Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hillary Clinton Deserves a Huge Amount of Credit For the U.S.-Cuba Breakthrough

With so much distressing news at home and abroad these days, it sure is nice to see inspiring headlines like "Obama calls for change and freedom in Cuba" and "Obama: Time to bury 'last remnants' of Cold War in Americas".

I mean this with all sincerity: Thanks, Obama!

Barack Obama will go down in history as the president who finally thawed relations with our close island neighbor after more than a half century, and he absolutely deserves credit for this continent-changing accomplishment. But a president never works alone, and there was someone working for him throughout his first term who was instrumental to bringing forth this tremendous achievement.

It was his first Secretary of State, and she's currently running to succeed him.

In December 2014, just after the president announced that full diplomatic relations with Cuba would be restored, Bloomberg View published a fascinating behind-the-scenes account entitled "Hillary Clinton Secretly Pushed Cuba Deal for Years".

In case you missed it at the time, here are some excerpts (emphasis mine):
Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday’s historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House.
From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government. According to current and former White House and State Department officials and several Cuba policy experts who were involved in the discussions, Clinton was also the top advocate inside the government for ending travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and reversing 50 years of U.S. policy to isolate the Communist island nation. Repeatedly, she pressed the White House to move faster and faced opposition from cautious high-ranking White House officials.
Clinton’s advocacy on behalf of opening a new relationship with Cuba began almost as soon as she came into office. Obama had campaigned on a promise to engage enemies, but the White House initially was slow to make good on that pledge, and on the Cuba front enacted only a modest relaxation of travel rules. From the start, Clinton pushed to hold Obama to his promise with regard to Cuba.
“Hillary Clinton played a very large role,” said Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation who advocated for changes to U.S.-Cuba policy. “The president, when he ran for office and when he came in, thought that doing something on Cuba front would be smart. But as soon as he got into office, though, every other priority hit him.”
In early 2011, frustrated by what she saw as resistance from the Obama political advisers as well as the NSC staff, Clinton met personally with the president and nudged him to keep going.
“The pushback was coming from the White House staff. The issue was for Hillary to say to Obama, ‘Hey listen, your folks are going too slow on this and we need to move forward on this,’ ” said a former administration official who was involved in those discussions. “There was a lot of reluctance in the White House to do that at the time because of various kinds of domestic problems. If it hadn’t been for the State Department and her leadership, then these reforms might not have happened.”
Finally, in 2012, Clinton made one more big push for faster movement to overhaul the relationship. At the Summit of the Americas that April in Cartagena, Colombia, Clinton was repeatedly harangued by Latin Americans leaders about Washington’s insistence that Cuba not be allowed to participate. Clinton was blindsided by the unanimity of this criticism, including such staunch U.S. allies a Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who had personally pressed Obama on the issue.
“It’s evident to me that Cartagena was a wake-up call for then-Secretary Clinton,” said Julia Sweig, a Cuba scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations. “She had a head-snapping experience there and came to see the unanimity of the Latin American view such that recovery of American standing in the region really ran through Havana.”
After returning to Washington, Clinton directed her head of policy planning, Jake Sullivan, to work up several options to lay out a policy approach and present it to the president. The result was, in essence, what Obama announced Wednesday, a source close to the process said.
The whole thing is fascinating and well worth a read. Clinton also wrote about Cuba in her memoir Hard Choices, but because the process was still ongoing at the time of the book's release in 2014, much of this behind-the-scenes intrigue went unwritten. Hopefully we'll hear more about this process from her someday, perhaps even in a debate this fall.

Bottom line: If you like President Obama's policy on Cuba and you'd like to see it continued and pushed even further in the years to come...you know who to vote for.

Also: Thanks, Hillary!


  1. Thanks for this! A bit of history we were never told about when it was happening.

    1. You're welcome, PW! Hopefully we will hear more about this from Hillary directly.