In or about late May 1941 Katherine’s husband, Phillip (“Phil”) Graham, was finishing clerkships for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stanley F. Reed (1939-40) and Felix Frankfurter (1940-41) and finding his next position in the midst of the increasing threat of the U.S.’ becoming involved in what became World War Ii. In that search Phil met with Robert Lovett, then Assistant Secretary of War for Air, who suggested Phil see about working for HH, who was President Roosevelt’s principal assistant.
That June Phil met with HH, who was in failing health, at his bedroom/office in the White House. HH immediately asked, “Why the hell aren’t you in the Army?” Phil responded that the Head of Naval Intelligence had advised him to wait a few months before deciding how to become directly involved in the war effort. Eventually HH suggested that Phil talk with Oscar Cox about working for him at the Lend-Lease Administration while spending three days a week with HH.
Phil already had tentative arrangements to work for Cox and did so shortly thereafter. Cox said that working directly for HH probably would not have worked out. According to Cox, “HH was a peculiar cuss, worked very irregularly, and probably would never get a real assistant.”
While at Lend-Lease, apparently in August 1941, Phil (age 26) and Joe Rauh, Jr.,(age 29), the latter of whom later became a prominent civil rights lawyer, sent a memo to President Roosevelt advising immediate and significant increases in U.S. production of bombers for the war. HH immediately responded: “You shouldn’t bother the President with things like this and besides it isn’t true.” Phil and Joe were worried that their Washington careers were over so they went to see Bob Nathan, director of research at the Office of Production Management and learned that U.S. production of bombers was even worse than they had thought.
That same summer, on a Sunday afternoon, Phil and Katherine went for lunch at the Virginia log cabin owned by Burling. Also present was Robert Patterson, the Undersecretary of War, and according to Katherine’s memoir, “the arguments on preparedness were being waged at the top of everyone’s lungs. Of course, I worried that Patterson was unused to this mode of discourse and would think that everyone arguing was insane, and when we got home I told Phil that their manners in front of this august figure had been appalling.” (Emphasis added.) Whose manners was she referencing? The Burlings? Everyone at the gathering except for Mr. Patterson?
Personal Involvement with Mr. Burling
In the Fall of 1959 while attending the Washington Semester at American University I called Mr. Burling to thank him for his generous donation to Grinnell College for its new library that is named in honor of his mother. At his invitation, I joined him at his law firm for an enjoyable conversation over coffee and then after being picked up by his personal chauffeur, at his Cabin on a Sunday afternoon. Little did I know at the time that such a Sunday afternoon had become a famous Washington institution. I do not recall our conversations other than my talking about my studies at Grinnell and AU, but I do remember how Burling, then 89 years old and clad in a wool plaid shirt, vigorously chopped wood on a beautiful fall afternoon. (Now I wish I had been journaling to document these meetings.)
On October 3, 1996, Edward B. Burling died at age 96 in Washington Hospital Center. According to an editorial in his honor in the Post that Graham may have helped write, Burling’s “greatest diversion was a primitive log cabin that he built some 40 years ago on the shore of the Potomac near McLean. During the ‘30s and ‘40’s the cabin served as a meeting place for scores of scholars and diplomats and leaders. ‘They would gather to chop wood, eat well, and settle the problems of the world,’” said one of his law partners.
His obituary in the Post also mentioned that his introduction to politics came when he sat on a rafter at the 1896 Chicago convention of the Democratic Party and heard William Jennings Bryan deliver his famous “Cross of Gold” speech. Later Burling supported Teddy Roosevelt’s presidential candidacy in 1912 for the Progressive Party (a/k/a the Bull Moose Party), and subsequently Burling often described himself as the sole survivor of that Party. A few months after the end of World War I, Burling co-founded what became the prominent Covington & Burling (“C&B”) law firm (n/k/a Covington). He strongly opposed FDR’s New Deal and often joked that the law firm’s success was due to those measures. He was a lifelong Republican yet was a strong supporter of Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election against Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee.
The very unusual Post editorial about Burling that was simply entitled “Edward B. Burling” said he was the city’s “grand old man of the law [who from] the days when he was graduated from Harvard Law School in 1894, with one of the best records ever made there, he had been an outstanding legal scholar. And with the law as the base of his operations, he also exerted a substantial influence in the fields of business, government and community relations.”
The editorial also stated that at the C&B law firm the “scholarly and retiring Mr. Burling, who made a specialty of cultivating and training brilliant young lawyers, was chiefly responsible for keeping the firm’s performance at a high level of professional excellence.”
The Burling cabin captured further comment in the editorial. “For many years his cabin on the Potomac . . . was a center of cerebral ferment on Sunday afternoons. Following a morning tramp through the woods and a hearty meal he loved to join in lively debate with judges, lawyers, government officials and others in the quiet surroundings of ‘The Cabin.’ These sessions will long be remembered by a vast number of his associates and friends in high places.” The conclusion of the editorial stated, “His great achievement was not merely longevity, but a sustained flow of energy and ideas and a passionate interest in the problems of humanity. His monument is already built in the minds of his associates and in the annals of this world observation post.”
