KERRY AND CUBA….I suspect Robert Tagorda and David Brooks are right to criticize John Kerry’s milquetoast attitude toward the Varela Project, a group of dissidents fighting for human rights in Cuba. Last year Castro cracked down on the dissidents, and although Kerry has supported the Varela Project in the past he now says that it has “gotten a lot of people in trouble” and has been “counterproductive.”

This is, as Brooks points out, pretty uninspiring stuff. I count myself a supporter of a realist foreign policy to the extent that realist means “not so obviously clueless that it’s doomed to failure,” and I support Kerry’s approach to foreign affairs because I think it’s more likely to win the war on terrorism than Bush’s. But the bully pulpit is one of the most important aspects of the presidency, and there’s nothing about a thoughtful, multilateral foreign policy that precludes a vigorous, inspiring support for human rights and democracy. After all, if the members of the Varela Project themselves were willing to risk jail for what they did, the least Kerry could do is join the European Union in supporting them.

This might all be fairly trivial since Cuba policy is a minor part of this year’s election, but it’s this kind of stuff that makes it so hard for me to warm to Kerry. If you read the Miami Herald column that started all this you’ll see vintage Kerry: his Cuba policy is thoughtful, cautious, and nuanced, and he correctly notes that Cuba is a case where lack of international support has doomed U.S. efforts to failure. I could wish for more, but overall it’s a pretty decent approach.

But then there’s the dark side: you can almost cut the political calculation with a knife. It’s just tough enough that it doesn’t lose any more of the Cuban exile vote than it has to (the embargo stays), while being open enough that it attracts voters who favor less confrontation (travel restrictions go). And all stewed together with a pleasing dash of multilateralism.

And worthy though it might be, it’s all presented in a dull, almost technocratic drone. There’s not much to make anybody mad, but there’s also not much there to make anybody feel inspired. There’s nothing to sink your teeth into.

In the end, Bush has bollocksed up Iraq and the war on terrorism so badly that a technocratic approach is almost a relief, especially since I’m more interested in actually winning the war on terrorism than I am in feeling good about talking tough. Given a choice, then, I’ll take decent policy and boring speeches over failed policies and inspiring words any day.

But it would be nice to have both.

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