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Obama’s Confusion on Sanctions and Foreign Policy

Reported on December 16th, President Barack Obama will sign legislation imposing new economic sanctions on Russia, the White House said Tuesday.

Reported one day later, Obama had this to say: “I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people. So we’re significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.

I believe that American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage, and that increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans. So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba. U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions. And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.”

Obama went on to say that it was time to end a policy of economic sanctions that do not work. Except, of course, when they do work, like in Russia. It is a sign and a symptom of Obama’s fecklessness that he will one day support economic sanctions and the next denigrate them as a tool for change.

In the case of Russia, Obama had been ostensibly concerned about Russian incursions into the Ukraine, which is largely a territorial dispute, with no real undertones of human rights issues. For an interesting gedanken, substitute China for Russia, and Tibet for Ukraine, and see what the outcome is.

But as to Cuba, well-known violator of human rights, torturer and executioner to dissidents, imprisoner of lbgt people, exporter of terrorism, Obama is adamant that sanctions don’t, and won’t, work.

Also reported on Monday, US President Barack Obama announced sanctions on Monday on those helping Syria and Iran acquire technology that lets them target dissidents through their cell phone and Internet use.        Says Obama, “The Syrian people still seek and deserve their basic human rights,” he said. “The Syrian people have not given up and so we have not given up.” Cubans, well, screw them. We’re giving up.

So, according to Obama, sometimes sanctions work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we care about human rights abuses, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes, we like brutal dictators, sometimes we don’t. One wonders if Kim Jong Un is paying attention.

A dispassionate review of Obama’s foreign policy could make the case that it is in a shambles. He oversaw our loss in Afghanistan, we are asea in Syria, and he continually insults and aggravates our only ally in the Mideast, Israel. China is building a blue-water navy and harassing our erstwhile allies in the south pacific.

A less charitable, though perhaps more pragmatic, review of his performance would reveal, one, an inclination towards appeasement; two, an inability to determine better from worse alternatives; or three, a desire to help his rich corporate buddies.

There is no doubt that one of the major beneficiaries of a sanctionless relationship with Cuba would be his corporate interests. Far from being the populist reformer, Obama has been in bed with the rich and the connected for years. Most recently, the Antonio Weiss imbroglio. Weiss is the Obama’s pick to fill the vacant slot of Undersecretary of Treasury for Domestic Finance. The idea that Obama would pick a finance veteran for a position that, among other things, regulates the financial industry has infuriated even fellow travelers like Elizabeth Warren. Or the Energy Department nominee with ties to Yucca Mountain. The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Joseph Hezir to be the department’s chief financial officer. Hezir was a consultant and former lobbyist whose firm, the EOP Group, did lobbying throughout the 2000s for the Nuclear Energy Institute. Hezir’s lobbyist filings show he worked on Yucca Mountain and other nuclear waste issues.

Personally, I think it’s a combination of things. Obama is clueless and feckless about the nature and extent of evil in the world, and consequently, is unable to develop a coherent approach for dealing with it. But he is also beholden to, and favored by, business interests that feel confident that they can move policy in directions more profitable than ethical.


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