So Barack Obama shook hands with Raoul Castro at Nelson Mandela's funeral today.
In other news, last week I listened to a senior American official—a career guy who's served in important posts under the past four or five presidents—talk about the sanctions policy against Iran. He explained that for sanctions to be effective they have to be highly multilateral and narrowly targeted at an obtainable policy objective. This was his way of saying that it wouldn't make sense for the United States to reject an imperfect diplomatic arrangement with Iran in unilateral pursuit of a pie-in-the-sky deal the Iranians will never take. You always want to be pushing the Chinese and the Russians and the Turks toward doing more, but if you leave them in the dust you'll accomplish nothing.
So being a wiseass (and a Cuban-American!) I asked him how Cuba fits into the framework.
His view, basically, was that the Castro regime has never been really interested in doing a deal that would unwind the embargo so his sincere advice to anyone would be not to waste political capital on this topic. So, fair enough as far as that goes. Still, the fact remains that American policy toward Cuba is like a textbook example of something that doesn't work. It succeeds in making Cuba a bit poorer than it would otherwise be, and in marginally inconveniencing American citizens but it is pretty clearly not an effective tool for ending Communism. Indeed, Communism ended—more than 20 years ago!—in Eastern Europe without the Soviet Union and its European satellites being subjected to this kind of comprehensive trade embargo. In parallel, Communist regimes in China and Vietnam have altered their domestic economic policies of their own volition since it turns out that orthodox Marxist-Leninist economic management doesn't work very well.
People should be able to visit Cuba as tourists if they want to. Via direct flights from Miami and Newark and wherever else. And people should be able to go to a store and buy a Cuban cigar or some Cuban rum or whatever. If the Cuban government wants to prevent that, they should be the ones putting travel restrictions in place. They're the Communist dictatorship, after all. We're supposed to be the free country. Everyone knows this policy doesn't work, but nobody wants to admit it.