Bob Franken: Cuba si, Congress no

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, December 20, 2014 4:24pm
  • Opinion

What a shame that President Barack Obama finds it so much easier to negotiate with the Castros than with the Congress. Of course, he did have help with the Cuban breakthrough, what with Pope Francis leading the way. But it’s doubtful the pope would want to get in the middle of White House-Capitol Hill talks, mainly because he’d consider it a waste of time.

To make the point, some members of Congress were having their heads explode at the very first word of this preliminary Cuba deal, particularly those who had built their careers with the help of the old-guard hard-line exile community. Never mind that polls of Cuban-Americans now show that most favor normalization between the two countries and a rollback of the 50-plus years of confrontation. Sen. Marco Rubio, who has obvious presidential ambitions, was apoplectic as the first announcements resounded. “Concession to a tyranny,” he thundered. “A very bad deal,” added Ted Cruz, another senator, another Cuban-American and another all-but-declared GOP candidate for the big megillah. Yet another Cuban-American senator, Robert Menendez, called the agreement “misguided,” the milder response perhaps a result of his being a Democrat. But he’s still old-school and not inclined to be persuaded by the president’s argument that “isolation has not worked.”

While the White House has the power to begin the process of normalization, it will be up to Congress to end the full trade embargo, which has left the economy of our enemy to the south a relic of the 1950s. But don’t hold your breath. The Republicans are taking over the whole Congress, and they’re not about to be accommodating. The Obama foreign-policy approach of engaging hostile countries like Cuba and Iran is constantly put down hard by his conservative enemies as “naive” or worse. Whether it is or not, making deals with devils has limitations. It’s hard to conceive of the United States soon making plans to construct an embassy in Pyongyang.

While opponents charge the Cuban government with human-rights violations, the conduct of the North Korean leaders is inhuman. Their dealings with the rest of the world range between defiantly belligerent and outright crazy.

Others can decide where on that spectrum North Korea’s current cyber-sabotage of Sony Studios rests. Its reaction to Sony’s plans to release “The Interview,” which is about an assassination attempt against North Korea’s leader, was a devastating hack job, laying waste to the studio’s entire computer infrastructure, and exposing for the world to see extremely embarrassing confidential communications. But even that was not enough.

Sony has been forced to withdraw “The Interview,” to cancel the showing that was scheduled to begin on Christmas Day, because the organization that was doing North Korea’s dirty work escalated with threats of violence at the movie houses showing the film. Naturally, the theater chains and the malls that provide the venues were a tiny bit nervous about that, so they dropped the show. That leaves Sony holding the multimillion-dollar bag and wondering why executives approved such a ridiculous project in the first place.

This is a brutal reminder of just how susceptible we are to the havoc that can be wreaked by just a few geeks sitting in some basement with their keyboards and malicious intent.

It also demonstrates how intertwined we are with countries around the world, to say nothing of the one that sits 90 miles from our shores. Slowly but surely, the commerce between Cuba and the United States has been expanding. Why not make it fastly but surely? Think of all the possibilities: New beaches to despoil with hotels, new smelly but legal cigars available for everyone in the U.S.

Besides, all this gives us more to talk about, and in Washington, still another point of disagreement in Congress and the campaign. As if we need any more.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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