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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Courts Cuban Exiles

While the media have been focused on the atrocities inside Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the George W. Bush administration has embarked on another counterproductive, expensive and irrational foreign policy initiative. The president announced two weeks ago that he planned to further tighten the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

It does not require deep insight to see the folly and destructiveness of this policy. The embargo was instituted in 1960. At the time, the Central Intelligence Agency also had various plots to either assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro or make his beard fall off by using depilatories or disorient him during a speech by spraying LSD.

One way or another, Washington has tried, and failed, to topple the Castro government for 44 years. Is there a longer U.S. foreign policy failure on record?

One day, a U.S. president will wake up and conclude that the policy is not working. But it won't be George W. Bush. He believes that if the noose around Castro's neck is only 95 percent tight, then all he has to do is make it 96 percent.

One of Bush's main new measures will be the use of military aircraft to fly in international waters near Cuba. With special equipment, this plane will try to beam U.S.-produced Television Marti into Cuban homes. TV Marti has been around and financed by tax dollars since 1990, but the Cuban government has effectively jammed it. At a cost of tens of millions of dollars per year, the United States has continued to produce the programming. The cost of the new aircraft is estimated at $18 million per year.

Bush supporters might respond that this is small potatoes and not the kind of resource commitment that will distract us from our fight against terrorism. But, according to Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has 21 employees dedicated to enforcing the embargo against Cuba, yet only four pursuing the finances of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps the next edition of former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies'' should note that Bush was obsessed with both Iraq and Cuba to the detriment of pursuing the true terrorist threat.

In fact, Castro has already responded to the new U.S. policy the same way he has always reacted to a tightening of the embargo. He has cracked down politically, shut down U.S. dollar stores and used Washington's actions as a justification for putting Cuba on a war footing.

The U.S. embargo today, as it has always, not only reinforces Castro's claim as a nationalist leader battling the imperial bully from the north, it gives him a pretext to further suppress dissent.

The last time a U.S. president pursued a policy of engagement, politics within Cuba loosened up. In 1977, the Jimmy Carter administration opened discussions with the Castro government on a wide range of bilateral issues. Interest Sections (proxy embassies) were established by each government in the other's capital.

President Carter lifted the ban on travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens and he halted reconnaissance overflights. A new fishing agreement was negotiated. The air of rapprochement produced a propitious policy response from Havana.

The Castro government released 4,000 political prisoners and began a dialogue with the Cuban exile community in the United States. Agreements were reached allowing exile visits to Cuba and family reunification. The incipient normalization was sidetracked as Carter had to contend with a conservative backlash to the Panama Canal treaties in the United States and, then, was reversed as the Ronald Reagan administration reimposed the travel ban and provoked an intensification of hostilities.

The best way to spread democratic and free-market values to Cuba is to expose Cubans to U.S. businesses, academics, journalists and tourists. The more open the exchange of ideas, people, capital and culture, the sooner Cuba will become a dynamic and open society.

The other sad part of the embargo is that it robs U.S. businesses of billions of dollars of profitable investment and trade opportunities. Once the embargo is lifted, within five years U.S. exports to Cuba could reach about $6 billion to $8 billion annually and generate some 70,000 to 100,000 American jobs.

So, what gives? Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American member of the House of Representatives, has the answer: Bush is pandering to the Cuban exiles in south Florida. He hopes their votes and money will give him Florida in the upcoming presidential election -- perhaps, if needed, with another assist from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, contributed this comment to Newsday.