Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said at tonight’s CNN debate in Austin that he would be willing to meet immediately with Cuba's new leader, Raul Castro. But Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said she would not.
In fact, Obama broadly extended his policy of being willing to meet with dictators without preconditions, while Clinton holds the more traditional position that a U.S. president should hold such negotiations only after extensive groundwork has been done.
“Not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally,” Obama said. “I recall what John F. Kennedy once said: We should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate.
In January 2004, he stated:
In 2003, when running for Senate in Illinois, Obama stated:
in 2003, while running for a Senate seat, Obama filled out a questionnaire saying he favored normalized relations with Cuba without any qualifiers.
His position was clear, honest, and fresh.
Now, when speaking before Cuban-Americans this week, Obama flipped his position. CBS reports:
Sen. Barack Obama, who once said he would meet Cuban leader Raul Castro without preconditions, added Friday he would do so "only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people."
Any meeting would occur "at a time and place of my choosing," the likely Democratic presidential nominee told an audience of Cuban-Americans that applauded his remarks.
He said he would maintain the existing trade embargo to use as leverage for winning Democratic change in the Communist island-nation.
TPM also raised the issue recently:
I asked a serious person, Susan Rice, what she thought of our US-Cuba policy on a recent Obama campaign conference call. I respect Rice who is on leave from Brookings now while advising the Obama campaign. However, her response on the embargo seemed the same kind of triangulation on the issue that a calculating political cynic might offer -- not a campaign ready to crash through cynicism and more optimistically rewire and redraw the lines of how we think about U.S. foreign policy challenges.
I asked Rice if Obama -- who has been the most progressive among the three standing presidential candidates on US-Cuba policy -- would at least go back to the 'status quo' during the Bush administration in 2003. Before Bush tightened up the noose on Cuban-American family travel, remittances, and other exchanges, there was quite a bit of "non-tourist" travel to Cuba -- usually for educational and cultural reasons.
Rice's response was "no." She said that those kinds of openings for non-tourist travel would depend on Cuba having "fair and free elections", releasing political prisoners, adherence to human rights conventions, and the like.
This is out of the playbook of Republican Congresspersons Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers of South Florida.
Now, what could be the reason for Obama's change in opinion, policy or principle? What is going through his mind that he would abandon a principled position so utterly and completely? From my perspective its political pandering pure and simple; the basest form of politics. After abandoning FL and its voters for months now, after repeatedly telling Floridians their votes don't count in the Democratic primary, Obama now must face his music and the facts: the fact that he needs FL in the fall if he is nominated; the fact that the voters in Florida do count and they do vote; the fact that now that he thinks he is getting close to nomination and a general election, he knows he must carry FL. And, he knows he needs the large Cuban-American population to do so. So, he abandons principle, and panders voters. The same pandering and the same old political nuance he claims to disdain.