How many of you heard or read John Kerry’s great speech in Cuba Friday, restoring diplomatic relations? It was truly inspiring. Kerry said that we cannot be imprisoned by old history, that humanity does not abide arbitrary divisions between peoples who can benefit from one another, and that the US believes in self-determination. We are not the “anvil” on which Cuba’s destiny will be forged, he said; Cubans are an independent people and if they choose to remain socialist, that is their affair.
All of Kerry’s ideas were also aimed at the Obama administration’s big challenge, winning the Iran Deal. Foreign policy wonks pointed this out on twitter; and Kerry surely intended that we’d hear all the echoes.
Here is a guide to some of those liberating ideas. Starting with the decision to break out of the prison of history.
My friends, we are gathered here today because our leaders – President Obama and President Castro – made a courageous decision to stop being the prisoners of history and to focus on the opportunities of today and tomorrow. This doesn’t mean that we should or will forget the past; how could we, after all? At least for my generation, the images are indelible.
Kerry then related that history, honoring both sides of it and thereby putting it behind us. As George W. Bush’s former pollster says of Iran: “so we supported overthrow of their leader in 50s, sided with Iraq against them in war, and shot down one of their airliners. trust is 2 way.”
We overturned that election because the Iran relationship was suspended in the “amber of Cold War politics.” Iran has a long border with former Soviet states. Same with Cuba:
For more than half a century, U.S.-Cuban relations have been suspended in the amber of Cold War politics. In the interim, a whole generation of Americans and Cubans have grown up and grown old. The United States has had ten new presidents. In a united Germany, the Berlin Wall is a fading memory. Freed from Soviet shackles, Central Europe is again home to thriving democracies.
We’ve been good friends with Vietnam for decades now. And all that time, the Iran relationship has been “locked in the past.”
And last week, I was in Hanoi to mark the 20th anniversary of normalization of relations between the United States and Vietnam. Think about that. A long and terrible war that inflicted indelible scars on body and mind, followed by two decades of mutual healing, followed by another two decades of diplomatic and commercial engagement. In this period, Vietnam evolved from a country torn apart by violence into a dynamic society with one of the world’s fastest growing economies. And all that time, through reconciliation, through normalization, Cuban-American relations remained locked in the past.
The internet makes our relationship with Iran even more absurd.
new technologies enabled people everywhere to benefit from shared projects across vast stretches of ocean and land… we are encouraged that U.S. firms are interested in helping Cuba expand its telecommunications and internet links, and that the government here recently pledged to create dozens of new and more affordable Wi-Fi hotspots.
We can’t tell Iran not to be an Islamic Republic.
In the United States, that means recognizing that U.S. policy is not the anvil on which Cuba’s future will be forged. Decades of good intentions aside, the policies of the past have not led to a democratic transition in Cuba. It would be equally unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have, in a short term, a transformational impact. After all, Cuba’s future is for Cubans to shape. Responsibility for the nature and quality of governance and accountability rests, as it should, not with any outside entity; but solely within the citizens of this country.
We are not going to stop standing up for democratic values and human rights, Kerry said. But just because the governments have problems with one another doesn’t mean that citizens can’t forge a new future.
Let me be clear: The establishment of normal diplomatic relations is not something that one government does as a favor to another; it is something that two countries do together when the citizens of both will benefit. And in this case, the reopening of our embassies is important on two levels: People-to-people and government-to-government.
We wouldn’t have the Iran deal if not for the hard work of the Iranian American community. Same with Cuba:
We also want to acknowledge the special role that the Cuban American community is playing in establishing a new relationship between our countries.
We weren’t intimidated by the lobbies that want us stuck in history. And the Pope has supported the Iran Deal.
Before closing, I want to sincerely thank leaders throughout the Americas who have long urged the United States and Cuba to restore normal ties. I thank the Holy Father Pope Francis and the Vatican for supporting the start of a new chapter in relations between our countries. And I think it is not accidental that the Holy Father will come here and then to Washington, the United States at this moment. I applaud President Obama and President Castro both for having the courage to bring us together in the face of considerable opposition.
Dividing peoples has a terrible price. Our divisions with Iran have exacerbated human rights crises across the Middle East, from Gaza to Iraq. And threatened at times to blow up the whole region. The region will only progress if we can neutralize this enmity.
Jose Marti once said that “everything that divides men…is a sin against humanity.” Clearly, the events of the past – the harsh words, the provocative and retaliatory actions, the human tragedies – all have been a source of deep division that has diminished our common humanity. There have been too many days of sacrifice and sorrow; too many decades of suspicion and fear. That is why I am heartened by the many on both sides of the Straits who – whether because of family ties or a simple desire to replace anger with something more productive – have endorsed this search for a better path.
No deal is perfect. That’s why they call it a deal.
We have begun to move down that path without any illusions about how difficult it may be
Americans are absorbing all these lessons. Let’s hope the politicians grasp them, and take our country forward.