What was Obama taught about Cuba?
Barack Obama has moved to normalize relations with Cuba, which assumes, at some point, a lifting of the U.S. embargo. Liberals, of course, have supported lifting the embargo for years, hailing Cuba as a magical land of “free” healthcare and “world-class” education. The more interesting debate has been on the conservative and libertarian sides, where one can hear good arguments, pro and con.
I won’t lay out the arguments here, because I want to stick to Obama’s underlying thinking, but I would like to note this: Those who favor lifting the embargo insist that a subsequent explosion in new economic activity will change Cuba. And yet, in truth, throughout the 50-plus years of the embargo, virtually every country on the planet has permitted trade with Cuba. There is no product (tourists included) that Cubans can’t get elsewhere. Tragically, however, the Cuban dictatorship has funneled that money into imprisoning and persecuting dissidents, human-rights activists, religious believers, and (listen up, liberals) even homosexuals. They supported every Marxist guerrilla movement in the Western Hemisphere. When those funds didn’t go to those pernicious purposes, the Castro brothers put them in their own pockets. For decades, Fidel has been one of the world’s wealthiest leaders. Worse, he capped salaries for everyone else. All Cubans are paid exactly the same: teachers, doctors, baseball players, ditch diggers. They subsist on a few hundred dollars per year.
Countries that have normal relations with Cuba have subsidized this criminality. Their trade with Cuba changed nothing. America is not morally complicit in bankrolling the Castro tyranny.
The only reason to now consider normalization would be the removal or exit of the Castro brothers, which seems to be slowly in process. Normalization makes sense if it’s in preparation for that exit, which it can be hoped is coming soon.
Barack Obama says that the embargo has failed to remove the Castros and thus has been ineffective. Obama says the time has come to remove it.
But this has me wondering, asking a question I’m not hearing even among conservatives who begrudgingly think Obama is right on this one -- namely: Did Barack Obama ever support the embargo to begin with? Did he ever think it had a time and purpose?
I don’t have a complete, extended track record of Obama’s position over the decades, but I can say this: Obama was raised by people who were pro-communist. I’ve argued that Barack Obama is our first Red-Diaper Baby President. That sounds comical, but it really is true.
Obama’s mother and father met in the fall of 1960 in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaii. They were learning the tongue of the Motherland not to join the CIA to take on the Russkies as anti-communist patriots, but because they were enamored with communist systems. The child they conceived was born in August 1961, soon after the failed Bay of Pigs and shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis, where Fidel and Che Guevara actually favored launching nukes against the United States.
Probably the best insight into Obama’s parents comes from Sally Jacobs, the highly sympathetic biographer of Obama’s mother. Of the father, Jacobs notes, “Obama had an abiding interest in the Soviet Union.” Among those that Jacobs quotes is Naranhkiri Tith, son of the former prime minister of Cambodia. Tith was a classmate of Barack senior at Hawaii. The two had spirited debates over communism, an ideology that would ravage Tith’s native country.
“Obama and I were on opposite poles,” says Tith, today a professor at the prestigious Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “I did not believe communism could save the world. It was too good to be true and I gave examples of what I had seen. Obama senior was the opposite. He was always glorying about how communism had liberated Africa and Cuba. He had no idea what communism was all about. For him, communism was going to save the world.”
In his Introductory Russian class, the senior Obama found a receptive audience in the young Ann Dunham. As Sally Jacobs put it, Dunham was given to judgments like: “What was so good about democracy? What’s so bad about communism? And why was capitalism so great?”
Here is a telling incident involving Barack senior:
On May 13, 1962, Barack senior spoke at a Mother’s Day “peace rally” at Honolulu’s Ala Moana Park. He urged a reduction in U.S. military spending, precisely as the Soviet Union was installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. Joining Obama at the rally was Jack Hall, a good friend of Frank Marshall Davis (more on Davis below) and other organizers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), one of the worst pro-communist unions, run by international operative Harry Bridges. So proud is the ILWU of this piece of history that photos of the senior Obama at the rally are today posted at the website of Hawaii’s ILWU local 142.
As we know, Obama really never knew his father -- although (as Dinesh D’Souza points out), he titled his memoir Dreams FROM My Father. Which dreams? Did he share his father’s position on Cuba?
A greater influence on Obama was Frank Marshall Davis. I wrote a biography of Davis, a literal member of Communist Party USA, which he joined during the Stalin era, card number 47544.
Davis would have been wildly pro-Castro. One of his best friends and own mentors, William Patterson, sent his daughter to Cuba to train to become a doctor for the revolution.
Davis spent time with a young Obama throughout the 1970s, right up until Obama left for Occidental College. They met many times (at least a dozen), usually one-on-one and late into evenings. Obama writes of drinking whiskey with Davis in Dreams from My Father. They discussed all sorts of things. It’s hard to imagine they didn’t discuss Cuba. In the 1970s, Davis was still a member of one of the worst communist front-groups: the American Committee for Protection of the Foreign Born (ACPFB). Davis’s 600-page FBI file refers to his work with ACPFB dating back to at least 1959, the year Castro took over Cuba. The group was especially agitated by America’s positions in Latin America, Cuba included.
I’m in possession of Davis’s columns from the late 1940s and early 1950s for the Party-line newspapers the Chicago Star and Honolulu Record, the former of which Davis was the founding editor-in-chief. His position on every foreign-policy issue was unflinchingly the Party line. He never veered from Moscow. I cannot imagine he would have supported the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The CPUSA was militantly opposed to the embargo, attacking it in the vilest demagogic language. Davis would have told Obama that the embargo was not just bad policy but yet another symptom of unbridled American evil in the Cold War competition with the Kremlin.
From there, Obama went to the radical Occidental College and Columbia University, a hotbed for communist influence.
All of this brings me back to a pivotal question that someone should ask our president: This week he announced his support for normalization with communist Cuba, but did he ever really think otherwise?
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.