Cuba, with an economy roughly the size of Amazon, Inc. that is frozen in time thanks to decades of Communist rule, is on the rapidly shrinking list of countries available to President Obama for a flattering photo-op. The only good news about Obama opening up the Caribbean Island to Americans is that Cuba can serve as a living museum, educating those who might be sucked in by the next Socialist playbook-waving Democrat. Just wait until those teens feeling the Bern try to find an iPhone charger in Havana.
President Obama’s planned visit to Cuba comes as numerous hot spots around the world are bursting into flame. If the president has wanderlust, it’s a good choice, since traveling to Syria, Ukraine, South Korea, China, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Israel, Austria, Venezuela, Germany, Denmark, Jordan, Turkey or Belgium might raise uncomfortable political issues for our leader-from-behind.
In so many countries, the fall-out from U.S. inaction in Syria has been profound. A rising tide of refugees from that country is swamping local populations and in turn breeding anti-immigration populism much like that infecting US politics. The EU, barely recovered from the bruising fight over Greece’s debt problems, is now battling efforts by Austria, Denmark, England and others to limit the number of immigrants allowed in their respective countries or the benefits to which those new arrivals are entitled.
Angela Merkel, the Iron Lady of Europe, faces her first serious political challenge in many years thanks to having accepted what her citizens consider an overly generous admission of one million refugees into her country.
At the same time, the Saudis are busily rearranging their alliances, recently severing aid to Lebanon as their proxy war with a newly emboldened Iran heats up. Russia has taken the poll position in Syria, buttressing the Assad regime with aggressive military action while refusing to heed the outlines of a cease-fire negotiated by an ever-hopeful John Kerry. Turkey is now attacking Kurdish-Syrian rebel groups supported by the US, throwing yet another key alliance into disarray.
Syria is not the only diplomatic failure. On another front, the Chinese are busy installing missiles on their newly constructed islands in the South China Sea. In recent meetings, Secretary of State John Kerry was assured by his Chinese counterpart that no such militarization of the illegal manmade islands would take place.
Leaked satellite photos of the missile installations surfaced while President Obama was hosting leaders of the ASEAN nations at the famed Sunnydale estate in California. The countries represented at the West Coast retreat hope that the United States will provide a buffer against the increasing muscle flexing of China. What must they think when the White House allows such a flagrant breach of promise?
As a side note, even The New York Times had to admit that most of those leaders, representing Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore and other countries, which have not received such a courtesy, would have chosen the prestige attached to a formal White House visit. Those wishes came in second to President Obama’s desire to play another round of golf.
Among the ASEAN allies most wary of the U.S. today is South Korea, which has become increasingly alarmed by the nuclear tests carried out by their northern neighbor. Conservative groups in South Korea are calling for the development of a nuclear program, citing the increasing insecurity of US backing. They are doubtless further emboldened by reports that the Obama White House had secretly attempted to initiate peace talks with the North Koreans, apparently willing to drop the long-standing demand that Pyongyang first agree to halt its nuclear program.
Talks between the US and South Korea about installing a missile defense system may hold promise, but only if the Obama administration can summon the courage to confront an expected backlash from China.
That is highly doubtful, since China has substantial leverage over Obama. Our president has sacrificed numerous important U.S.-China issues (cyber security, the islands of the South China Sea, trade infractions, sanctions on North Korea etc.) in order to achieve his highly touted and ultimately insignificant climate agreement with Beijing. He will not risk China withdrawing from that symbolic partnership, and they know it.
While Americans are riveted by the primary battles taking place, the rest of the world continues to suffer from Obama neglect. The lack of leadership is evident in every region. When Obama smugly talks about the candidacy of Donald Trump, and describes the job of president as “serious,” we have to agree. But from his initial moves – abandoning the planned missile defense systems in Poland and insulting England, our most reliable ally – to his utter detachment from events in North Korea, China and Syria, President Obama has left the world to its own devices.
As Marco Rubio has said (repeatedly), the United States is no longer trusted by its allies and no longer feared by its enemies.
Now Obama will travel to Cuba, where he counts on being greeted by enthusiastic crowds and a fawning press. He will be received as a hero for “opening up” Cuba after so many years. Americans will wonder what the United States will receive in exchange for the honor of a presidential visit. Most likely, they will wonder in vain. If history is any guide, the rewards will mainly accrue to Obama’s legacy.