Inspired by my brief encounter with Mr. Burling, his generosity to our alma mater Grinnell College and my interest in history, I later conducted research about him and wrote his biographical sketch in The Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law (p. 85) and a short article about him for The Grinnell Magazine and a longer essay that is on file with the College’s Archives. These matters will be explored in subsequent posts.
 Obituary, Edward F. [sic] Burling, dies at 96; Founder of District Law Firm, Wash. Post, p. B4 (Oct. 4, 1966); Editorial, Edward B. Burling, Wash. Post (Oct. 5, 1966).
Edward Burnham Burling, Grinnell’s Quiet Benefactor, Grinnell Magazine, Summer 2009, at 21; Edward Burnham Burling, The College’s Quiet Benefactor (April 2008)( 18-page essay and bibliography; on file in Grinnell College’s Special Collections and Archives). The last of these has citations to the sources.
This year’s U.S. election re-emphasizes, for this blogger, the antiquated nature of the U.S. Constitution, especially the U.S. Senate.
Alec MacGillis, a government and politics reporter for ProPublica and the author of “The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell,” points out that Democratic voters are increasingly concentrated in certain cities and urban areas while the Constitution allocates two Senate seats to each state regardless of population. The juxtaposition of these phenomena “helps explain why the Democrats are perpetually struggling to hold a majority. The Democrats have long been at a disadvantage in the Senate, where the populous, urbanized states where Democrats prevail get the same two seats as the rural states where Republicans are stronger. The 20 states where Republicans hold both Senate seats have, on average, 5.2 million people each; the 16 states where the Democrats hold both seats average 7.9 million people. Put another way, winning Senate elections in states with a total of 126 million people has netted the Democrats eight fewer seats than the Republicans get from winning states with 104 million people.”
Nevertheless, Democrats are seeing signs that they may gain control of the Senate this election.
However, Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post columnist, points out that this control may last only two years. The reason? In the next election in 2018, 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for election are currently held by Democrats, and five of these Democratic seats are in states that then-Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried in 2012 (and even Trump is likely to carry on this year’s election): Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Three other Democratic seats are far from “safe” seats: Sen. Bill Nelson (Florida) Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin). The Republican seats up for election in 2018, on the other hand, look like difficult challenges for the Democrats.
These consequences of the current constitutional structure of the U.S. Senate suggest, as argued in a prior post, “that the U.S. Senate in particular needs radical reform if we are to retain a bicameral national legislature. To require 60% of the Senators to agree in order to do almost anything [due to the filibuster rule,] for me, is outrageous. It should only be 51% for most issues. This deficiency is exacerbated by the fact that each state has two and only two Senators regardless of the state’s population. Yes, this was part of the original grand and anti-democratic compromise in the late 18th century when there were 13 states. But the expansion of the union to 50 states has made the Senate even more anti-democratic.” 
Since “I believe that it would not be wise to increase the size of the Senate to reflect the population of the states (like the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives) and that each state should continue to have two Senators in a bicameral upper house, I suggest for discussion that there be weighted voting in the Senate. Each Senator from Wyoming (the least populous state in 2010 with 564,000) would have 1 vote, for example, but each Senator from California (the most populous state in 2010 with 37,254,000) would have 66 votes (37254/564 = 66.05). This approach would produce a total Senate vote of 1,094 (total U.S. population in 2010 of 308,746,000 divided by 564,000 (population of Wyoming) = 547 x 2 = 1094). The weightings would be changed every 10 years with the new census population figures.”
Such changes would aid the U.S. government in addressing the many problems facing the nation, instead of the continuation of the gridlock that has helped to prevent progress on these many problems.
The major event of the first day (April 16) of the four-day Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba was the two-hour, live televised address by Raúl Castro, the First Secretary of its Central Committee (and also President and General of the Army). Most of this address concerned the country’s internal socio-economic and other issues, which will be covered in a subsequent post, while a prior post provided an overview of the Congress. This post will focus on his discussion of Cuba-U.S. relations. Here is what he had to say on that subject near the end of the speech along with this blogger’s reactions.
“Fifteen months have transpired since we announced, simultaneously with President Barack Obama, the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, on the basis of sovereign equality, non-interference in domestic affairs, and absolute respect for our independence. Hours before this speech, Fidel’s promise to the Cuban people was kept, with the completion of the return to the homeland of the Cuban Five.”
“We have reached this point thanks to the heroic resistance and sacrifice of the Cuban people, and their loyalty to the Revolution’s ideals and principles, supported by decisive international solidarity, made clear in multiple events and international organizations, in particular the overwhelming votes in the United Nations General Assembly against the blockade.”
“The political map of Our America had changed, given the advance of political forces on the left and popular movements, which contributed to progress in regional integration, symbolized by the constituting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), in December of 2011.”
