppressing dissidents, seizing hostages. Both are ruled by “iron fists”; Iran by a Muslim theocracy and Cuba by a murderous dynasty. Each insists on holding onto their old ways.
President Obama extended a “hand of friendship” to Havana and has turned his back on Cuba’s courageous dissidents while Cuba provides weapons to North Korea, and Cuban agents help repress the Venezuelan opposition. What the leaders in Teheran and Havana want is American dollars to strengthen their totalitarian regimes. Cuba wants tourism; tourist dollars flow directly into the coffers of its military. And the President is ready to return billions of frozen Iranian assets to the ayatollahs.
What has the United States gained in the Iranian deal ? Perhaps ten years — after that, Iran builds the bomb it wants.
Hostage taking is a savage, aggressive act. Iran holds three Americans hostage in its prisons and cannot account for the disappearance of a fourth. Obama did not make their release a condition for ratification or implementation. President Obama mirrors the style of former President Jimmy Carter, pleading without convincing. It took the election of Ronald Reagan to win the release of 62 Americans seized when Iranian militants took control of the U.S. Embassy in 1979.
In dealing with Cuba, Obama has been strangely reluctant to insist on reciprocal measures. Raúl Castro and his henchmen got away with pulling American aid worker Alan Gross from the seat of an international airliner departing Havana and imprisoning him for five years for giving away a laptop computer and satellite telephone to Cuban Jews wanting access to the Internet. The administration ransomed Gross by releasing four convicted Cuban spies. One was serving a life sentence for plotting with Cuba’s military to shoot down a civilian rescue plane flying over the Florida Straits in international airspace. Three Americans and a Florida resident were murdered.
Lamentably, Obama has not sought the return of American fugitives, including one who escaped from prison where she was serving a life sentence for the killing in cold blood of a New Jersey state trooper; and Obama has yet to reclaim millions of dollars stolen in a Medicaid fraud and stashed in Cuba’s National Bank.
Is it possible that the ayatollahs still leading “Death to America” chants five times in Tehran’s mosques will release their American captives to President Obama?
His legacy could carry heavy costs. How many American lives and how many millions of dollars will be necessary to spend to reverse the damage done to U.S. citizens, interests and credibility around the world?
Frank Calzon is the executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba in Washington, D. C.