Mark Lander of the New York Times describes how president Obama has ‘mastered the art of secret negotiations’. “What the Cuba, Iran and China talks have in common — aside from their cloak-and-dagger allure — are a small team of negotiators, strict discipline and tight control by the White House.” A less charitable description might use the words “deceit”, “amateurism” and “bad faith” to characterize the White House’s efforts.
They also attest to Mr. Obama’s willingness to entrust historic projects to close aides, some of whom are young and have little experience in diplomacy.
In the case of Cuba, the entire American delegation consisted of two White House officials, one of whom, Benjamin J. Rhodes, is a 37-year-old speechwriter who has worked for Mr. Obama since his 2008 campaign and has become an influential voice in the administration. The Iran and China negotiations were also led by trusted Obama aides.
Using non-diplomats helps preserve the veil of secrecy, a senior official said, because such people are less likely to arouse suspicion among colleagues or the press. The three countries with which they were negotiating, the official said, were also able to keep a secret.
Castro seems to be the big winner. The WSJ says that the White House may be intentionally giving away the store as part of a deep game. “By offering so much for relatively little, Mr. Obama may calculate that an American gesture now will lead to a larger opening once the aging Castro brothers finally go to their eternal punishment.”
He may also hope that by acting now he can prepare the way for a triumphant visit to Havana before the end of his Presidency. Mr. Obama came to office in 2009 promising a new era of engagement with U.S. adversaries, and engage he has. Perhaps his Cuban “reset” will turn out better than have his efforts with Russia, Syria, North Korea and Iran.
The administration has a talent for turning victory into defeat. It’s good news for Fidel Castro, just when his regime was teetering on the precipice occasioned by the bankruptcy of principal allies Venezuela and Russia. The president has argued that 50 years of isolation has not toppled Castro. Why topple him now that he’s on the verge of going over the cliff? Maybe because the administration wants a stable Communist dictatorship off Florida in preference to a nation ripped apart by civil war. If starving Cubans actually stage a real revolution in Havana it might be inconvenient.
Mark Trumbull of the Christian Science Monitor asks “will closer financial ties between the United States and Cuba help to promote political reform on the communist island or simply prop up a morally bankrupt regime?”
“The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey, outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement released Wednesday. Another senator of Cuban-American heritage, Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, used the same “economic lifeline” phrase in issuing his own lament.
But one of the benefits to secret negotiations is that the administration can completely avoid answering such knotty questions. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael Gordon of the New York Times report “Obama Intends to Lift Several Restrictions Against Cuba on His Own”. He’ll do it all in his vest pocket, in the same secretive manner that he conducted the negotiations themselves.