President Barack Obama's recent trip to Cuba did more than advance U.S.-Cuban relations. In a world torn by violent confrontations in which air strikes and armed troops seem to be the first response to perceived challenges by nations and peoples, Obama's trip demonstrated that diplomacy works. It showed that one nation's leader can use tough language but not bellicose threats to challenge another. It showed that two nations with a long history of animosity can choose to go forward together.
Historic events don't always feel historic as they play out in front of you. But Obama's trip looked and felt historic, not the least because his two major addresses were broadcast live throughout Cuba.
Obama took full advantage of his rhetorical skills, taking his arguments unmediated to the Cuban people. He convincingly pleaded the case for open democracy and laid that challenge before Cuba.
He was effective because he did not shy away from the United States' historic failures -- economic inequality, racial discrimination and "wars abroad" -- and he was generous in praising Cuba's genuine achievements -- like universal health care, universal education and gender equality.
But he also challenged the Cuban government and people, pressing them on a lack of free expression and assembly, on arbitrary detentions and restrictions on religious practice.
"Now, there's no secret that our governments disagree on many of these issues," Obama said. "I've had frank conversations with President [Raúl] Castro. ... But here's what the Cuban people need to understand: I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It's good. It's healthy. I'm not afraid of it."