The despised 113th Congress that just closed up shop after a wasted two-year record of non-accomplishment is a good example of this. In January we will start over again with a revised Congressional cast of characters. Everything supposedly will then be different – agenda, power centers, and “getting things done.” Because a chastened President will be such a lame duck, a nuisance in the way of a newly profiled Congress and an upcoming 2016 presidential election race. It sounds like a good story. But apparently someone forgot to tell President Obama.
On the heels of Democratic congressional losses in November’s election, the President was presumed to now be on the defensive against aggressive new/old Republican initiatives. So far it has not turned out that way. First came a completely unexpected agreement with China on climate change that had secretly been in the works for months. The world’s two biggest polluters voluntarily agreed to substantively cut their respective emissions over the next decades. It was done as a simple “agreement” between the two leaders, not a formal diplomatic treaty. Therefore it requires no Senate vote to approve it (leading to all the ridiculous theatrics that would certainly ensue). Technically, future presidents could walk away from this agreement. But historically presidential precedents loom large, and are not easily changed once in place. Especially when they are interconnected internationally, as this one is. Who wants to be the one to tell China “never mind,” that America’s word cannot be relied upon?
After catching everyone flat-footed on the climate topic, soon thereafter came a long-promised action on illegal immigrants. After eight years (extending back into George W. Bush’s presidency) of constant noise from Congress promising to do something about this issue, with a track record of nothing done whatsoever, it has long been past time for action of some kind. So President Obama took executive action while everyone else sat on the sidelines gawking, complaining or praising depending upon their constituent base. There are three core elements to Obama’s declaration: 1) parents of children that are legal citizens by birth or are on valid immigration permits will not be deported for the foreseeable future; 2) future prosecutions and deportations will be focused on those immigrants committing serious crimes; 3) additional security resources will be redeployed to the border by realigning existing personnel and funding from multiple agencies. There is NO amnesty being granted, and there is no “pathway to citizenship” that objectors vehemently protest so loudly. There is simply a reprioritization of resources and focus to higher-level needs – just as police organizations have to do every day with their constrained resources. Such reprioritizing is all perfectly legal within the realities of the administration of policing. Republican leaders can scream all they want about Obama “poisoning the well” of future cooperation and working relationships, but that well has been long poisoned by six years of rhetorical pollution and confrontation. Opponents of immigration reform have finally been called to task – put up or shut up – and have been found wanting, now boxed in by the political realities of a changing demographic electorate. It is long past time to move beyond this. Other needs demand our attention.
Now has come the latest grand announcement. After 53 years of America’s ineffective trade embargo and political isolation of Cuba, diplomatic relations between the two countries will finally be restored. The embargo and diplomatic break was begun in 1961 by President John Kennedy after Fidel Castro, once the romantic revolutionary celebrated by Americans for forcing out Cuba’s then-dictator, revealed himself to be a socialist at heart. Cuba changed from being a free-wheeling playground for the American-Italian Mafia and big-corporate agriculture interests. Instead, it turned into a state-owned and operated economic model friendly to Russia instead of the American good guys. And Fidel himself turned out to be as dictatorial as his predecessor. So like a suitor spurned, Americans turned on Fidel. 50+ years later, our political and economic embargo has changed Cuba hardly a twit except to cause economic suffering by its people. Cuba’s government is unchanged; political prisoners are still in jail; families in America are still shut out of their home country, separated from their extended families. But no politician has had the courage to risk the wrath of the Cuban-American exiles in south Florida to change this status quo stalemate. Until now.
This is standoff long overdue for change. Especially if we truly want to see a different Cuba in the future, because what we have been doing clearly would not achieve it. The precedent for Obama’s action is America’s foolish role with Communist China from the 1940s-1970s. After the Communists drove out the corrupt central government of China in 1949, we similarly spent the next 30 years ignoring the reality of what mainland China had become. Instead, we only recognized and backed the tiny remnant of the overthrown regime then removed to the island of Taiwan. Refusing to recognize the People’s Republic of China and isolating them from the community of nations, no matter how noxious to us philosophically, simply drove them into deeper alliance with our cold war nemesis Russia, and left us with no leverage over China’s decisions and actions. (Witness the Korean War and the Viet Nam war.) It took the courage of “[Richard] Nixon goes to China” to finally end our diplomatic fantasy of China’s reality. China is still, and will continue to be, a thorn in America’s side. But we now sit together at the table and periodically find ways to work together. And China is a vastly different country today than in the 1970s, in no small part because we are there on the ground working with them.
Fidel Castro is in the hospital dying, out of the picture in the day-to-day running of Cuba. His brother Raul, now in charge, is in his 80s. A new generation of Cuban leaders will soon be forthcoming. When they arrive, we need to be already there, in place, connected to that new emerging Cuban government and its changing population. The reality is that you ultimately create real change from within, not from the outside. This decision is perfect timing for a completely correct action. After the usual knee-jerk criticism from those who have vested interests in continuing to exploit the current no-win situation (e.g. presumed presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio), this issue will finally move forward as it should. And many now-vocal political critics will privately and silently be equally thrilled to finally be unchained from this dead weight.
Presidential lame duck? Apparently not. Those who have been complaining for years about a supposed “lack of presidential leadership” should remember to be careful what you ask for. Sometimes real leadership – like we have watched these past weeks – may unexpectedly lead one where one did not intend to go. But these are directions where we have needed to go. There comes a time to stop the endless talking, stop doing nothing, break the endless loop. Make a decision, take action, adjust from the new baseline. DO something. So thank you, Mr. President, for these actions. Now, about Iran …
© 2014 Randy Bell www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com