Commentary: The case for pragmatism

By John Krull

INDIANAPOLIS – All too often, history links irony and tragedy.

Just days ago, terrorists set off bombs at the airport in Brussels, Belgium, that killed at least 32 people and injured more than 260 others. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIL – has claimed credit for the massacre.

John Krull, publisher,

John Krull, publisher,

At the same time the bombs exploded in Belgium, President Barack Column by John KrullObama was in Cuba. His visit was a step toward normalizing relations with that lovely but beleaguered country, a nation with which the United States has been at odds for nearly 60 years and through 10 U.S. presidencies.

Obama’s persistent partisan critics leapt on the president’s presence in Cuba with vehemence. They accused him of coddling Cuba’s communist leaders, Fidel Castro and his brother, current Cuban President Raul Castro.

Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, indulged in a diatribe about Obama’s visit, saying it was an insult to Cruz’s father, who had been imprisoned in Cuba. What Cruz failed to mention was that his father had been imprisoned by the regime of Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator the U.S. government helped prop up in the 1950s so he could repress his people with such brutality that they turned in desperation to the charismatic Castro.

The elder Cruz was thrown behind bars for fighting alongside Castro, not against him.

But that’s not the last of the ironies here – nor the tragedies.

When horror visited the Brussels airport, Obama’s opponents attacked him for being insensitive to terror.

Following the attack, Cruz said he would start monitoring Muslim Americans, constitutional protections and limitations be damned. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said Muslims weren’t doing “enough” to combat terror and vowed he would do far worse than waterboard suspected terrorists.

Neither Cruz nor Trump attempted to deal with the question of why people they have demonized, without proof or a trial, as traitors and murderers would want to help them.

This is the thing that is so maddening about blind ideologues.

They are so locked into scoring political points or proving that they are either right or tough that they never stop to ask this fundamental question:

Is what we’re doing working?

For more than half a century, our posture toward Cuba was one of unwavering hostility. We attempted to isolate that nation through the use of embargoes and boycotts. When we weren’t doing that, we tried invading the country – the Bay of Pigs – or made half-baked assassination attempts (Operation Mongoose) on Fidel Castro.

There’s little evidence that anything we did hurt or undermined either Fidel or his brother in any meaningful way. The only people our strategy seems to have harmed in any way were the folks we said we wanted to help, the Cuban citizens living under the dictator’s thumb.

They were the ones who suffered through the shortages and other forms of economic deprivation.

It’s been more than 14 years since Sept. 11, 2001, and our subsequent war on terror. It’s been nearly 13 years since President George W. Bush boasted “mission accomplished.” Both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden are dead.

And yet the days of terror clearly are far from over.

If anything, the world now may be a less stable and more frightening place than it was before we invaded Iraq and radicalized Muslims by the tens of thousands.

One of the lessons of history is that building walls, banning people and attempting to retreat from the world do not work.

The Berlin Wall fell and Soviet communism collapsed not just because of our military brinksmanship but also because the fax machine and growing trade opportunities between East and West increased the levels of communication and interaction. And that created instabilities within the Eastern Bloc countries that their heavy-footed governments were neither deft nor nimble enough to deal with.

Through the use of tragedy and irony, history teaches us that we can no more hide from the rest of the world than we can hide from our problems.

The only question that remains is: Will we do our homework and learn our lesson?

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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