One is our attempt, now about to enter its sixth decade, to isolate Cuba. Whatever the rationale for that policy during the cold war, when U.S. leaders regarded Fidel Castro’s regime as a Soviet stooge and a dangerous, disruptive influence throughout the Western Hemisphere, the justification became far weaker once the Soviet Union collapsed. Moreover, even during the cold war, the attempt to isolate Cuba did not work terribly well. Much of the international community, including Canada and many of America’s other close allies, gradually abandoned support for Washington’s approach and pursued substantial diplomatic and economic relations with Havana. That trend has accelerated in the post‐cold war period.
The U.S. economic embargo has damaged the Cuban people, since the loss of the American market made a country already impoverished by the idiocies of Marxist economics even poorer. It has not, however, brought down the communist system or even seriously inconvenienced Cuba’s political elite. Indeed, it has given the communist regime the perfect scapegoat for the country’s chronic economic failures, thereby muting potential domestic opposition.
After nearly half a century of policy failure, it is time to try a different tack. Much of Washington’s Cuban policy has not even been guided by rational foreign‐policy considerations. Instead, it has been a product of domestic political calculations, specifically the perceived need to placate the vehemently anticommunist Cuban‐American community in Florida and a few other states that have crucial blocs of electoral votes in U.S. presidential elections.
But times have changed and so should our policy toward Cuba. Raúl Castro’s emergence as the country’s new leader has already led to signs of pragmatism and perhaps the prospect of serious economic reforms. In the United States, a significant portion of the Cuban‐American community is now supportive of engagement rather than isolation toward the island. That attitude is especially strong among younger Cuban Americans. Most important, Cuba is no longer a geopolitical pawn that can be exploited by a superpower rival of the United States. The Obama administration should commence negotiations with Havana to restore diplomatic relations, and Obama himself should push Congress to liberalize, if not revoke, the system of economic sanctions.
Washington’s policy of trying to make Iran a pariah has been in place for thirty years, rather than the half century with regard to Cuba, but it is equally misguided. The Islamic regime in Tehran is among the world’s most repressive governments and a notorious state sponsor of terrorist movements, but as in the case of U.S. policy toward Cuba, the attempt to isolate Iran has largely failed. True, the Bush administration has induced the UN Security Council to impose economic sanctions in response to Tehran’s nuclear program, but key countries, including such prominent U.S. allies as France and Germany, maintain significant investment and trade ties with Iran.