“All of this placed the [U.S.] in an untenable situation of isolation within the hemisphere, and put the so-called inter-American system in crisis, as was made evident by the demand to end the blockade and opposition to the exclusion of Cuba from the 6th Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, in 2012.”
“On the other hand, changes have been occurring in U.S. society, and in the Cuban émigré community, in favor of the modification of the [U.S.’] policy toward Cuba.”
“In April of last year, we attended the 7th Summit of the Americas in Panama, with our heads held high. . . .”
“Throughout the period . . . since December of 2014, concrete results have been achieved in the dialogue and in cooperation between Cuba and the [U.S.] Nevertheless, the economic, commercial and financial blockade, imposed more than half a century ago, remains in force, with unquestionably intimidating, extraterritorial effects, although we recognize the position taken by President Obama and high-ranking administration officials against the blockade, and their repeated appeals to Congress in the interest of eliminating it.”
“The measures announced prior to [President Obama’s] visit to Havana, to introduce some modifications in the blockade’s implementation, on the basis of his executive powers, are positive but insufficient.”
“As we expressed in the meeting between the two Presidents with the press, to advance toward normalization of relations, it is imperative to eliminate the blockade, which causes our population hardship and constitutes the principal obstacle to economic development of the country; and return the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base against the will of the Cuban government and people.”
“Likewise, [U.S.] programs directed toward changing the political, economic and social system, which we have chosen sovereignly, must be ended, along with other damaging policies still in effect.”
U.S. immigration “policy continues to be used as a weapon against the Revolution. The Cuban Adjustment Law, the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, and the Parole program for Cuban medical professionals remain in effect, to encourage illegal and unsafe emigration, and seeking to deprive us of qualified personnel.”
“These practices do not reflect the stated change of policy toward Cuba, and generate difficulties for third countries.”
“There are more than a few U.S. government officials who upon recognizing the failure of their policy toward Cuba, make no attempt to disguise their affirmations that the goals remain the same, only the means are being modified.”
“We are willing to carry out a respectful dialogue and construct a new type of relationship with the [U.S.], one which has never existed between the two countries, because we are convinced that this alone could produce mutual benefits.”
“However, it is imperative to reiterate that no one should assume that to achieve this Cuba must renounce the Revolution’s principles, or make concessions to the detriment of its sovereignty and independence, or forego the defense of its ideals or the exercise of its foreign policy – committed to just causes, the defense of self-determination, and our traditional support to sister countries.”
“As the Constitution of the Republic stipulates, ‘Economic, diplomatic or political relations with any other state can never be negotiated under aggression, threats, or coercion by a foreign power.’”
“The road to normalization of bilateral ties is long and complex, and we will advance to the extent we are capable of putting into practice the art of civilized coexistence, or in other words, accept and respect our differences which are, and will be, profound; not making them the center of our relations, but rather concentrating on what brings us closer and not what separates us, promoting what is beneficial to both countries.”
“Relations with the [U.S.] have historically represented a challenge for Cuba, given their permanent pretension of exercising domination over our nation, and the determination of Cubans to be free and independent, regardless of the dangers to be faced, or the price we would have to pay.”
“The people’s unity with the Party, its profound patriotism and political culture, which have allowed us to confront the policy of aggression and hostility, will serve as a shield to defeat any attempt to undermine the revolutionary spirit of Cubans. This will be a challenge, especially for the youngest, who the Party recognizes as the continuators of the Revolution’s work and of the patriotic convictions of their grandparents and parents.”
Castro then launched into a defense of its Latin American allies against an unnamed foe (the U.S.):
“Latin America and the Caribbean find themselves experiencing the effects of a strong, articulated counteroffensive, on the part of imperialism and oligarchies, against revolutionary and progressive governments, in a difficult context marked by the deceleration of the economy, which has negatively impacted the continuity of policies directed toward development and social inclusion, and the conquests won by popular sectors.”
“This reactionary attack uses methods and technologies specific to the new doctrine of unconventional war, especially in the area of communications and culture, without ruling out attempts at destabilization and coups.”
“This policy is principally directed toward the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and has been intensified in recent months in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil, as well as Nicaragua and El Salvador.”
“Recent setbacks for governments of the left in the hemisphere are being used to announce the end of a progressive historical cycle, opening the way for the return of neoliberalism and demoralization of political forces and parties, social movements and working classes, which we must confront with more unity and increased articulation of revolutionary action.”
“We hold the firm conviction that the Venezuelan people will defend the legacy of our beloved compañero Hugo Chávez Frías, and prevent the dismantling of the accomplishments achieved. To the Bolivarian and Chavista Revolution, to President Maduro and his government, and to the civic-military union of the Venezuelan people, we reiterate our solidarity, our commitment, and energetic rejection of efforts to isolate Venezuela while dialoging with Cuba.”
“We demand that the sovereignty and independence of states be respected, and that interference in domestic affairs cease. At the same time, we reaffirm our firm support to all revolutionary and progressive governments, headed by prestigious leaders, whose economic and social policies have led to justice, dignity, sovereignty, and tangible benefits for the great majority, in the world’s most unequal region.”
