Thursday, December 18, 2014

Obama: Normalize Relations with Congress

President Obama has announced his intentions to normalize relations with Communist Cuba, a nation with which the United States has maintained a no-travel embargo for decades.

The Latin American island's current leader, Raul Castro, even suggested that Obama lift restrictions through executive order. Nothing like one dictator egging on another to act on policy without the consent of the governed, or their representatives.

NPR reports:

President Obama announced today the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in more than 50 years, paving the way for the normalization of relations and the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Obama said "we will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries."

He added: "These 50 years have shown, isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach."

Frankly, I am all for liberalization of foreign policy. When individuals get a taste of liberty, they no longer settle for tyranny or autocracy. The more Cubans who visit the United States freely, and vice versa, the more unstable the Castro regime will become, unable to suppress demands for free elections, a free press, and open trade among Cuban residents.

However, if Obama wants to go it alone, he will find not just a hostile America, but opposition from members of Congress.

Rubio on Obama's Policy Shift: "It's based on a lie."

US Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) vocally criticized this move:

The announcement by President Obama on Wednesday giving the Castro regime diplomatic legitimacy and access to American dollars isn’t just bad for the oppressed Cuban people, or for the millions who live in exile and lost everything at the hands of the dictatorship. Mr. Obama’s new Cuba policy is a victory for oppressive governments the world over and will have real, negative consequences for the American people.

The first argument from Rubio is not based on fact. Just because the United States extends diplomatic relations to another country does not immediately justify every policy enacted by that country. In the wake of fifty years of silence, however, the United States has declared their own cold war against the Communist regime still dominant (yet growing dormant).

The entire policy shift is based on the illusion—in fact, on the lie—that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people. Cuba already enjoys access to commerce, money and goods from other nations, and yet the Cuban people are still not free. They are not free because the regime—just as it does with every aspect of life—manipulates and controls to its own advantage all currency that flows into the island. More economic engagement with the U.S. means that the regime’s grip on power will be strengthened for decades to come—dashing the Cuban people’s hopes for freedom and democracy.

When reviewing the history of the collapse of the Soviet Union, reports suggest that Russians were getting well-acquainted with foreign goods, trade, and culture. Pop music, consumer products were infiltrating the nation, but because then Soviet Primier Mikhail Gorbachev recognized that the Stalinst economic system was a complete failure, and the USSR had to open up its trade with other countries in order to survive.

Senator Rubio is not alone with criticizing the Obama Administration.

About Obama's Overture to Cuba: "I think it stinks."
So has US Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey):

"I think it stinks," Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants and the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said at a press conference on new financial help for Hurricane Sandy residents. "I think it's wrong. I am deeply disappointed in the president."

"Though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people," the president said. "Isolation has not worked."

Menendez often has supported Obama, a fellow Democrat, on foreign affairs, though he has pushed for additional sanctions on Iran if negotiations over its nuclear plants fail and recently steered through his committee a resolution authorizing U.S. military force against the Islamic State albeit only for three years and with restrictions on the use of ground troops.

Angry over Obama's failure to consult him on the talks involving Cuba, which lasted more than a year, Menendez said he would not approve easing the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which can only be done by Congress, and called on the incoming chairman of the committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) to hold hearings when the new Congress convenes in January.

"Its a reward that a totalitarian regime does not deserve," Menendez said. "I reject the notion that somehow it is the United States that has created hardship on the Cuban people."

Senator Menendez' justified upset stems from two observations. First, President Obama failed to consult him. Frankly, the President has fallen into the lazy tyranny of ignoring Congress and announcing the widespread restructuring, delay, or change to federal law. Menendez should not be surprised that his liberal peer in the White House would do something like this, but at least he has announced his frustration.

Members of Congress have signaled their intent to block the President, but other members have shown support with the move, and even rode along with three of the recently-released Cuba hostages. News outlets are asking whether Congress can block the President's plans:

But a full restoration of diplomatic relations, including unlimited travel and trade, lies with Congress. And if the bipartisan fury unleashed at Mr. Obama Wednesday was any sign of things to come, lawmakers will do everything in their power to limit his aspirations.

President Ronald Reagan with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev

The bipartisan opposition suggests that Obama will no longer play the executive order card without serious consequences. Agricultural interests in Congress, however, may welcome the change in Cuban-American diplomatic relations. Liberal proponents have also argued that the President can reframe the relationship of the two countries, based on prior legislation, while Congress an attend to the fine points of streamlining this change in diplomacy:

I endorse completely what Michael said, that the president’s ability to lift the embargo through licensing and rule making is essentially unfettered. The Helms-Burton Act—and it would require a longer discussion—comes into it at the very end, but the principal role of Congress is going to be to tidy up all the loose ends of permanent trade status for Cuba, investment protection agreements and so on.

While free market conservatives should welcome the expansion of trade, which will undermine dictatorial regimes, the proper legislative process must be defended. Instead of normalizing relations with Cuba, President Obama needs to restore the proper order of Constitutional checks and balances, and submit to Congress before establishing the next steps for redefining the United States' relationship with Havana.

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