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“A Different American President”: Willing To Leave The History In The Past And Actually Try To Get Something Done

As the Obama family continues their historic visit to Cuba, Jeffrey Goldberg relates a story from national security advisor Ben Rhodes that might have provided the moment that made the opening between our two countries possible.

“The president was going to the funeral of Nelson Mandela—his personal hero—and I remember on the plane to South Africa I raised with him—we had a list of the leaders who were going to be up on the dais where he’d be speaking—and one was Raul Castro, and I said, ‘Look, inevitably it is going to come up as to whether or not you shake his hand.’”

Obama’s response was not necessarily the response of a typical American president. According to Rhodes, Obama said, “‘Look, the Cubans, given their history with Mandela, with the ANC, they have a place at this event, and I’m not going to, essentially, cause an uncomfortable situation for the Mandela family, for the South African people, by snubbing the president of Cuba who has a right to be on that dais.’” The Cubans were early and ardent supporters of Mandela’s African National Congress party, and were also deeply engaged militarily across southern Africa…

Castro, Rhodes said, was a bit surprised, and perhaps somewhat moved. “What was interesting was, in our subsequent meetings with the Cubans, the atmosphere changed a bit, and the first thing they said to me in the next meeting was how much President Castro appreciated that President Obama had done that, and it kind of established a tone where they understood they were dealing with a different American president—one who is willing to leave the history in the past and actually try to get something done.”

This points to a moment when Cuba was actually on the right side of history while the United States – under President Reagan – was on the wrong side.

Reagan … embraced the South African Apartheid regime. He instituted a policy euphemized as “constructive engagement.” Reagan said that the United States lacked the power to change the internal workings of the Afrikaner government. Not only was the claim false, it contradicted his position on the far more powerful Soviet Union, which was designed precisely to change the evil empire’s internal behavior. Reagan put Mandela on the U.S. terrorist list, a placement that wasn’t removed until 2008, incredibly. This was at a time when the South African civil war was at its peak of violence, with the conflict becoming a global cause.

A young student attending Occidental College at the time was very aware of these events.

The young black university student who walked up to the microphone at an anti-apartheid rally in 1980 was, by his own admission, cynical about the virtues of political activism.

Barack Obama had spent his early years of college submerged in books by African American writers by the likes of James Baldwin, W E B Du Bois and Malcolm X, wrestling with his own mixed racial identity.

But it was the campaign for equality thousands of miles away in South Africa that first spurred Obama, then aged 19, into action: taking part in a divestment rally in his sophomore year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, one of hundreds of similar campaigns sweeping campuses across America.

And so it was thirty years later, on that day in December 2013, that these two leaders – who had very little in common other than their admiration for Nelson Mandela – shook hands and changed the trajectory of the relationship between our two countries. I suspect that Madiba would approve.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Cuba, Nelson Mandela, President Obama, Raul Castro | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Past Time For GOP To Stand Down”: Is The Benghazi Scandal Hunt Finally Over?

Is the Benghazi scandal hunt finally over? And if there’s no Benghazi scandal, could that actually mean that President Obama will reach the end of his eight years in office without an era-defining, presidency-threatening scandal on the order of Watergate or Iran-contra? To conservatives who have believed for the past two years that Benghazi would eventually show the world the true villainy of this president, this is a horrifying prospect, but it could come true.

You may have missed it in the traditional Friday news dump, but at the end of last week, the House Intelligence Committee – which, don’t forget, is run by Republicans – released a report that all but exonerated the Obama administration of having done anything, well, scandalous. “An investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has concluded that the CIA and U.S. military responded appropriately to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012,” The Post reported, “dismissing allegations that the Obama administration blocked rescue attempts during the assault or sought to mislead the public afterward.” It also found that while the talking points Susan Rice delivered in the wake of the attack were inaccurate, it was because of conflicting information coming in and not a scheme to hoodwink the public. All the conspiracy theories about a “stand-down order” and whatever else they’ve been talking about on Fox News were emphatically rejected.

On yesterday’s Sunday shows, some Republicans took the news better than others. “I thought for a long time that we ought to move beyond that,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on “Meet the Press.” But Lindsey Graham was mad as only Lindsey Graham can be. “I think the report is full of crap,” the senator from South Carolina said on CNN’s “State of the Union.””That’s a bunch of garbage. That’s a complete bunch of garbage.”

There may be no one who owes more to Benghazi than Graham, whose relentless condemnations of the administration on the issue managed to keep conservatives in South Carolina from getting too angry at him for voting for immigration reform. On this issue he has effectively channeled the right’s anger and its hope that the true scope of the scandal will be revealed any day now. Back in May, Graham proclaimed, “We now have the smoking gun” when decidedly mundane e-mails revealed that Ben Rhodes, the White House official whose job is to craft and disseminate spin on topics of national security, was in fact crafting and disseminating spin on Benghazi. A year before, Graham said, “I think the dam is about to break” on Benghazi revelations. No wonder he’s upset.

But as scandals go, Benghazi has been truly remarkable in the depths of triviality to which it sunk – which is perhaps understandable given how fruitless the search for official wrongdoing has been. To take just one example, there was actually a moment when people argued passionately about whether in the immediate aftermath Barack Obama referred to the attack as an “act of terror” or a “terrorist attack,” on the presumption that the former is weak and terrorist-coddling, while the latter is strong and terrorist-terrifying. That really happened. These days, the creation of misleading talking points is the worst crime with which Republicans can manage to charge the administration — not exactly the kind of thing that brings down a president.

Benghazi will be a vital part of the history of the Obama presidency, not for what it says about the administration but what it says about the administration’s opponents. After multiple investigations by multiple committees, endless hours of testimony, thousands of documents produced, and untold Fox News discussions (and it isn’t over yet; the select committee chaired by Trey Gowdy still has to have its say), nothing scandalous has actually been discovered. Yet the administration’s critics remain convinced that there is an awful truth somewhere waiting to be uncovered.

They felt the same way about Solyndra, and “Fast and Furious,” and the IRS. In every case the supposed scandal was greeted by Republicans with a quivering joy; they were sure the facts would be worse, and the wrongdoing reach higher, than anyone could imagine. And in every case, the more we learned, the less shocking things looked.

Like every administration, this one has had its share of screwups and missed opportunities. But it has been remarkably light on genuine scandal, the kind characterized by criminality and coverup. I’m sure there are few prospects more disturbing to conservatives than the idea that Obama may complete two terms without being laid low by a scandal. Many, if not most, on the right are convinced that he and his administration are deeply, fundamentally corrupt, and the fact that that corruption hasn’t been exposed may only be proof of just how diabolical Obama and his minions are.

But now the hour is growing late, and in the last two years of this administration there will be conflicts aplenty to occupy all of our time. For all the fulmination over the president’s immigration order, there are at least genuine issues there to be debated, issues of policy and presidential power. And the fights of the last two years are just beginning; we’ll be arguing about the budget and tax reform and health care and other issues that will arise, all while the 2016 presidential campaign is ramping up.

Benghazi is all but over, and with it the hopes of Republicans to drag Obama down into the quicksand of what they imagined would be his own wrongdoing and well-deserved ignominy. Like a lot of what Republicans have hoped for in the past few years, it just didn’t pan out. Some, like Lindsey Graham, will keep shaking their fists at the television cameras, insisting that the ghastly truth will become clear any day now. But the rest of the world will move on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, November 24, 2014

November 25, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Congress, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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