“Also being renewed are efforts by the [U.S.] and their allies to undermine unity and the process of regional integration, frustrate the advance of CELAC, ALBA, UNASUR, and others, through a supposed reform of the inter-American system, in particular the OAS, attempting to promote the leading role of other schemes more compatible with their hegemonic interests.”
“We will never forget that the OAS – the Organization of American States – founded by the [U.S.]during the second half of the past century, at the beginning of the Cold War, has only served interests which contradict those of Our America. This organization, rightly described as the “Ministry of colonies” of the [U.S.] by the Foreign Minister of Dignity, compañero Raúl Roa García, was the one that sanctioned Cuba, and was ready to offer support and recognition to a puppet government, if the mercenary invasion at Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs] had been successful. The list of actions it took against the nascent Cuban Revolution, and other revolutionary and progressive governments, is interminable.”
Cuba’s diatribe against the U.S. was broadened to include the rest of the world with this statement by Castro: “Increasingly more serious are threats to international peace and security, as a result of U.S. imperialism’s attempts to impose its hegemonic position in the face of changes in the world’s equilibrium, and of the philosophy of usurpation and control of strategic natural resources, made evident by the increasingly offensive and aggressive military doctrine of NATO; the proliferation of non-conventional wars under the pretext of fighting “international terrorism;” the sharpening of differences with Russia and China; and the danger of a war in the Middle East of incalculable dimensions.”
Earlier in the address, Castro sought to rebut U.S. complaints about Cuban human rights with these words: Cuba is a party to 44 international treaties on human rights while the U.S. is only party to 18. Moreover, “equal pay for equal work, whether for a man or woman, is a human right [in Cuba]. In other countries, including the [U.S., it is not, women earn less and thus dozens of supposed human rights can be cited. Free medical care in Cuba is a human right. In many other countries, this is not a human right, it is a business. In our country, education is free, in how many countries of the world is education free? It’s a business, too. That is, we will discuss this issue of human rights with anyone and anywhere whatsoever, and we will recognize those who are in the right.”
Raúl then made a joke about political rights. “When they say to me that in Cuba there is only one party. And I answer them, ‘Yes, like you, you have a single party,’ and the North Americans answer me: “No, we have two.” And as if I did not know, they tell me their names, ‘Democratic and Republican.’ ‘Correct, that’s right, it’s the same as if we were to have two parties in Cuba, Fidel would head one and I the other.’”
Given the prior public positions of the Cuban government, Castro did not say anything new on the subject of Cuba-U.S. relations. As expressed in many earlier posts, I agree that the U.S. should end its embargo of Cuba, its special immigration policies regarding Cubans and its covert or “discreet” programs purportedly promoting democracy in Cuba.
I also recognize that Cuba repeatedly has alleged that the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo Bay is illegal, but saying so does not make it so, and this blog has suggested that the dispute on this issue is unlikely to be resolved in discussions and negotiations, but instead should be submitted for resolution to an independent court like the International Court of Arbitration at the Hague along with any damage claims asserted by Cuba with respect to the embargo.
Another point of disagreement with Castro is his assertion that the U.S. goal of Cuban regime change is the same, but that the means have changed. Yes, the U.S. vigorously advocates for the right of Cubans to elect their leaders by popular vote, for the right of Cubans to protest and demonstrate against the government and to express their opinions without arrest and arbitrary detention and for the empowerment of Cubans to engage in self-employment and business. If they had such rights, that might lead to changes in the Cuban economy and government, but those changes would be chosen by the Cuban people, not imposed upon them by the U.S.
 Earlier in the speech Castro said, “Illegal and disorderly emigration of youth and specialists from various sectors is encouraged under the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “wet foot-dry foot” policy and the Parole Program, that is, permission to reside in the United States, granted with absolute speed, for our doctors, who provide services abroad.”
In light of President Barack Obama’s historic December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement with Cuba, it is interesting to examine Obama’s earlier statements about Cuba. Prior posts examined his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007-2008; his campaign for the presidency as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2008; and his first presidential term, 2009-2013. Now we examine his presidential reelection campaign of 2012. A subsequent post will examine his second presidential term (up to the December 17, 2014, announcement), 2013-2014.
On April 4, 2011, Obama had an unusual way of formally announcing he would be running for reelection in 2012. He did so with an understated two-minute Internet video titled “It Begins With Us,” which features his supporters talking about the need to re-elect him and in which he does not appear. No mention of Cuba was made.
As the incumbent president, Obama secured the Democratic nomination with no serious opposition at its national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. On September 5, 2012, he was re-nominated, and the following night he accepted the nomination. In his acceptance speech he said the election “will be a choice between two different paths for America, a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future. Ours is a fight to restore the values that built the largest middle class and the strongest economy the world has ever known.”
Obama in his acceptance speech asked all citizens “to rally around a set of goals for your country, goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security and the deficit, real, achievable plans that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation. That’s what we can do in the next four years, and that is why I am running for a second term as president of the United State.” Obama also talked about various problems around the world, but made no mention of Cuba.
