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Yay Obama! Cuba and Chavez

Although I don’t agree with President Obama on everything, particularly fetal stem cell research and attempting to uphold the 1950s era “state secrets” doctrine, I am happy with at least 80% of what he is doing.

Two things he’s done in the past week that deserve special praise in my view are:

Greater engagement with Cuba – Although I wished he’d gone farther and dropped all Executive Branch restrictions on travel and trade, letting Cuban-Americans travel whenever they want and allowing unrestricted remittances is a good start.

Talking to President Chavez at the America’s Summit – It’s certainly true that Chavez is not particularly democratic, but if we can warmly embrace Uzbekistan, a country that routinely tortured prisoners and boasted a President-For-Life since 1991, I think we can talk to the leader of Venezuela.

What these two situations have in common is confidence and strength. Despite our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and the current financial crisis, we are still the strongest military and economic power in the world. We are the sponsors of the one-world currency known as the American Dollar which every country with foreign currency reserves still holds. President Obama understands this and that’s why he doesn’t need to make a hasty exit from a room when an “undesirable leader” shows up.

Thinking that we can just ignore countries and they’ll go away or do our bidding has a long, sad and completely bipartisan tradition. Whether it was shunning the newly independent countries in South America back in the 1800s, refusing to recognize the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Red China in the 1950s-60s, or refusing to talk to Cuba, Iran, North Korea or Venezuela in the 2000s, Democrats and Republicans alike were enthusiastic in the policy of the cold shoulder.

It didn’t work before, it won’t work now. Thank God we have a President that understands this. He also understands, as most of the Republican party does not, that talk does not equal concessions. I’ve seen articles comparing Obama to Neville Chamberlin simply for shaking Chavez’s hand. This is crazy talk.

Meeting Hitler wasn’t Chamberlin’s sin. Mr. Chamberlin could have gone to Munich with a message that if Hitler took the Sudatenland, the UK would blockade German ports in support of Czechoslovakia. That still would have been talking, but it would not have been appeasement. He could have even said that with a bright smile and it still wouldn’t have been appeasement.

Again, it is greatly comforting to me to have a head of state who doesn’t think that ignoring people makes them go away and that problem solving involves actually communicating to offending parties. Things won’t go perfectly, but now that we’ve stopped repeating actions in expectation of a different result, they will go better!

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