We couldn’t watch President Barack Obama on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon Slow Jam the News – the racy, ribald segment that’s a sendup of a Barry White soul tune – without smiling at his line “Orange is not the new Black” and thinking, that’s our President.
But, when Mr. Obama snuck a look at his watch and reminded the audience he has a Hawaiian vacation booked “in about 223 days, but who’s counting?” a bit of melancholy crept in.
“The American people face an important decision this fall,” he said. “The entire world is watching and they look to us for stability and leadership. Now, I know that some of the presidential candidates have been critical of my foreign policy. I don’t want to name any names. But, I believe it is of the utmost importance to work alongside of other world leaders. That’s why I signed the Iran Nuclear Deal. That’s why we reopened diplomatic ties with Cuba.”
Earlier the same day, his deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes declared the President’s opening to Cuba is “irreversible.” Rhodes said, “The fact of the matter is that the American people and the Cuban people overwhelmingly want this to happen…Frankly, whatever the political realities in either country, for somebody to try to turn this off, they would have to be working against the overwhelming desires of their own people.”
Turning it off, however, is exactly what Speaker Paul Ryan has in mind. In the National Security plank of his “Better Way” program, Mr. Ryan states “we cannot blindly follow the administration’s normalization plan with communist Cuba,” and promises “to hold the Castro regime accountable, and make sure any further accommodations are met first with real concessions from the Cuban government.”
In other words, no matter who wins the election in November and no matter what the public wants, the Speaker of the U.S. House is committed to sending U.S.-Cuba policy back to the dreadful days of deadlocks and dead-ends.
Which leads us to ask, is the policy irreversible enough? Will the right thinking impulse to work alongside foreign leaders be passed forward?
From now to January 2017, assuming continued Congressional inaction (a safe assumption, we safely assume), every additional reform secured through the exercise of executive authority is a step in the right direction.
Warmer, warmer, right direction, we thought, when we learned Friday that the U.S. Department of Transportation has authorized six U.S. airlines to begin regularly scheduled flights to five cities in Cuba this fall.
This decision was only possible because U.S. and Cuban diplomats sat down and hammered out an agreement in February enabling commercial service to resume for the first time in decades.
Not only is this good for U.S. travelers and airlines, it’s also a victory for the art of diplomacy; a victory that never would have happened under the “Better Way” approach, had we required a concession from Cuba to give U.S. citizens this liberty back.
To be sure, this decision should provide an economic incentive – what the Washington wags call “skin in the game” – to vest the U.S. travel industry in the Obama Cuba opening and get them to work to make the opening wider still.
At the same time, we hope the administration is thinking even bigger. It’s one thing – a good thing – that the President has been upfront in calling on Congress to end the embargo. It would be ever better if the U.S.–Cuba diplomatic dialogue – on critical matters such as fugitives from justice, property claims, and human rights – could settle differences that are used by the hardliners, the “Better Way” crowd, to hold up the normalization process.
That would take additional bold actions by the leadership of both countries. But, with 222 days left on the President’s watch (yes, we’re counting), this is the right time to “slow jam” the embargo a little faster.