His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, previously had been nominated at its national convention on August 28 with his acceptance on August 30.
The campaigns focused heavily on domestic issues: debate centered largely around sound responses to the Great Recession in terms of economic recovery and job creation. Other issues included long-term federal budget issues, the future of social insurance programs, and the Affordable Care Act. Foreign policy was also discussed including the phase-out of the Iraq War, the size of and spending on the military, preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and appropriate counteractions to terrorism.
The two main presidential candidates held three debates, all in October (3rd, 16th and 22nd).
In the first debate on October 3 the candidates “quarreled aggressively over tax policy, the budget deficit and the role of government, with each man accusing the other of being evasive and misleading voters.” Romney, for example, accused Obama of failing to lead the country out of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930’s while Obama implored Americans to be patient. On a basic level it was a clash of two ideologies, the president’s Democratic vision of government playing a supporting role in spurring economic growth, and Mr. Romney’s Republican vision that government should get out of the way of businesses that know best how to create jobs.” There was practically no mention of foreign issues, and not a word about Cuba.
The second debate on October 16 again dealt primarily with domestic affairs, including taxes, unemployment, job creation, the national debt, energy and energy independence, women’s rights and immigration. But this debate also touched on foreign policy, especially the then recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Again, no mention of Cuba.
The last debate on October 22 was to be devoted to foreign policy, and it did have discussions about the attack on Benghazi, Iran’s nuclear program, the Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war, relations with Israel and Pakistan, the War on Terror, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the size and scope of the U.S. military, and relations and trade with China. There also were further comments about domestic policy issues, such as job creation, the federal deficit and education. Again, there was no mention of Cuba.
On November 6, 2012, Obama was re-elected for his second term as President of the United States. He won 65,916,000 popular votes (51.1%) and 332 electoral votes to Romney/Ryan’s 60,934,000 (47.2%) and 206 electoral votes. Nationally the Democratic ticket overwhelmingly won the Hispanic vote, 71% to 27% for the Republicans. Obama and Biden also won the key state of Florida, 50.0% versus 49.1% for Romney and Ryan, with nearly 50% of the state’s Cuban-Americans going for the Obama ticket.
In his victory speech in Chicago, President Obama proclaimed, “Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.”
Unless it was due to my limited research, there was no mention of U.S. policy regarding Cuba during this presidential election. This is not too surprising in light of the primacy of domestic economic issues in 2012, the problems in the Middle East and the Administration’s apparent lack of attention to Cuba since Cuba’s arrest of Alan Gross in December 2009 and its subsequent conviction and imprisonment of Gross.
In light of President Barack Obama’s historic December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement with Cuba, it is interesting to examine Obama’s earlier statements about Cuba. A prior post examined his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007-2008. This post will discuss his campaign for the presidency as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2008. Future posts sill look at his first presidential term (including his 2012 presidential election campaign), 2009-2013; and his second presidential term (up to the December 17, 2014, announcement), 2013-2014.
Remember, as discussed in a prior post, that on August 28, 2008, Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. A week later (September 4th) Senator John McCain accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.
In the next two months leading to the presidential election on November 4th, the two candidates met in three debates on September 26 and October 7 and 15.
The New York Times thought the first debate on September 26 “was generally a relief from the campaign’s nastiness. Both John McCain and Barack Obama worked to strike a more civil and substantive tone. And Americans could see some differences between the candidates on correcting the regulatory disasters that led to the Wall Street crisis, on how to address the country’s grim fiscal problems and on national security. There were also differences in the candidates themselves. Mr. McCain fumbled his way through the economic portion of the debate, while Mr. Obama seemed clear and confident. Mr. McCain was more fluent on foreign affairs, and scored points by repeatedly calling Mr. Obama naïve and inexperienced.” However, there was no discussion about Cuba.
During the second debate on October 7 McCain criticized Obama for saying he would speak, without preconditions, to the leaders of countries like Pakistan (and presumably Cuba). McCain said he would deal with leaders of foes the way Theodore Roosevelt did: “talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly.” Again, no direct discussion about Cuba.
Throughout the last debate on October 15, reported the New York Times, “Mr. McCain offered voters what amounted to a reprise of all the attacks that have been lodged at Mr. Obama over the past year, by Mr. Obama’s Democratic and Republican opponents, Ms. Palin, Republican leaders and, at times, Mr. McCain.” But again no discussion about Cuba.
Moreover, said the Times, “the split-screen visual contrast [in the last debate] between the two men – Mr. McCain often appearing coiled and annoyed, Mr. Obama seeming at ease and smiling – was striking, and may not be what Mr. McCain was looking for a time when Mr. McCain’s favorable ratings have been falling, and when many voters say they think Mr. McCain is spending more time attacking than saying what he would do as president.”
