Dueling editorials in the leading liberal papers today take vastly different approaches to the Obama administration’s ransoming of Alan Gross from Cuba.

On the one hand The New York Times hailed the move (and even featured the editorial translated into Spanish for those Cubans allowed to have internet access):

The administration’s decision to restore full diplomatic relations, take steps to remove Cuba from the State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorism and roll back restrictions on travel and trade is a change in direction that has been strongly supported by this page. The Obama administration is ushering in a transformational era for millions of Cubans who have suffered as a result of more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations.

Mr. Obama could have taken modest, gradual steps toward a thaw. Instead, he has courageously gone as far as he can, within the constraints of an outmoded 1996 law that imposes stiff sanctions on Cuba in the pursuit of regime change.

The editorial also favorably quotes President Obama, “After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

But there are (at least) mistaken premises in these two paragraphs. The first is that regular Cubans aren’t suffering because of the hostility between the United States and Cuba, they are suffering because of the totalitarian nature of their government.

Even as the Times subsequently praised current unelected leader Raul Castro for loosening some economic and travel restrictions, it also acknowledged that Cuba remains “a repressive police state with a failed economy.” The second is that the only reason for sanctions is regime change. No the sanctions were put into place to limit Cuba’s mischief, not primarily to encourage regime change.

Of course the editorial concludes by gloating:

Administration officials recognize that Congress is unlikely to take complementary steps toward a healthier relationship with Cuba anytime soon. But this move will inevitably inform the debate about the merits of engagement. In all likelihood, history will prove Mr. Obama right.

What the Times is saying is that Obama has changed the terms of the debate on Cuba, whether Congress (or the American people) agree or not. Contrary to the editorial, history will no doubt prove Obama wrong, but that won’t matter; the Times, through its reporting can create its own history and only inform the public of the isolated successes (versus the greater number of failures) of the administration’s new policy.

Contrary to the phony New York Times eagerness to see greater freedom for Cubans, The Washington Post has often highlighted the plight of Cuba’s persecuted dissidents. Given the grounding of its opinion in reality rather than in politics, the editors of the Post take a more sober approach to the President’s gift to the Castros.

On Wednesday, the Castros suddenly obtained a comprehensive bailout — from the Obama administration. President Obama granted the regime everything on its wish list that was within his power to grant; a full lifting of the trade embargo requires congressional action. Full diplomatic relations will be established, Cuba’s place on the list of terrorism sponsors reviewed and restrictions lifted on U.S. investment and most travel to Cuba. That liberalization will provide Havana with a fresh source of desperately needed hard currency and eliminate U.S. leverage for political reforms.

As part of the bargain, Havana released Alan Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor who was unjustly imprisoned five years ago for trying to help Cuban Jews. Also freed was an unidentified U.S. intelligence agent in Cuba — as were three Cuban spies who had been convicted of operations in Florida that led to Cuba’s 1996 shootdown of a plane carrying anti-Castro activists. While Mr. Obama sought to portray Mr. Gross’s release as unrelated to the spy swap, there can be no question that Cuba’s hard-line intelligence apparatus obtained exactly what it sought when it made Mr. Gross a de facto hostage.

In addition to pointing out that Alan Gross was a hostage who had just been ransomed, the Post explained what the Times simply wished away, “In fact, Cuba has been marginalized in the Americas for decades, and the regime has been deprived of financial resources it could have used to spread its malignant influence in the region, as Venezuela has done.”

The Post then argues that just because the Castros have neither reformed nor lost power, “does not explain why all sanctions should be lifted without any meaningful political concessions by Cuba.”

I think it is wonderful that Alan Gross is a free man. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that President Obama paid an exorbitant price for his freedom.

Sen. Marco Rubio made an essential point in the Wall Street Journal:

Of course, like all Americans, I am overjoyed for Alan Gross and his family after his release from captivity after five years. This American had been a hostage of the regime, and it was through his imprisonment that the Cuban regime again showed the world its cruel nature.

But the policy changes announced by President Obama will have far-reaching consequences for the American people. President Obama made it clear that if you take an American hostage and are willing to hold him long enough, you may not only get your own prisoners released from U.S. jails—as three Cuban spies were—you may actually win lasting policy concessions from the U.S. as well. This precedent places a new price on the head of every American, and it gives rogue leaders around the world more clear-cut evidence of this president’s naïveté and his willingness to abandon fundamental principles in a desperate attempt to burnish his legacy. There can be no doubt that the regime in Tehran is watching closely, and it will try to exploit President Obama’s naïveté as the Iranian leaders pursue concessions from the U.S. in their quest to establish themselves as a nuclear power.

I am sure that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is watching closely.

As with Cuba, the administration’s initial contacts with Iran were secret. The administration is desperate for a deal with Iran.

Iran is holding Washington Post reporter Jason Rezain, Pastor Saeed  Abedani and former Marine, Amir Hekmati, all of whom hold American citizenship. President Obama is calling for a review of Cuba’s status as a state sponsor of terror. I’d have to think that reviewing Iran’s status with an eye towards removing it from the list is likely to be part any set of demands that Iran will now present as a means of repatriating its American hostages.

Without demanding change as a price of engagement, President Obama has not only betrayed the Cuban people who, as Rubio writes, have now seen their “hopes for freedom and democracy” dashed because economic ties to the United States will only strengthen the regime.

President Obama has signaled to tyrants all over the world that he is so anxious to make deals with them, he is willing to overpay and demand little in return.

[Photo: euronews (em português) / YouTube ]