Politics & Policy

The Corner

‘The American People Have Spoken’

The United Nations General Assembly is home to many of the worst and most dishonest speeches ever given on the Planet Earth, but on November 1, the U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, delivered one of the great speeches of the year. In a hall famous for the defense of despotism, she spoke the truth about Cuba — and about America.

The occasion was the annual condemnation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Last year the Obama administration refused to vote against this resolution condemning . . . the United States! Haley explained that vote and this year’s vote, with a lesson about American democracy and a swipe at the Obama decision:

When the United States abstained on this resolution last year, its decision was explained by saying, “We recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people.” There is a casual cruelty to that remark for which I am profoundly sorry. Regrettably, as of today, the future of Cuba is not in your hands. It remains in the hands of your dictators.

The United States opposes this resolution today in continued solidarity with the Cuban people and in the hope that they will one day be free to choose their own destiny.

How is it that our vote came to be changed? Democracy is the answer:

One year ago, the United States abstained when voting on the same resolution. The reason given was that the continuation of the embargo was not isolating Cuba but was in fact isolating the United States. It is true that we had been left nearly alone in opposition to this annual resolution. No doubt there will be some here who do not understand how we can take such opposite positions, separated by just twelve months. They will wonder how we could passively accept this resolution last year and energetically oppose it this year.

To those who are confused as to where the United States stands, let me be clear: As is their right under our Constitution, the American people have spoken. They have chosen a new president, and he has chosen a new ambassador to the United Nations.

She was equally clear about the nature of the Cuban regime:

As long as the Cuban people continue to be deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms — as long as the proceeds from trade with Cuba go to prop up the dictatorial regime responsible for denying those rights — the United States does not fear isolation in this chamber or anywhere else. Our principles are not up for a vote. They are enshrined in our Constitution. They also happen to be enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. As long as we are members of the United Nations, we will stand for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that the Member States of this body have pledged to protect, even if we have to stand alone . . . 

The Cuban regime is sending the warped message to the world that the sad state of its economy, the oppression of its people, and the export of its destructive ideology is not its fault.

In the spirit of sending messages, I would like to direct the rest of my comments towards the Cuban people. The American people strongly support your dreams to live in a country where you can speak freely, where you can have uncensored access to the Internet, where you can provide for your families, and where you can determine your leadership. We know that many of you have been made hopeful by the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. That status is not changing. Our friendship and good will toward the Cuban people remain as strong as ever . . . 

The United States opposes this resolution today in continued solidarity with the Cuban people and in the hope that they will one day be free to choose their own destiny.

We might stand alone today. But when the day of freedom comes for the Cuban people — and it will come — we will rejoice with them as only a free people can.

The Obama administration’s Cuba policy, which Haley rightly shamed, was very much like its Iran policy: an apology for imagined wrongs of the American past, and a refusal to side with the people of the country against the regime oppressing and abusing them. Haley’s speech was crystal clear: We have no apologies to make about supporting the Cuban people, except one. We apologize for the Obama administration’s terrible vote and terrible explanation of its vote last year, which Haley starkly described as “casual cruelty.”

In the best tradition of her predecessor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Haley is giving the General Assembly lessons in democracy, and the clarity and toughness of her language should make every American (except perhaps the Obama administration officials responsible for last year’s shameful vote) proud. We do indeed have, as she said, a new ambassador to the United Nations, and should celebrate that fact.

Elliott Abrams — Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national-security adviser.

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