On October 23, the New York Times endorsed Obama. It said, “After nearly two years of a grueling and ugly campaign, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has proved that he is the right choice to be the 44th president of the United States.” The only mention of Cuba in that editorial was this: “Both candidates have renounced torture and are committed to closing the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”
In the election on November 4, 2008, Barack Obama and Joe Biden obtained 69.5 million votes (52.9% of the total) while John McCain and Sarah Palin received 59.9 million votes (45.7%). In the key state of Florida, Obama-Biden had 51.0% of the popular vote against McCain-Palin’s 48.4%.The electoral votes were Obama and Biden, 365; McCain and Palin, 173.
In his victory speech to an open-air crowd of thousands at Chicago’s Grant Park,Obama siad, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” He went on, “I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.” His conclusion was the following: “This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can.”
After Obama and Joe Biden won the November 2008 election, several head of states congratulated Obama while also calling for the U.S. to end its sanctions against Cuba.
In contrast with the campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, there was practically no mention of Cuba or of Obama’s proposed policies regarding that nation in the presidential race. Surprisingly the emphasis in the nomination campaign on Obama’s willingness to meet, without preconditions, leaders of states like Cuba almost disappeared in the campaign for the presidency.
In light of President Barack Obama’s historic December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement with Cuba, it is interesting to examine Obama’s earlier statements about Cuba. This post will examine his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2007-2008. Future posts will look at his 2008 presidential campaign; his first presidential term (including his 2012 presidential election campaign), 2009-2013; and his second presidential term (up to the December 17, 2014, announcement), 2013-2014.
On February 10, 2007, at theI llinois State Capitol in Springfield Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Almost all of his speech was about domestic issues with the exception of his pledge to end the war in Iraq and “bring our combat troops home by March of 2008.” There was no mention of Cuba.
Later that month (February 2007) the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof asked Obama, “Is the [Cuba] embargo a failure?” Obama responded, “I think we’ve got a potential opportunity with Castro’s health waning to reopen the debate. We probably shouldn’t be overly optimistic that it’s going to change overnight. And I think it’s important that the United States isn’t too heavy-handed post-Castro in swooping [in] and suggesting that somehow Cuba’s going to change immediately. I do think that it opens up the conversation among not just the United States but among Cubans both in the U.S. and in Cuba about breaking down some of the restrictions on travel and commerce….I don’t think we automatically ease those restrictions simply because Castro has died. What I think is that with Castro’s death there are going to be a new set of players, I think it’s going to be important for us to do an entire reevaluation of our strategy towards Cuba. And I think the aim should be to create a more open relationship….But that is still going to be contingent on having some desire on the part of the Cuban government to initiate that process as well.”
In the CNN/YouTube debate with Hillary Clinton in July 2007, Obama was asked, “’Would you be willing to meet, separately, without preconditions, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?” Obama replied, ‘I would,’ and added that it was a “disgrace that the Bush administration had refused on principle to do so.”
The Obama campaign team anticipated that the Clinton campaign would seize on Obama’s willingness to meet, without preconditions, with leaders of so-called rouge regimes. Obama, however, welcomed this attack and told his aides “we will not back down on this one bit.” This position was supported by polling in Iowa, the early caucus state, and showed that Obama represented change and Hillary did not.
Indeed, as anticipated, immediately after the debate, Hillary Clinton charged that Obama was too soft on talking with such countries. The Obama campaign responded that Mr. Obama would pursue “tough diplomacy,” but also use carrots like leader-to-leader talks.”
On August 21, 2007, Obama wrote an op-ed article in the Miami Herald “calling for ‘unrestricted rights’ for Cuban Americans to visit and send money to family in Cuba.” The following Saturday he campaigned in Miami’s Little Havana and told the crowd at a rally, “We’ve been engaged in a failed policy with Cuba for the last 50 years, and we need to change it.” He went on to promise to end restrictions on remittances and family travel for Cuban-Americans, to revive “people-to-people” educational and cultural exchanges and to engage Cuba on issues of mutual interest. Such engagement, he said, offered the best hope for promoting “a democratic opening in Cuba,” which is the “foremost objective of [U.S.] policy.”
At a December 1, 2007, televised Iowa debate among the Democratic candidates for their presidential nomination, Obama agreed with Mrs. Clinton, John Edwards and Joe Biden that the U.S. should not normalize relations with Cuba while Fidel Castro was still in power. Only Christopher Dodd and Dennis Kucinich were in favor of working for change with Fidel.
On February 19, 2008, the outside world provided a new circumstance for the candidates to react to. Fidel Castro resigned as President of Cuba due to poor health, and his brother, Raúl Castro, became Acting President and five days later (February 24, 2008) the President upon election by Cuba’s National Assembly.
In the meantime in a February 21, 2008 debate with Hillary Clinton in Austin, Texas, Obama made extensive comments about the U.S. and Cuba. He said, “The starting point for our policy in Cuba should be the liberty of the Cuban people. And I think we recognize that that liberty has not existed throughout the Castro regime. And we now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the United States and Cuba, after over half a century. I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda and . . . that [the] agenda [included] human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time.” His other points about Cuba were the following:
More generally “it is important for the United States not just to talk to its friends but also to talk to its enemies. In fact, that’s where diplomacy makes the biggest difference.”
