Barack Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years, in what would be a crucial turning point between the Cold War rivals that recently shed their decades-old hostilities. Obama will visit the communist island nation in March, he said in a tweet. A senior administration official told NBC News that the details would be announced Thursday as part of a larger tour by Obama of Latin America.
In the not-too-distant past, the very idea of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba seemed fanciful. The suggestion that a sitting American president would set foot on Cuban soil as part of a diplomatic trip was almost impossible to imagine.
And yet, here we are.
The announcement comes roughly a year after President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro normalized relations between the two countries, and about six months after the two governments agreed to open embassies in each other's capitals.
Cuba has also been removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that even the fiercest Cuban critics found difficult to justify.
For the White House, next month's visit will be the culmination of one of the president's most impressive foreign policy accomplishments, overhauling a failed policy that administrations from both parties were content to leave in place indefinitely. As we discussed in July, U.S. presidents just stuck to an ineffectual policy that didn't advance either country's interests, out of inertia and political fear.
Obama, to his credit, overhauled a failed policy into a victory, making this a significant foreign policy accomplishment.
There is, of course, a very real possibility that a Republican president and Republican Congress will undo the progress next year -- a scenario Cuba is well aware of -- rolling back the clock and doing lasting damage to U.S. credibility throughout much of the region.
But at least for now, it's a triumph. To reiterate a point from April, it’s worth emphasizing that the dramatic shift in the U.S. position enjoys support from a majority of Americans, a majority of Cuban Americans, and a majority of Cubans themselves. What’s more, American allies are delighted to see the new U.S. policy towards Cuba, as is much of Latin America, which routinely criticized the old, failed approach.