It has become a recurring theme of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s early travels as the chief diplomat of the US: She says that US policy on a given issue has failed and her foreign listeners fall all over themselves in gratitude.
On Friday, Clinton said in Santo Domingo that the uncompromising policy of the administration of former US president George W. Bush toward Cuba had not worked. That, she said, was why US President Barack Obama decided earlier this week to lift restrictions on travel and financial transfers for US residents with relatives in Cuba.
“We are continuing to look for productive ways forward, because we view the present policy as having failed,” Clinton said at a news conference in the sun-dappled capital of the Dominican Republic, hours before flying to join Obama at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
The contrition tour goes beyond Latin America. In China, Clinton told audiences that the US 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, Clinton’s host, Dominican Republic President Leonel Antonio Fernandez, responded effusively on Friday, hailing the secretary and her boss, 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, 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 US official — someone who almost became president — to declare that the US had erred, makes a major impact on foreign audiences.
Clinton drew a similarly gratified response when she said in Mexico recently that the huge US appetite for drugs was fueling the booming narcotics trade in the region.
She repeated that message in the Dominican Republic on Friday, saying: “We acknowledge we have a responsibility, and we have to act in concert with you.”