“One other thing that I’ve said as a show of good faith, that we’re interested in pursuing potentially a new relationship, what I’ve called for is a loosening of the restrictions on remittances from family members to the people of Cuba as well as travel restrictions for family members who want to visit their family members in Cuba. And I think that initiating that change in policy as a start and then suggesting that an agenda get set up is something that could be useful, but I would not normalize relations until we started seeing some of the progress that Senator Clinton talked about.”
When challenged that he had had a different position on Cuba in 2003, Obama responded, “I support the eventual normalization [with Cuba], and it’s absolutely true that I think our [Cuba] policy has been a failure. . . . [D]uring my entire lifetime . . . you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba. So I think that we have to shift policy. I think our goal has to be ultimately normalization, but that’s going to happen in steps.”
“[T]he first step . . . is changing our rules with respect to remittances and with respect to travel. And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. [As] John F. Kennedy once said, . . . we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down, . . . is one that we should try to take advantage of.”
Immediately after this Democratic candidates debate, Senator John McCain, then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, jumped in with his criticism of Obama. McCain said, “Not so long go Senator Obama favored complete normalization of relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Last night, he said that as president he’d meet with the imprisoned island’s new leader ‘without preconditions.’ So Raul Castro gets an audience with an American president, and all the prestige such a meeting confers, without having to release political prisoners, allow free media, political parties, and labor unions, or schedule internationally monitored free elections. Instead, Senator Obama says he would meet Cuba’s dictator without any such steps in the hope that talk will make things better for Cuba’s oppressed people. Meet, talk, and hope may be a sound approach in a state legislature, but it is dangerously naive in international diplomacy where the oppressed look to America for hope and adversaries wish us ill.”
Obama’s campaign promptly retorted, ““John McCain would give us four more years of the same Bush-McCain policies that have failed U.S. interests and the Cuban people for the last fifty years. My policy will be based on the principle of liberty for the Cuban people, and I will seek that goal through strong and direct presidential diplomacy, and an immediate change in policy to allow for unlimited family visitation and remittances to the island. In November, the American people will have a clear choice: a new direction versus more war in Iraq, more not talking to leaders we don’t like, and more of a Cuba policy that has failed to achieve freedom for the Cuban people. I am confident that the American people will choose the promise of the future over the failed policies and predictable political attacks of the past.”
President George W. Bush echoed some of McCain’s criticisms of Obama at a February 28, 2008 press conference. Bush called Cuba’s new President, Rául Castro, a “tyrant,” who was “nothing more than an extension of what his brother [Fidel] did, which was to ruin an island, and imprison people because of their beliefs.” Bush also rejected Obama’s willingness to meet with the new Cuban leader because it would “send the wrong message. It’ll send a discouraging message to those who wonder if America will continue to work for the freedom of prisoners, it’ll give great status to those who have suppressed human rights and human dignity.”
John McCain continued his criticism of Obama’s stance on Cuba on March 6, 2008. According to McCain, he would meet with Cuban leaders “as soon as the political prisoners are free … and free elections have been held. Then I would sit down with any freely elected president or leader of Cuba. But until that day came I would not in any way, as Senator Obama wants to do, legitimize an individual who has been responsible for education, repression, political prisons and a gulag. I don’t think that it would be appropriate to legitimize someone like Raul Castro by quote, sitting down with him. And under no circumstance would I do it.’’
On May 20, 2008, this line of criticism was reiterated by McCain. At a rally in Miami, he said, “Now Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting [it]. He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba’s dictators — there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in U.S. policy.”
Responding from a campaign stop in Oregon the next day (May 21, 2008), Obama said, “with Fidel Castro stepping down from the presidency” and his brother Raul now in that post, “I think it’s a good time for us to reassess our Cuba policy. Cuba is a dictatorship that does not respect human rights or the free exercise of religion.” On the other hand, Obama argued, “our Cuba policy was shaped when I was born and basically hasn’t changed for 46 years.” Since that policy of political and economic isolation “hasn’t worked,” he added, it is now time to “try different things.” Mr. Obama spoke of the possibility of normalizing relations with Cuba if diplomatic contacts prove fruitful. But he also argued that “it is important to send some signals right now,” recognizing that “our relationship may be at a moment of transition right now.” In particular, Mr. Obama indicated that he favors lifting restrictions both on visits by Cuban-Americans to their families on the island and on the money they send back to those relatives.
Two days later (May 23, 2008) Obama appeared in Miami before the Cuban American National Foundation, the most prominent of the anti-Castro Cuban exile groups. Obama said he would meet with the Cuban leader, Rául Castro, “at a time and place of my choosing.” After eight years of the disastrous policies of George Bush, “it is time to pursue direct diplomacy, with friend and foe alike, without preconditions.” Obama also said that if elected president he would immediately lift the bans on family travel to Cuba and the limits on how much money people can send to their relatives in the communist nation. But he “will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations.”
