Learning From Experience

Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The New York Times ran an interesting article today on the limited success (and thus, reassessment) of the Obama Administration's policy of unconditional engagement with rogue regimes.

Here's an excerpt:

[A]dministration officials say, the biggest benefit of Mr. Obama's engagement policy now is not dialogue or understanding with adversaries, but simply a defusing of a worldwide view that the United States is part of the problem, a demonstration that the problem is Tehran's intransigence, not Washington's pique.

"What the president has achieved is that he has outed Iran," a senior administration official said Friday. He said Iran, by refusing to respond positively, had exposed itself as uninterested in a better relationship with the United States.

That is now the central point of the new White House outlook on engagement, and it extends, administration officials say, to Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba as well. Mr. Obama, for instance, was criticized for shaking hands with Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, at a summit meeting in Trinidad and Tobago last year, but White House officials say that gesture has helped with Latin American views of Mr. Chávez's anti-American rhetoric.

In the months ahead, administration officials hope they will benefit from a global perception that Mr. Obama has reached out to North Korea, Cuba and even Syria.

In the case of Cuba, progress has been slower. While Washington and Havana have had some talks on migration issues, and Cuba allowed American medical flights from Haiti to pass through Cuban airspace, there is no sign yet of any real thaw. But there, again, White House officials insist that at least Mr. Obama has not given Cuban leaders the opportunity to hold up the United States as a convenient target.