In political folklore, as well as Star Trek geekery, there’s the old adage: Only Nixon could go to China.
Nixon was a strong president and made the right call. China was ready to open its doors to American trade, and for at least the first several decades we prospered greatly from this new trading partner.
Cuba’s 12 million people are unlikely to form such a huge trading partnership, but Obama’s political stroke of genius was one of geopolitics — both far and near political ramifications of finally ending the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere.
While cruise lines like Carnival have wanted to make Cuba a port of call for years, this will most likely have the most impact to the Cubans in terms of fresh American capital being spent on their island during stops.
But the two great political issues dealt with in one single presidential visit were Russia’s diminished influence and the aging pro-capitalist Cuban refugees in America, both of which needed a solid political ‘shake up.’
To the Russians, losing Cuba as ‘their’ ally is a political black-eye; especially with Putin’s aspirations to rebuild the Russian/Soviet Empire.
To the American-born Cubans, it signals an end of their parent’s generation of power in American politics.
For several years, American-born Cubans have been leaving the Republican Party in favor of the Democrats, a significant shift of power in Florida where the Republicans have traditionally counted on the Cuban vote as a powerful bloc.
Obama’s move was not without criticism, but in the grand scheme of things, he doesn’t really care. His political career is over, one final ‘scandal’ might add just a spark of interest to his future book/speaking tours.
But the gift he left his own party–normalizing relations for the next generation of American-born Cubans–is overwhelming in what will be a critical swing state in 2016.
It wasn’t ‘just’ a gift to his own party, but to America as a whole. For decades we’ve played the role of isolating, ignoring, and even turning on our trading partners and strategic alliances. In one visit, regardless of how unpopular, Obama showed how it was done–you simply have to open the doors to friendship.
The president doesn’t need to come with huge checks (though they do help), elaborate promises of defense (though sometimes crucial), or even political threats or pressure. Sometimes to win over a new friend in the world of geopolitics, you just have to show up and forgive and forget past wounds.
Whoever wins the 2016 election needs to take note: we need more allies throughout the world. And while we need to take care of global terrorism, increasing radicalism, and our own perceived immigration issues, we still need friends abroad.
We need a president that can and will go to various places in the world to strengthen our alliances, weaken our enemies, and increase American trade.
That is the real lesson from Obama’s trip to Cuba.