Three months later, August 25 to 28, the Democratic Party held its National Convention in Denver, Colorado, where it adopted its national platform and officially nominated its candidates for President and Vice President. Obama was nominated on August 27, when his former opponent, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, interrupted the official roll call to move that Obama be selected by acclamation. U.S. Senator Joe Biden also was nominated for Vice President that same night, following which he accepted the nomination.
On August 28 Obama accepted his nomination in a speech at INVESCO Field before a record-setting crowd of 84,000 people in attendance plus additional millions on national and international television. The speech concentrated on his visions for the future of the U.S. economy and better lives. He did not mention Cuba or any other foreign policy issue other than his promise to end the war in Iraq.
Obama in his campaign for the nomination consistently asserted that he favored discussions or negotiations with Cuba and other rogue states “without preconditions.” That, in fact, is what he did in the 2013-2014 secret negotiations with Cuba that led to the December 17, 2014, announcement of rapprochement with Cuba.
This campaign position was based upon the assumption that the nearly 50-years of U.S. policy regarding Cuba was a failure and needed to be changed. This, in fact, is what he said in the December 17th announcement and the July 1st announcement of re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
In this campaign Obama advocated liberalizing U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba and U.S. citizens’ remittances to Cubans. This, in fact, is what he did in early 2009 and in 2014.
Obama in this campaign also talked about the importance of the U.S. pressing Cuba on human rights, releasing of political prisoners and opening up the Cuban press. This, in fact, since December 17 these subjects are being discussed with Cuba.
There, however, was one discordant note in this campaign. On May 23, 2008, Obama said he would maintain the embargo whereas in the December 17, 2014, announcement he called for Congress to end the embargo.
 This post and the subsequent posts about Obama’s prior statements about Cuba are not based upon comprehensive research. The primary research tool was online searching of the New York Times for articles mentioning “Obama and Cuba” for the relevant time period. Therefore, this blogger especially welcomes comments with corrections and additions.
At the invitation of John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to give a speech to the U.S. Congress regarding sanctions on Iran. Apparently this plan was suggested by Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., who once worked for a Republican pollster in Florida and who is a confident of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire GOP donor. 
This was done without the prior knowledge and approval of the Obama Administration which under the U.S. Constitution is in charge of foreign affairs. In response the White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, said that the planned speech was “a departure from protocol [as] such invitations are usually made leader to leader” and that Obama would not meet with Netanyahu while he was in the U.S.
An unnamed U.S. official was more outspoken. He or she said this “is not the way people act. It is unprecedented. It is barbaric behaviour. It is so impolite it is disgraceful.” Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, said it showed Netanyahu’s contempt for Obama and threatened U.S. bipartisan understanding and support for Israel. Cohen sarcastically said he would not be surprised to see Netanyahu as a delegate at the Republican Party’s 2016 national convention.
U.S. criticism is also directed at Ambassador Dermer. A senior Obama administration official said the Ambassador had “repeatedly placed Mr. Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the U.S.”
Netanyahu is in the midst of an election campaign in Israel and undoubtedly saw the speech as bolstering his status as an international statesman. But instead it has prompted severe criticism in his country. His former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, who is running for the country’s parliament, called on Netanyahu to cancel the speech, and Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief, denounced the plan as “irresponsible.” An Israeli professor specializing in Israeli-American relations, said, “It’s a huge miscalculation. People are now questioning [Netanyahu’s] judgment.”
The controversy also apparently is bolstering support for Obama’s Iran policies from at least the Democrats in Congress
Finally the forceful criticism of the planned Netanyahu speech shows the validity of a prior post’s description of the Cuban government’s unhappiness with the recent meeting in Havana with Cuban dissidents by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and with the USAID covert or “discreet” programs on the island purportedly to promote democracy and human rights.
 This post is based upon Zogby, Boehner, Netanyahu outsmarted themselves, Chicago Trib. (Jan. 26, 2015); Cohen, Netanyahu’s Contempt for President Obama, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2015); Bernstein, Is Netanyahu’s address to Congress unconstitutional?, Wash. Post (Jan. 26, 2015); Rudoren, Israeli Opposition Takes Aim at Netanyahu Over Planned Speech to Congress, N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2015); Peters, G.O.P.’s Invitation to Netanyahu Is Aiding Obama’s Cause on Iran, N.Y. Times (Jan. 29, 2015); Davis, White House’s Dismay Over Netanyahu’s Visit Extends to Ambassador, N.Y. Times (Jan. 29, 2015); Hulse & Peters, Netanyahu Is Talking to Leading Democrats to Little Effect So Far, N.Y. Times (Jan. 30, 2015); Robinson, Boehner’s Invitation to Netanyahu backfires on them both, Wash. Post (Jan. 29, 2015); Kagan, Five reasons Netanyahu should not address Congress, Wash. Post (Jan. 29, 2015).