Saturday, April 25, 2009
We View the [Bush] Policy as Having Failed
From the NYT, HT: Donna Doleman
Clinton Scores Points [with the whackos of the world] by Admitting Past U.S. Errors
Kena Betancur/Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke during a press conference in Santo Domingo, on Friday.
By MARK LANDLER
Published: April 17, 2009
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — It has become a recurring theme of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s early travels as the chief diplomat of the United States: she says that American policy on a given issue has failed, and her foreign listeners fall all over themselves in gratitude.
On Friday, Mrs. Clinton said here that the uncompromising policy of the Bush administration toward Cuba had not worked. That, she said, is why President Obama decided earlier this week to lift restrictions on travel and financial transfers for United States residents with relatives in Cuba.
“We are continuing to look for productive ways forward, because we view the present policy as having failed,” Mrs. Clinton said at a news conference in this sun-dappled capital, hours before flying to join Mr. Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
The contrition tour goes beyond Latin America. In China, Mrs. Clinton told audiences that the United States must accept its responsibility as a leading emitter of greenhouse gases. In Indonesia, she said the American-backed policy of sanctions against Myanmar had not been effective. And in the Middle East, she pointed out that ostracizing the Iranian government had not persuaded it to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Like other leaders around the world, Mrs. Clinton’s host, the president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández, responded effusively on Friday, hailing the secretary and her boss, Mr. Obama, for their view on Cuban policy, which he said took “great courage” and could utterly transform the political landscape of Latin America.
“President Obama is paving a new road,” he said. “It is recognition of the fact that previous policies have failed. Fifty years of a policy that has not generated the originally sought purposes can be called a failure.”
In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s aides clarified, she was not condemning the half-century-old trade embargo against Cuba, which the Obama administration has not yet agreed to lift. Rather, her reference was to the strict travel and financial restrictions imposed by the Bush administration.
But it hardly seemed to matter. For a senior American official — someone who almost became president — to declare that the United States had erred, makes a major impact on foreign audiences.
Mrs. Clinton drew a similarly gratified response when she said in Mexico recently that the huge American appetite for drugs was fueling the booming narcotics trade in that country and elsewhere in the region.
She repeated that message in the Dominican Republic on Friday, telling a questioner at a town hall meeting here, “We acknowledge we have a responsibility, and we have to act in concert with you.”
Regret is a new role for Mrs. Clinton, but one that she has had plenty of opportunity to observe up close. On a single trip to Africa in 1998 her husband, former President Bill Clinton, apologized for American participation in slavery; American support of brutal African dictators; American “neglect and ignorance” of Africa; American failure to intervene sooner in the Rwandan genocide of 1994; American “complicity” in apartheid; and even for a failure that occurred far from Africa — America’s slow response to the bloodshed in Bosnia.
In most cases, Mrs. Clinton has been simply disavowing a policy of the Bush White House — something she did with zeal as a Democratic candidate. But the words carry much more weight overseas. And there is some evidence that these gestures are starting to register.
On Friday, Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro, welcomed the administration’s easing of travel restrictions, saying he was open to dialogue with the United States on a full range of topics, including human rights and the release of political prisoners — something Mrs. Clinton had demanded a day earlier.
“We have seen Raúl Castro’s comments and we welcome this overture,” she said. “We are taking a very serious look at it, and we will consider how we intend to respond.”
Last week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, softened his tone against the United States, suggesting that Iran would make a new offer to the West on its nuclear program.
There are holdouts, of course: North Korea has greeted the Obama administration by testing a missile, ratcheting up its language and threatening to pull out of multiparty talks on its nuclear program. Mrs. Clinton, in turn, has had few warm words for North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il.
But in many countries, her statements have elicited an almost palpable sense of relief. And she suggested that the Obama administration’s drive for warmer relations with old foes was just getting started.
Asked whether the United States would build bridges to hostile Latin American leaders, like Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Mrs. Clinton said, “Let’s put ideology aside; that is so yesterday.”
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