Obama said in Cuba what he couldn’t say in Palestine

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President Obama said in Cuba last week what he could not say in Palestine. American policy will not be trapped by history. We must escape the legacy of colonialism and racism. The US tried a policy of isolation for 50 years and it did not work. We have real differences in our political systems, but it is not for the US to impose its ways on another society.

The president wanted to say these things about Palestine too. In fact he tried seven years ago, when he threw himself into an effort to save the two-state solution and end apartheid in Palestine with his overtures to the Arab and Muslim world. The president failed in that effort, and so he has settled for the brilliant opening to Cuba.

Life is all about expectations, right? The president will have to be happy that he pulled off Cuba, after American supporters of Israel handed his head to him– something the Cuba lobby was incapable of doing.

I watched a lot of the Obama family’s visit to Cuba on television and was struck by the president’s pure elation. He didn’t abandon the baseball game last Tuesday because of the Brussels bombings– because he didn’t want to. He was happy at the ballfield doing the wave with his wife and daughters and Raul Castro and Derek Jeter and his friend Jim Crane, happy pronouncing his faith in the Cuban people. He didn’t want to be dragged into the quagmire of the Middle East and its European repercussions.

In fact, the president repeatedly asked for the Cuban audiences to “indulge” him as he discussed the Brussels bombings. Three times he used that word in his speeches and press conference. A bunch of Cubans need to indulge the president as he treats the most urgent crisis in the world! The president really respected the Cubans.

Did you notice that Obama praised the Cuban health care and education system as a reflection of a different definition of human rights from ours? “Personally” I agree with President Raul Castro, our president said.

President Castro I think has pointed out that, in his view, making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security in old age — that those things are human rights, as well.  I personally would not disagree with him.

Personally the president agrees with Cuban socialist human rights ideals. How long has this been true, and why didn’t we know it before?

Obama also scored the history of racism and colonization in both societies.

We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans.  Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa.  Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners…

For centuries, under colonial rule, and then during decades of American involvement, the toil of the Cuban people was often used to enrich others as opposed to the people who were doing the work…

I’m sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries — to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries.

The message: we’re not any better than you.

In fact, the U.S. might even be worse, the president seemed to admit:

We do have challenges with racial bias — in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society — the legacy of slavery and segregation.

The president was striking a great blow against exceptionalism. Which by the way is the philosophical prop to the U.S.-Israel special relationship.

But the most pertinent parallel to the Israel Palestine conflict were the president’s frequent references to history and policy failure. “I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it,” he declared.

[M]any people on both sides of this debate have asked:  Why now?…

There is one simple answer:  What the United States was doing was not working.  We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth.  A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century.  The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.  And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” — we should not fear change, we should embrace it

Nearly fifty years of Israeli occupation hasn’t worked either. It has only brutalized two peoples and deprived one of them of all rights. And that failed policy has put the US reputation at risk around the world.

Obama wanted to turn the page on 50 years of Israel policy too. He believed in the fierce urgency of now for Palestinians enduring the “daily humiliations — large and small — that come with occupation.” But from the moment he began in 2009 he got pushback from the Israel lobby. “Jewish donors warn Obama on Israel,” was one Wall Street Journal headline. Hillary Clinton brought Dennis Ross, Israel’s lawyer, into the administration in 2009, and Ross told the president the Arabs didn’t care about Palestinian human rights. Then the Israeli prime minister campaigned for Obama’s opponent and still Obama couldn’t shun the rightwing racist leader; and he vetoed the resolution opposing settlements at the U.N. then brought in his original backer Penny Pritzker from Chicago to tell Jews he didn’t hate Israel, and he had Jeffrey Goldberg lay on hands, too. Then the president had to go to Israel after his reelection and say that the Jews had been connected to the land since the bible.

No biblical BS in Cuba. Just the slave trade. Isn’t that biblical and historical enough for anyone?

The Cuba visit and the president’s pointed refusal to abort it for European problems is a hint of the president’s truest inclinations. He would rather be working in concert with people he respects than struggling against entitled opposition. He would rather be having fun. And he is a man of the left. He has heard the voices of Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders. He cares about racial justice.

Expect to see more of this Barack Obama after his emancipation, next January 20.

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Excellent points Phil. “Expect to see more of this Barack Obama after his emancipation, next January 20.” We heard more from Jimmy Carter on Israel/Palestine after his emancipation too.

Really? He still has to have big donors for his library and a reliable network for his post-POTUS writing and speeches. Why else would he not give a farewell speech including the plight of the Palestinian people?

I don’t understand the pass you give Obama on this. To me it seems that he said some nice words–enough to show that he knows what’s what and has a decent moral core–then quit making any effort, even in his second term, when he will never face another election. Instead, he went out of his way to say nice things about Israel and Zionism, while implying that critics of Israel are antisemitic. That’s a profile… Read more »

Interesting article. I think you’re right that Obama’s remarks in Cuba and Cairo are revealing about his fundamental values and thinking. And these do not align with Israel’s glaring bigotry and war-mongering. It all illustrates vividly the power of Big Money to squelch speech in America. And that power is especially exercised to squelch speech about Israel. They have already demonstrated their ability to slander and marginalize Obama, even without his telling the full truth… Read more »

Obama never said anything worth listening to on Palestine. He supported Israel in the 2006 Lebanon War. The Sanders speech on this subject wasn’t perfect, but it was vastly more honest than anything Obama has ever said or could say, given his own record supporting Israel in Gaza, the Saudis in Yemen, or his drone strikes.