Are We Ready for a New Policy on Cuba?

For a couple of generations, every major presidential candidate, from both parties, has taken the same position on U.S. policy towards Cuba: keep the status quo. The embargo needs to stay in place in order to “keep the pressure” on Castro. Any thawing in relations would be a victory for a brutal thug, and would enrage a powerful voting bloc (Cuban Americans) in a key electoral state (Florida).

With that in mind, no candidate has been willing to talk openly about a change. I distinctly remember in 2004 when Wesley Clark said in a debate he wanted a dramatic shake-up in the existing policy. “When you isolate a country, you strengthen the dictators in it,” Clark said. The next day, Clark’s campaign backpedaled, after aides heard from supporters in Miami.

This year, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama went out on a limb and said the status quo isn’t good enough, and had the audacity to point that the current policy doesn’t actually work. They no doubt expected Republicans to try to exploit this, but made the case anyway.

Dodd stepped aside in January, but Obama is poised to be the first Democratic candidate in a half-century to offer a real change when it comes to Cuba. Today, John McCain intends to smack him on it pretty hard in a speech in Miami.

In an indication that John McCain sees foreign policy as the best route to take on Barack Obama — and that he will take it frequently — McCain is set to roll out another tough attack, with a speech today to the Cuban community in Miami. At the rate things are going, the McCain camp will be hitting Obama on some new foreign policy point every day.

“Just a few years ago, Senator Obama had a very clear view on Cuba,” McCain will say, according to prepared excerpts, then quoting Obama saying that normalization of relations would improve conditions for the Cuban people.

“Now Senator Obama has shifted positions and says he only favors easing the embargo, not lifting it. He also wants to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro. These steps would send the worst possible signal to Cuba’s dictators — there is no need to undertake fundamental reforms, they can simply wait for a unilateral change in US policy.”

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