President Barack Obama has rescued his legacy from oblivion through the Cuban gateway, having concluded that the nuclear negotiations with Iran and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process will hit the wall of Republican resistance in and outside Congress. Obama closed the book on the old approach with Communist Cuba with his bid to restore diplomatic ties with the island nation after a half-century-long estrangement. Obama said, “These [past] 50 years have shown [that] isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach.” The historic détente in US-Cuban relations followed a green light from Barack Obama for secret talks with Cuba in Canada, in with the Vatican played a key role through Pope Francis. Secret talks are not a new approach for the US president. Obama had used this approach to initiate the nuclear talks with Iran. While this did not lead to a radical shift in US-Iranian relations, it definitely led to a historical breakthrough after decades-long estrangement. The difference between Cuba and Iran here is that Obama managed to get his decision to end Cuba’s isolation passed before the majority in the Senate and Congress shifts to the Republicans, in late January 2015. By contrast, the Iranian nuclear negotiations cannot be passed before that date. The Republican Congress is intent on preventing Barack Obama from accomplishing an – incomplete – achievement that he would be able to add to his historical legacy. Incomplete because the US president ultimately bowed down to the fait accompli in relation to Israel, realizing he won’t be able to achieve anything because of the organic link between Israel and the United States. Since Iran is hanging in the balance of possible achievements, Cuba gave the US president the chance to link his name to a historic event in a measure that was met with both praise and criticism, but it was not transient.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner described Obama’s announcement of the start of the normalization of relations with Havana as "another in a long line of mindless concessions" to a brutal dictatorship. For his part, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, Democrat Robert Menendez, criticized Obama’s move, saying it has “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government.”
The timing of the announcement regarding the end of Cuba’s isolation drew criticisms from opponents, as it coincided with the slump in oil prices that harms Cuba’s two most important backers Russia and Venezuela. Therefore, their argument is that ending the embargo on Cuba at this juncture would throw the Castro regime a lifeline without getting anything in return, instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to link lifting the economic siege to removing restrictions on freedoms in Cuba and push the Cuban government to respect human rights.
Obama’s decision was welcomed by Russia and Venezuela, which found his new approach as a lifeline for them as they are going through a major economic crisis as a result of the collapse in oil prices. The Russian Foreign Ministry was keen to link its praise for this “step in the right direction” to saying, “We don’t believe that US sanctions on any country has any legal or legitimate grounds.”
The US boycott of Fidel Castro’s Cuba had definitely not succeeded in toppling his regime. The policy of isolating Cuba did not yield any concrete results for the United States. Some say economic engagement could push Cuba to liberalize. Others counter by saying that if this was true, China would by now have democratized.
The approach is at once different and similar when it comes to the Iranian issue. Some say that it has become necessary for the negotiations with Iran to succeed, as this would empower moderate forces represented by President Hassan Rohani, since the nuclear deal is linked to the end of the sanctions on Iran – which would give a dose of support for the moderates.
The other point of view is that ending the sanctions would embolden the hardliners and serve the project of the Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani for expansion in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. These forces control the keys to power in Tehran today, and will be the ones to receive the revenues and spend them as they want – including on pulling the rug from under the feet of the moderates.
Those who criticize Barack Obama’s policy that is desperate to engage with Iran at any price indicate that the US president had rushed a détente at a time when sanctions had started to work in Iran. They add that the time is not right at all to make concessions to Tehran, when it is in turn suffering from the results of the oil price collapse. Accordingly, this is the time to bargain and not the time to cave in.
Barack Obama wants to avoid getting Congress’s approval for any nuclear deal he concludes with Iran, believing this is the only way to rid himself of the Republican Congress’s defiance. However, this is not easy to achieve not only because the decision to lift the US sanctions lies with Congress, but also because the Republican-dominated Congress intends to make the Democratic president pay a hefty price in all other issues if he continues to try to bypass Congress.
Obama may resort to a formula under which he would claim that the nuclear deal with Iran falls under the scope of work of the UN Security Council. To be sure, the parties negotiating with Tehran are the five permanent Security Council members – the United States, China, Russia, Britain, and France. However, the Republicans would not let something like this pass easily, because they have ways to challenge Obama including by highlighting Iran’s violations of UN Security Council resolutions – that Obama is currently overlooking – most prominently by being involved militarily beyond its borders through Qassem Soleimani. This is according to a report by the UN Security Council Sanctions Committees issued around two weeks ago. This entails a violation of a resolution issued under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and could thwart what the Obama administration may have in mind if it chooses to bypass Congress by putting the matter exclusively in the framework of the Security Council.
The Iranians want to keep the nuclear issue outside the Security Council and in the current framework of the P5+1 (the five permanent Security Council member plus Germany). What matters to Tehran primarily is getting