Obama’s foreign policy: ‘Put yourself in their shoes’

US President Obama has normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba and concluded a nuclear agreement with Iran. Is engaging adversaries the new normal in Washington? Spencer Kimball reports.

It was a surprisingly candid admission for a sitting American president: The US has, in fact, done wrong to other nations.

“Even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran,” President Obama told Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, hours after a historic nuclear deal was concluded with Tehran.

Obama was referencing the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, a secular democratic leader who nationalized Iran’s oil industry, ending decades of British control. But the president’s history lesson didn’t end there.

“We have had (sic) in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so, as a consequence, they have their own security concerns, their own narrative,” the president said.

The Reagan administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Iraqi dictator in 1980s, providing intelligence that facilitated Iraq’s invasion of Iran. This part of the historical record is rarely brought up in the US domestic discourse on Iran and the Middle East.

Instead, the US tends to focus on their own grievances: The 52 Americans held hostage during the Islamic revolution, the antagonism toward Israel and the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some Iranian leaders.

But it’s not just Iran. For decades, the United States faced off with another revolutionary regime – the communist government in Cuba. This summer, things have changed. The normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic promise to end two long-standing international confrontations.

“A willingness to empathize – not sympathize, but to empathize, to see ourselves as other countries see us – is a sea change in US attitude,” Philip Brenner, an expert on US foreign policy and Cuba at American University, told DW.

“It’s very hard for us to do it, because we’re so large and others countries are so small,” Brenner said. “We have a capacity to affect them much more than they can affect us.”

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A dream deferred? Race relations in the Obama era

Amid racial tension and violence, US President Barack Obama has addressed the oldest African-American civil rights organization in the US. For some, his increasingly frank talk about race is too little, too late.  Spencer Kimball reports.

It was the dream of the civil rights movement: a multiracial democracy where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many Americans were electrified. Had the dream come true?

The country has been sobered as the president nears the end of his eight-year tenure. More than 60 percent of Americans – black and white – believe race relations are generally bad, according to a recent CBS/New York Times opinion poll.

Police killings of unarmed African-American men have touched off a wave of social unrest. Peaceful protesters have taken to the streets with the rallying cry “Black lives matter!” Tensions have boiled over into riots and confrontations with a police force that often looks more like a military.

On Tuesday, Obama addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the second time since taking office. He proposed reforms to the American criminal justice system, such as reducing long mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes, which disproportionately impact people of color.

But many African-Americans believe the president has responded slowly to calls for reform and has not gone far enough, fast enough.

“The president has primarily only addressed or dealt with racial issues when he was absolutely forced to,” Ronnie Dunn, an urban studies professor at Cleveland State University, told DW. “There was a reluctance to candidly address such issues.”

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