“Es un nuevo dia” and “Nowruz Mubarak.” The literal meaning of both phrases welcome the “new day” (nuevo dia, nowruz) in Spanish and Persian respectively (the latter is a holiday greeting for the Persian New Year). And President Barack Obama recently delivered these two messages to the people of Cuba and Iran.
Remarkably, the message to the Cubans was delivered in person, during his “historic” visit to Cuba on Monday. After meeting with Raul Castro, Obama said, “This is a new day — es un nuevo dia — between our two countries.”
Obama’s new year greeting to the Iranians was delivered via YouTube on Saturday. He related how the White House would welcome the new year and the new spring with succulent Persian dishes. And he quoted the Persian poet Hafez, who wrote, “Open the windows, for the kind breeze is celebrating the birthday of the flowers, and spring, on each and every branch, next to each leaf, has lit candles.”
The back-to-back salutations are a rhetorical flourish added to the Obama administration’s policy shift toward detente with both “rogue” states.
In December of 2014, the administration announced that it would normalize diplomatic, cultural, and economic relations with Cuba. Some progress has indeed been made in that direction. And in July of 2015, the administration agreed to a “nuclear deal” with Iran that led to the mitigation of sanctions on that country.
Both developments were met with fairly broad approval from the American public (although of course not from the war party) and with jubilation in the streets of Cuba and Iran.
Manuel Supervielle recently described the Cuban scene for CNN.com:
“Many felt as if a dark curtain had been lifted and tropical sunshine shone for the first time on their future.
“Cubans gathered around TVs at home and in public places crying with joy, hugging, laughing, dancing and singing as they listened to President Raul Castro’s speech.
Instantly, most Cubans felt a new sense of “esperanza para el futuro” (hope for the future) for themselves and their children.”
And The Guardian reported last summer that:
“Thousands of Iranians took to the streets late at night to celebrate the news of the nuclear agreement in Vienna, with jubilant crowds singing and dancing to mark a defining moment for the country 36 years after the Islamic revolution.
People in the capital, Tehran, and other major cities gathered outside after iftar, the evening meal to break the day-long fasting during Ramadan. There were reports of drivers on Tehran’s long, tree-lined Vali Asr street honking horns and people with hands raised in V-for-victory signs and waving from open windows.”
It is no wonder that these beleaguered people would so enthusiastically welcome the prospect of a “new day,” especially after the long, dark night of the past six decades. The nightmares of both countries began in the 1950s with dictatorships supported by the U.S. government.
In 1952, Fulgencio Batista seized power over Cuba in a military coup d’état. His brutal regime was extensively supported by the CIA under Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles. As Dulles biographer Stephen Kinzer wrote:
“For years Batista had been a faithful servant of the United States, and Allen’s men had trained his secret police force, which became notorious for torturing and killing revolutionaries.”
In the following year, 1953, Iran too underwent a coup. This one was orchestrated by Dulles’s CIA, which hired street gangs, dissident military units, and rent-a-mobs to terrorize the capital city and storm the house of Iran’s elected leader. Iran too was then ruled by a U.S. puppet with a brutal security force: the Shah, Reza Pahlavi.
Both U.S. client regimes were eventually overthrown by revolutions. Batista was deposed by Fidel Castro’s forces in 1959, and the Shah was finally toppled from his “Peacock Throne” in 1979 by forces led by the Ayatollah (a Shia Muslim high cleric), Ruhollah Khomeini.
For decades, the American government never forgave either Cuba or Iran for the impertinence of refusing to be ruled by a U.S. hireling.
The U.S. and its Cuban expat assetts subjected Cuba to an abortive invasion (the Bay of Pigs fiasco), assassination attempts, paramilitary incursions, terrorist attacks, economic warfare (including an embargo), and sabotage. After the Bay of Pigs, much of this was organized under “Operation Mongoose.”
And the year after the Iranian Revolution, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq launched a U.S.-backed invasion of Iran, which ultimately killed hundreds of thousands of Iranians. The U.S. and its regional allies also subjected Iran to assassinations, terrorist attacks, economic warfare, and sabotage. In 1988, the U.S. Navy “accidentally” shot down an Iranian passenger airliner, killing all 274 on board.
In recent years, America’s covert/proxy/cold wars on these countries have pressed on. The State Department and its satellite NGOs have been especially eager to use social media to try to instigate “color coded revolutions” in both Cuba and Iran. And the U.S. fomented the horrific war now raging in Syria in order to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, which in turn was largely about “containing” Assad’s ally, Iran. A recent leak of Hillary Clinton’s emails confirmed as much.
Of course Castro’s communist despotism and the Ayatollah’s theocracy are horridly repressive. Indeed, they are the authors of much of the misery of the Cuban and the Iranian people. But a great deal of that misery is directly caused by the sanctions and sabotage, the embargoes and embroilments, of America’s decades-long covert/proxy/cold wars on these countries.
Moreover, even the suffering caused by domestic misrule in Cuba and Iran is indirectly caused by the U.S. empire. As I explained in this space shortly after the Iran nuclear deal:
“That is because war, including cold war, is the health of the state. Antagonistic imperial policies — economic warfare, saber-rattling, clandestine interventions, and full-blown attacks — make the citizens of targeted “rogue states” feel under siege.
This activates what Randolph Bourne called their “herd mind,” inducing them to rally around their governments in a militaristic stampede so as to create the national unity of purpose deemed necessary to defend the homeland against the foreign menace. When you lay siege to an entire country, don’t be surprised when it starts to look and act like a barracks.
Rogue state governments eagerly amplify and exploit this siege effect through propaganda, taking on the mantle of foremost defender of the nation against the “Yankee Imperialist” or “Great Satan.” Amid the atmosphere of crisis, public resistance against domestic oppression by the now indispensable “guardian class” goes by the board. “Quit your complaining. Don’t you know there’s a cold war on? Don’t you know we’re under siege?”
Moreover, cold wars make it easy for rogue state governments to shift the blame for domestic troubles away from their own misrule, and onto the foreign bogeyman/scapegoat (“bogeygoat?”) instead. This is especially easy for being to some extent correct, especially with regard to economic blockades and other crippling sanctions, like those Washington has imposed on Cuba, Iran, etc.
Imperial governments like to pretend that affairs are quite the reverse, adopting the essentially terrorist rationale that waging war against the civilian populace of a rogue state will pressure them to blame and turn against their governments. In reality, it only tends to bolster public support for the regime.”
I also pointed out in that article that the reverse is true as well. Thaws in relations tend to promote liberal reforms and reductions in tyranny. Indeed, in the recent Iranian election, the reformists who negotiated the nuclear deal trounced the militarist hardliners who opposed it. Look for similar developments in the future in Cuba as well.
However, the danger with detente is that the imperial power will exploit the relaxation of relations to infiltrate and/or co-opt the former rogue state, using carrots instead of sticks to transform it into one more client. For example, although it took decades, that seems to be what is happening now with Vietnam.
Indeed, for all his lofty rhetoric, Obama is not to be trusted on this or any other matter. After all, most of the hostile policies against Cuba and Iran are still in place.
Yet let us hope it is indeed a new dawn for the long-suffering people of Cuba and Iran.