Obama's Cuba Policy Shows Little Signs of Real Change

An administration aide parrots the same old line.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

How serious is the Obama administration when it comes to Cuba policy? There have been mixed signals thus far: Obama is expected to announce next week that he is rolling back a ban on Cuban-Americans visiting their families or sending money to relatives still on the island—and that's a good start. But the hard-line rhetoric a key administration official spouted yesterday at a Council on Foreign Relations panel dampens any hope for further progress.

According to the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons, who was there, Jeffrey Davidow, the White House's adviser for next week's Summit of the Americas, "gave the unreconstructed, neoconservative-friendly, ideologically vapid, 'unchastened by five decades of embargo failure' answer" when pressed about Cuba policy.

Davidow's comments included:

Cuba is not an issue for discussion at the Summit if one reads the Summit declaration and the documents on all the past year of negotiation. However, having said that, and given what we are reading in the press, it is probable that it will come up in some way.

At least part of what we are reading in the press is that the president is going to roll back the travel and remittance ban on Cuba during the run-up to the summit. So it's not quite accurate to behave as if Cuba is an alien issue being injected into the summit by forces not in the administration. If they didn't want to talk about Cuba, they wouldn't change the Cuba policy next week.

The one point that I would respond to in Steve's question specifically is, "Is Cuba something larger than itself?" and the answer is 'yes, it is.'

And I think that whatever the reasons have been in the 1960s for initiation of elements of our Cuban policy, the fact is in today's Hemisphere, Cuba is the odd man out.


So, we have been struggling with Cuba as a nation for close to half a century and there is a real focus on what we should be doing, but to answer the question, it is an important place beyond a small island 90 miles off our shore.

Now we're getting to the heart of our Cuba problem. We shouldn't elevate Cuba, which is neither an adversary nor a threat to us. The notion of the United States "struggling with Cuba as a nation" is laughable. Cuba is what it is (a repressive government on a small island off our coast), and the ongoing policy of trying to make it larger than it is only make the United States look deranged: We're fixated on a pipsqueak nation because its leader, who annoyed us 50 years ago , hasn't had the courtesy to die yet. Our Cuba policy is a joke, of which we're the butt.

The notion that we should single Cuba out because of its government is farcical in the face of ongoing trade and other relationships with countries like Vietnam and China. I wrote my column in the current digital edition of the magazine to the inanities of our Cuba policy and how its politics are changing. But Davidow was immediately and effectively rebutted by Foreign Policy blogger David Rothkopf:

The reality is that Cuba may be special, but you have to ask yourself why it's therefore easier to travel to or do business with the Stalinist, nuclear weapon-toting North Koreans, or whether it's more comfortable for us to be totally economically integrated with the Saudi royal family and their depredations, or if we are concerned about human rights, why are we so integrated with and why are we the sole supporter of a government in Afghanistan that has just made rape in marriage legal and denies women the right to go outside without the approval of their husbands?

So this notion that some how democracy alone is the only criteria that we should use in defining the nature of relationship doesn't stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever, and the reality is that only one country that has successfully been isolated by this fifty year embargo, and that is the United States of America.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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