Obama drops Cuba from U.S. list of state sponsors of terror in exchange for, well, nothing

A sneak preview of his final deal with Iran, perhaps. Let’s hope he figures out a new negotiating strategy before then because he’s got only two right now. One, a la Cuba, involves goodwill gestures to the other side that gain nothing for the U.S. but plenty of legacy-building oohing and aahing for O from foreign-policy graybeards. The other, a la immigration and war, involves power grabs at Congress’s expense so that he doesn’t have to negotiate with his domestic opponents at all.

I thought it was supposed to be the other way around — negotiation with the other party here and muscle for enemies abroad — but this is what it means, I suppose, to have a “transformational” presidency.

President Barack Obama will remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the White House announced Tuesday, a key step in his bid to normalize relations between the two countries.

Obama made the final decision following a State Department review of Cuba’s presence on the list. The terror designation has been a stain on Cuba’s pride and a major stumbling block for efforts to mend ties between Washington and Havana.

In a message to Congress, Obama said the government of Cuba “has not provided any support for international terrorism” over the last six months. He also told lawmakers that Cuba “has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

Does that mean Cuba’s going to extradite the American fugitives who’ve spent years hiding out there, one of the reasons the country was put on the list of state sponsors of terror in the first place? No word yet from O. Either way, I suppose it’s true that we didn’t get nothing here: What we got were “assurances.” Which, coincidentally, are also what we’ve gotten so far from Iran. Ben Domenech:

[T]he real problem with the Obama administration’s approach to normalization with Cuba isn’t the normalization itself. It’s that this normalization came without getting the United States any of their long-stated policy priorities for the Cuban people in return. Normalization is President Obama’s gift to the Castro regime—a gift with no strings attached…

What does the United States get in return for this overture? Do we get normalization of the status of Guantanamo? Do we get our fugitives back so they can face justice? Does Cuba apologize for any of its support for terrorism? Does Cuba have to render justice or accountability for shooting down American civilian aircraft in international airspace, as it did in 1996? Do meaningful numbers of Cuban political prisoners get released? Does Cuban social and political repression ease one iota? Does Cuban support for radicalism and violence abroad cease? Does the Cuban communist grip on power and society relax even slightly? Does America receive Cuban support or even neutrality on any issue over which Cuba was previously opposed? Does Cuba concede a single item of strategic value or tactical value?…

Ronald Reagan’s line about his preferred end to the Cold War—“We win, they lose”—is a statement that had more than one foreign policy expert laughing at the time. Barack Obama has appropriated that line as his own, but he’s flipped the actors. “They win, we lose” is the approach of his foreign policy and national security apparatus.

There are three countries left on the list and two of them, Iran and Syria, are now de facto U.S. allies against ISIS and “partners in peace” on denuclearization. The only one against whom the U.S. remains squarely opposed is Sudan. How’s that for a foreign policy legacy? Might as well make a deal with them too in exchange for nothing in the interests of completeness.

The deeper point of this embarrassing flirtation with Castro is, I assume, to signal to Iran that normal relations with the U.S. are on the table for them too if they’re willing to give Obama some political cover to make it happen. That’s his grand ambition with Tehran, I think — not just nuke negotiations, which are geared more towards making war impossible than towards preventing Iran from building a bomb, but striking a grand bargain that would restore American ties to Iran. They’d have to do a lot to make that politically salable for O and they have no real incentive to do it: They can get sanctions lifted by pretending to play ball on uranium enrichment and meanwhile they have all sorts of opportunities in the Middle East — Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen — to extend their power by being more aggressive militarily, not less. Obama’s letting them know via his rapprochement with Castro, though, that he’s willing to take some heat at home for making nice with old enemies if they’re willing to be a little more conciliatory with the U.S. Which, from the looks of it, they aren’t.