Stupidest Part of American Foreign Policy

Before you get seduced into the kind of transactional analysis of the policy change towards Cuba that apparently led WaPo’s editors to denounce it (not enough quo for that quid!), step back with WaMo Contributing Editor James Fallows and look at how it relates to the rest of U.S. foreign policy:

For at least 35 years, the U.S. embargo on diplomatic or commercial dealings with Cuba has been the single stupidest aspect of U.S. foreign policy.

Not the most destructive: that title would go to the decision to invade Iraq, plus the ongoing ramifications of the age of torture, open-ended war, and the security/surveillance state.

But the Cuba policy has been the stupidest, because there have been absolutely zero rational arguments for its strategic wisdom or tactical effectiveness. Jeffrey Goldberg, who has traveled in Cuba and interviewed Castro, more tactfully calls it “ridiculous.” In my impetuous youth a few years ago, I called it not the stupidest part of U.S. policy but the “most idiotic.” Take your pick….

Thus even though people out of electoral office—Richard Nixon as an ex-president, William F. Buckley, even (bravely!) Paul Ryan before his vice-presidential run—have urged opening up to Cuba, for people in office, or considering a run, the ramifications in Florida have made such a move not worth the risk and bother. Every sane person knew the Cuba policy “would” and “should” change. But it didn’t.

Until now. It is unwholesome for U.S. democracy that so little now happens through normal “bill becomes a law” procedure, and so much depends on executive action. But in this case the executive is doing manifestly the right thing. Congratulations, thanks, and it’s about time. “Don’t do stupid s***” may have limits as a worldview, but it is an improvement over continuing a path of folly.

It was probably a sign that the old policy was dying when in 2000, not so long after every newspaper in the country was emblazoned with a front-page photo of Elian Gonzalez screaming as an armed federal agent pointed an assault weapon at him, Democrats still nearly carried Florida–or did carry Florida, depending on your POV. George W. Bush was the wrong president to do anything about the policy, but Barack Obama is the right one, and future presidents of both parties will certainly be happy not to have to deal with it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.