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Kerry’s stirring speech in Cuba was jammed with Iran echoes

Middle East
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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.

Thanks to Scott Roth.

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8 Responses

  1. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    August 17, 2015, 12:42 pm

    Not that many saw that speech. What I did see I saw through the right wing frame, checking to see how Rush Limbaugh’s rants align with the Lobby’s. Nothing in Rush’s talk that day about Iran, but plenty about Cuba and how pathetic was Kerry’s talk, the whole deal was.

    I agree, Phil, this speech resonates with Iran, and more deeply, with American values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. There’s a story here about how those values have been submerged to benefit Neocon objectives, for decades now. It is time for the country to arise and take a deep breath of fresh air, and, as a nation to rededicated, reconsecrate our commitment to those values, not to the false values of world domination through intimidation and aggression.

    • JWalters
      August 17, 2015, 7:53 pm

      Thanks for saying that so well.

      These principles need to be at the center of our thinking on world affairs. Notably, the Neocons / Israelis always get upset when Obama talks about EQUALITY between ALL people.

  2. eljay
    August 17, 2015, 12:49 pm

    Kerry: “Freedom, friendship, blah, blah, blah. But make no mistake – if you do something we do not like, condone or authorize, we will f*ck you up. And we will f*ck you up bad. Thank you, and God bless America.”

  3. Keith
    August 17, 2015, 3:38 pm

    PHIL- “It was truly inspiring.”

    You are inspired by imperial hypocrisy? The empire is the champion of human rights and democracy which Cuba still lacks? We look to the future but the illegal embargo remains in place? Jeez, gimme a break!

  4. michelle
    August 17, 2015, 4:10 pm

    baby steps
    so Mr POTUS how about N. Korea
    will we step off that neck too
    this is the time for world peace
    G-d Bless

    • K Renner
      K Renner
      August 18, 2015, 4:01 pm

      North Korea really truly created its own mess and is very different from both Iran and Cuba, governmentally and societally.

      The demented cult of Kim and the Juchists aren’t really interested in anything other then trying to warp reality into their own demented version of it, and that’s basically about it.

      No one’s “stepping on their necks”. Unlike other nations, they’re not the victims of international bullying or unfair policies, and it’s wise to acknowledge as much.

      • michelle
        August 19, 2015, 12:39 am

        hello K Renner
        i hope your day has been wonderfilled
        N Korea has new leadership
        the things you say about N.Korea have been said about many countries
        and should be said about more countries
        some of these countries are being/have been treated the same way N. Korea is being treated
        other countries (like Israel) have been gifted by the world valued at many multi billions yearly for the same wrong behavior
        if you can make a just sense of this please do and ty in advance
        G-d Bless

  5. CigarGod
    August 18, 2015, 10:06 am

    Well, Mr. Kerry sounds very Presidential. I appreciate Kerry coming down from the mountain to re-state the high ideals. The few thoughtful people will hear him and keep those ideals out front as they work in their own way to make their world better. The mob won’t hear him. They will let others tell them what Kerry said. They will look for the opportunities to fear and hate…and run to their closet shrine where they will unwrap their holy equalizer, and lovingly polish it’s blue steel.

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