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Anti-communist protests in Cuba are threatening to dismantle one of the last vestiges of former president Barack Obama’s diplomatic legacy.
The unrest has come as a shock to journalists and other Democrats who cheered the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize U.S. relations with the communist regime. The controversial initiative, spearheaded by failed novelist Ben Rhodes, culminated in 2016 with Obama’s visit to Havana, where he attended a baseball game with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro.
The New York Times report on the Cuban protests opens with the following oddly worded passage:
Shouting “Freedom” and other anti-government slogans, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in cities around the country on Sunday to protest food and medicine shortages, in a remarkable eruption of discontent not seen in nearly 30 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the island nation, whose universal health care system has been praised effusively in the pages of the New York Times. Acting assistant secretary of state Julie Chung, one of the only Biden administration officials to comment over the weekend, applauded the Cuban people for exercising “their right to peaceful assembly,” a right that Cuban citizens do not actually enjoy under the repressive communist dictatorship.
Rhodes acknowledged this fact in 2016 during a press conference in Cuba, where he defended the communist regime’s detention of political prisoners. “It’s their belief that they are not political prisoners, that they are in prison for various crimes and offenses against Cuban law,” Rhodes said.
So intense was Rhodes’s passion for the cause of Cuban communism that he attended Fidel Castro’s memorial service in December 2016 and mourned the late dictator alongside official delegations from China, Iran, and Russia, among other prominent human-rights abusers.
Rhodes eloquently captured the liberal affinity with Cuba as a “poverty chic” tourist destination in his 2018 memoir, The World As It Is. Most of the furniture in the impoverished nation, he wrote, “went out of style so long ago that it’d be trendy in Brooklyn.”
Over the weekend, Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel delivered a national televised address in which he blamed the country’s economic misery on the United States and threatened violence against protesters. “The order to combat has been given,” he said. “Revolutionaries need to be on the streets.”
In addition to the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, Rhodes shepherded the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran that resulted in a controversial nuclear deal. Former president Donald Trump effectively reversed both of these so-called accomplishments, once viewed as Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements.
President Joe Biden has expressed his determination to reenter the Iran nuclear agreement, which he championed as vice president. The odds of that happening anytime soon appear increasingly slim, however, following the “election” of president-elect Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline Islamist already sanctioned by the United States for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners. Biden may ultimately decide that Obama’s foreign policy legacy is not worth reviving.
Generally speaking, the Obama-Rhodes brain trust succeeded only in unleashing chaos upon the world. The military withdrawal from Iraq? Chaos, followed by the rise of ISIS. The military intervention in Libya in 2011? Chaos, followed by the assassination of a U.S. ambassador. The refusal to intervene in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad crossed Obama’s “red line”? Chaos, followed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Rhodes continues to be lauded and respected by journalists as one of the country’s most knowledgeable foreign policy experts.