- - Thursday, December 18, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama continues to embrace low-tier, go-it-alone executive actions to pad the last two years of his mistake-filled, empty-agenda presidency in a hopeless hunt for a legacy.

His arrogant decision this week to re-establish diplomatic relations with communist Cuba is the latest example of a president desperately searching for something do without having to deal with Congress.

You can comb through all of the polling data for the top concerns of the American people, and renewing U.S. relations with Cuba’s evil Castro dictatorship is not among them.

With his job approval ratings in the basement and his political party toppled from power on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama is frantically looking for anything to turn around his failed presidency. So he went on nationwide television Wednesday to announce his latest diplomatic gambit, to remind us that he’s still president.

National television? For a shameful giveaway deal with an aging tin-pot dictator in the Caribbean who got almost everything he demanded and conceded nothing in return?

Maybe someone in the White House suggested that this would be compared to Nixon’s opening to China. It wasn’t.

His actions drew fierce bipartisan criticism from Capitol Hill for making deep unilateral concessions without getting much in return. It also stoked the political fires in Florida, a pivotal electoral prize in presidential elections, where Cubans account for a large share of the vote and remain strongly opposed to relaxing relations with Raul Castro and his revolutionary henchmen.

The administration won the freedom of Alan Gross, a former U.S. Agency for International Development contract worker who was imprisoned for five years by the Cubans. In return, though, Mr. Obama freed several convicted Cuban spies.

This will go down in Obama history as another naive attempt at diplomacy by a president who believes he can deal with communists, even if he gets little or nothing in return.

Remember when Mr. Obama came into office expecting to “reset” relations with Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin thugs, only to watch them seize the Crimean Peninsula and send troops into Eastern Ukraine, where they remain to this day?

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, sees the same naivete at work in Mr. Obama’s olive branch diplomacy with Cuba. He called the president “the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.”

“Appeasing the Castro brothers will only cause other tyrants from Caracas to Tehran to Pyongyang to see that they can take advantage of President Obama’s naivete during his final two years in office,” Mr. Rubio said.

Even some Democratic leaders were incensed by the president’s actions.

Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a blistering statement Wednesday that Mr. Obama’s actions “have vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government. There is no equivalence between an international aid worker and convicted spies who were found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage against our nation.”

“One spy was also convicted of conspiracy to murder for his role in the 1996 tragedy in which the Cuban military shot down two U.S. civilian planes, killing several American citizens,” Mr. Menendez said.

To trade “Mr. Gross for three convicted criminals sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It invites dictatorial and rogue regimes to use Americans serving overseas as bargaining chips. I fear that today’s actions will put at risk thousands of Americans [who] work overseas,” he warned.

Mr. Obama may pay a bigger price for his actions when Republicans take control of the Senate next month and Mr. Rubio becomes chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee.

In a statement released by his office, Mr. Rubio said he will “make every effort to block this dangerous and desperate attempt” to make sweeping concessions to the Castro government without demanding an end to its repressive policies that have put untold political dissidents in prison.

In his zeal to play the role of global negotiator, even at the expense of appeasing some of America’s worst and most dangerous adversaries, Mr. Obama may have hurt his party’s chances in the next presidential election cycle.

Of the nearly 2 million U.S. citizens who claim Cuban ancestry, the vast majority of them live in South Florida, a strategic political prize that could decide the outcome of the next election — as it did in 2000.

While the younger generation of Cuban-Americans are more open to relaxing travel restrictions toward Cuba, the older generations remain deeply hostile to the communist government and almost any concessions that smell of the status quo.

Like Mr. Rubio, one the Republican Party’s latest presidential wannabes wasn’t buying it for a moment.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has just formed an exploratory committee, said on his Facebook page that the administration’s decision to resume diplomatic ties with Cuba was “the latest foreign policy misstep by this president and another dramatic overreach of his executive authority.”

“It undermines America’s credibility and undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba,” said Mr. Bush, who is widely popular among Florida’s Cuban population and the Hispanic community at large.

On the left of the political divide, Hillary Rodham Clinton was buying into Mr. Obama’s appeasement policy hook, line and sinker.

“I support President Obama’s decision to change course on Cuba policy,” she said. “Despite good intentions, our decadeslong policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power.”

Mr. Obama went for the whole enchilada, believing he can deal with Cuba by caving into the regime’s demands. Republicans, and maybe more than a few Democrats, will remind him in a few weeks that Congress will have a say in this, too.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.

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