Surprising news that President Obama would normalize relations with Cuba by establishing full diplomatic relations while easing restrictions on remittances, travel, and banking (the embargo remains in place; lifting it would require congressional action) excited reporters and editorial writers of the New York Times, who saw the demise of the "dinosaurs" and "aging...hard-liners" who opposed liberalizing ties to the authoritarian Cuban government.
The front-page banner headline over Peter Baker's story seemed to put the onus on America to end the "hostility" with the communist dictatorship 90 miles off the shore: "U.S. Will Restore Full Relations With Cuba, Erasing a Last Trace of Cold War Hostility."
President Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.
The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.
Mr. Obama is gambling that restoring ties with Cuba may no longer be politically unthinkable with the generational shift among Cuban-Americans, where many younger children of exiles are open to change. Nearly six in 10 Americans support re-establishing relations with Cuba, according to a New York Times poll conducted in October. Mr. Obama’s move had the support of the Catholic Church, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Human Rights Watch and major agricultural interests.
Baker allowed Republican criticism:
But leading Republicans, including Speaker John A. Boehner and the incoming Senate majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, did not. In addition to Mr. Rubio, two other Republican potential candidates for president joined in the criticism. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called it a “very, very bad deal,” while former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said it “undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba.”
But in the same edition, reporter Michael Shear gave Obama points for audacity and for finally fulfilling a liberal campaign promise (the only kind the Times prods him on): "For Obama, More Audacity and Fulfillment of Languishing Promises."
President Obama’s decision on Wednesday to radically shift United States policy toward Cuba is the latest and most striking example of a president unleashed from the hesitancy that characterized much of his first six years in office.
The announcement, made in a speech to the nation from the Cabinet Room of the White House, follows similar decisions by Mr. Obama in recent weeks to defy Republicans on immigration, climate change policy, the regulation of the Internet and negotiations with Iran.
Gone are the cautious political calculations that consigned contentious issues to secondary status and led some of the president’s strongest allies to accuse him of abandoning his principles. Mr. Obama is now pushing forward aggressively on his promised agenda and ignoring his most ardent critics.
The president’s lack of action angered activists who believed that he would follow through on his campaign promises. Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, collaborated on an op-ed article for the Miami Herald earlier this year that urged the president to change policy on Cuba and “heed the majority of those across the country who recognize that we have much to gain by jettisoning this Cold War relic.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama finally made good on his pledge. “When I came into office, I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy,” the president said. “I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.”
Shear portrayed a noble president hemmed in by the unreasonable limitations of his job:
By framing his moves in generational terms, the president is also seeking to make an implicit case that Republicans who oppose them are dinosaurs fighting yesterday’s battles.
Those close to Mr. Obama say he was always ready to fight those battles, but the realities of the presidency got in the way.
The Times' lead editorial Thursday was also strongly supportive of his actions, and praised the "pragmatism" of Cuba's communist dictator Raul Castro: "Mr. Obama's Historic Move on Cuba."
Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, deserves credit for his pragmatism. While Cuba remains a repressive police state with a failed economy, under his leadership since 2008, the country has begun a process of economic reforms that have empowered ordinary Cubans and lifted travel restrictions the government cruelly imposed on its citizens.
Interestingly, as Newsbusters' Curtis Houck found, the Washington Post editorial board had a completely different take:
On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout -- from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action....Mr. Obama says normalizing relations will allow the United States to be more effective in promoting political change in Cuba. That is contrary to U.S. experience with Communist regimes such as Vietnam, where normalization has led to no improvements on human rights in two decades....Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life.
Times reporters Ashley Parker and Jonathan Martin found the "hard-line" conservative position outmoded, at least in Florida.
For more than a generation, Republicans have offered a consistent hard-line anthem against the Communist nation, endearing themselves to the politically potent bloc of Cuban-Americans who have been crucial in deciding elections in the state. But those animosities have given way as younger voters with family ties to Cuba but no direct memories of the island under Fidel Castro have been more willing to support Democrats....The hard-line stances by many of the 2016 Republican hopefuls also put them in opposition to the United States Chamber of Commerce, which said it “welcomes” the development, as well as Pope Francis, who worked behind the scenes to help secure Mr. Gross’s release.
The Times bureau in Havana at least worked in some skepticism on just how hard Cuba would push necessary free-market reforms, skepticism buried under the cheery headline "As Havana Celebrates Historic Shift, Economic and Political Hopes Rise."
They crowded around old, battered televisions in Havana and erupted in tears and applause at a spectacle they could scarcely imagine, let alone believe: President Raúl Castro, followed by President Obama, heralding a new era of relations between Cuba and the United States.
The question is whether the increased exchange will simply prop up Cuba’s moribund economy and government, or breed truly democratic change on the island, something current American policy has not achieved.
The hope among Cubans is that the new easing of tension with the United States will accelerate the halting steps toward a market economy, while still maintaining the social ideals of free education and health care embedded in what Mr. Castro described on Wednesday as a “prosperous and sustainable socialism.”
But in order for the changes Mr. Obama envisions to work, Cuba will have to loosen up in significant ways. The island’s vows to allow more private enterprise and foreign investment have been far more limited than many Cuban and international entrepreneurs have hoped for, with many saying it is almost impossible for them to participate.
Reporter Rick Gladstone examined Cuba through rose-colored glasses by lauding how America normalized relations with Communist Vietnam, in "Blacklist Shrinks, Leaving North Korea as the Last Cold War Pariah."
Political historians said the steps announced Wednesday to restore relations with Cuba were akin to events in the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Jimmy Carter that led to normalized ties with China in 1979 after three decades of hostility, and events in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton that led to the establishment of relations with Vietnam in 1995, 20 years after the war.
Both of those countries, still run by nominally communist governments that have remained part of the post-World War II geopolitical landscape, now have extensive and deeply rooted relations and friendly connections with the United States.
Lastly, portraying liberalized relations with Cuba as a welcome inevitability, reporters Lizette Alvarez and Nick Madigan took the temperature among Cuban-Americans and found that only "aging...traditionalists" maintained a hard line against Cuba's communist regime: "In Miami, Astonishment Over Action and Disagreement Over Its Merits."
For some -- the aging generation of Cuban-American traditionalists who take a hard line on Cuba policy -- astonishment quickly turned to acrimony. Denouncing the move as wrongheaded and disastrous, they viewed President Obama’s decision to establish closer travel, diplomatic and export ties to Cuba as capitulation to a dictatorship.
In return, they said, Mr. Obama received no guarantees from Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, and no commitment to human rights.
Yet, in the same mix at Versailles and further afield in the storefronts lining Little Havana, a different wave of people applauded the decision, calling it past due. They make up a less vocal, less politically active but nevertheless large part of the city’s makeup -- recently arrived Cubans who continue to stream in from the island and younger Cuban-Americans who are less emotionally entangled in the relationship between Cuba and Miami.