For decades now, the US embargo on virtually all ties with Cuba has rested on the flawed logic that Cuba's regime had to change before any substantial change in US policy would be possible. Besides ceding the initiative to a dictatorship - never a good idea - the reality is that all Washington has provided for the brothers Castro is an excuse for their failed state: yanqui imperialism, in the form of the embargo, is blamed for everything, and Cubans who express any desire for their own ties to America villified as traitors.
It's boring, by now, to note what a titanic failure this half century-old policy has been, a foot fetish of a foreign policy that makes a mockery of the United States. We giddily trade with China and even made nice with Qaddafy in his final years of insanity, but Cuba - no, Cuba bad. Dangerous threat to the soft underbelly .... blah blah blah.
Do the Castro's deserve anything from Washington? No. They're venal dictators and opportuniist, self-aggrandizing fools who have kept their country impoverished and backward for their own personal reasons.
But the Cuban people deserve better. The recent slight opening of travel restrictions trumpted by the Obama administration - allowing academics, journalists and artists to go to the island - is absurd. As someone who worked at Radio Free Europe/Radio Libery when the Soviet bloc collapsed, and who traveled to Cuba during a brief opening in the 1990s, I can promise you nothing would kill the Castro regime faster than kindness.
A full opening to tourists and US investment would transform the island. This would destroy the idea projected by Castro's propaganda machine that Americans are monsters bent on reimposing 19th century vassal/slave status on the island. Instead, they would reimpose jobs and reunited hundreds of thousands of divided family members.
A few weeks ago, an opportunity to do this slipped by the wayside - thanks to the usual political factors. A Ft. Lauderdale company had been hoping to establish a car ferry service to the island allowing 500 or so vehicles at a time to transit back and forth. But Treasury decided that granting such a license would be “beyond the scope” of US policy.
It would also be “beyond the scope” of Obama’s reelection calculus, of course. Sadly, Cuba policy remains trapped in Dade and Broward counties rather than a means of projection US interests.
So absurd is our Cuba fetish at this point that even Fox News is publishing op-eds calling for lifting the embargo!
Perhaps in a second term, Obama might take such a step. Then again, I remember saying exactly the same thing when Clinton was reelected in 1996. I'm still waiting - and Cuba's people are, too.
Follow me on Twitter, or pre-order my book, "The Reckoning: Debt, Democracy and the Future of American Power," coming April 10 from Palgrave Macmillan.