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Obama's new Cuba policy (bombing not included)

August 21, 2007 | 10:48 pm

Barack Obama, who's admitted in recent interviews that he doesn't have much time to make an impression as a potential president, made another bold foreign policy proposal today. He suggested, in a Miami Herald op-ed piece, that the U.S. must change its policies toward Cuba and began easing restrictions.

The proposal, which, not surprisingly, drew immediate fire from his chief Democratic primary opponent, calls for easing the toughened 2004 Bush administration restrictions on visits to Cuba by American Cubans and remitting money back to families there. The president claimed at the time the funds strengthened the Fidel Castro regime.

Obama says this country needs a fresh approach to Cuba as it nears a post-Castro era that exposes Cubans to American freedoms and prosperity. An Obama administration would lift the sanctions. "Cuban American connections to family in Cuba," Obama writes, "are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island."

"I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message," he adds. "If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, the United States [the president working with Congress] is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades."

The article's theme is expected to be a major part of Obama's speech in Miami on...

Saturday at the Miami Dade County Auditorium, where President Reagan made a major anti-communist address in 1983.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has sought to portray the 45-year-old Obama as too inexperienced and naive to be president, immediately vowed to continue the present policies toward Cuba. "Until it is clear what type of policies might come with a new government," she said in a prepared statement, "we cannot talk about changes in U.S. policies toward Cuba."

Joe Biden has said he too supports the status quo. John Edwards today said he would lift family travel restrictions but not those on remittances. Chris Dodd also supports lifting limits on family travel while Dennis Kucinich would scrap the entire embargo.

Both Republicans Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani criticized the Obama plan, saying it would only help Castro. "We must not weaken our policy on Cuba until the Castro regime is dismantled, all political prisoners are freed and and Cuba transitions to free and fair elections," Romney said.

Mel Martinez, the Florida senator and chairman of the Republican National Committee, said, "It shows that he either didn't think it through very well or simply hasn't had enough experience on these tough foreign policy problems."

As for that oft-mentioned charge of inexperience, Obama points out in a recent New Hampshire interview that with his seven years in the Illinois Senate and two years in the U.S. Senate, he's been in elected office longer than either Clinton or Edwards.

The real political impact of the Cuba proposal in Florida is dubious since few Cuban Americans are Democrats. But the move could add to Obama's image as a fresh thinker. At a recent debate he said he would meet with dictators like Castro during his first year in office without preconditions.

Now, here's a little update to a previous Top of the Ticket item on an Obama encounter with Maggie North, a New Hampshire voter who expressed concern to him last week that by joining in the political fray attacking other Democrats, Obama was losing his uniqueness.

"Listen," Obama told reporters today, "I understand and am sympathetic to her view. And I do think that we've got to be careful not to fall into those habits. The way I try to balance in my own mind is we should respond rapidly and aggressively to attacks that are made, but our responses should be truthful."

Truthful? Another bold proposal for modern American politics.

--Andrew Malcolm

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