I was watching Thursday’s debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama this morning, but came up with some more important things to do shortly after they discussed Cuba. Mrs. Clinton’s comments were insubstantial. Mr. Obama’s were on target. (The debate transcript is behind that link, so I’m only including excerpts.)

CLINTON: I would not meet with him until there was evidence that change was happening, because I think it’s important that they demonstrate clearly that they are committed to change the direction. Then I think, you know, something like diplomatic encounters and negotiations over specifics could take place.

OBAMA: Now, keep in mind that the starting point for our policy in Cuba should be the liberty of the Cuban people. And I think we recognize that that liberty has not existed throughout the Castro regime. And we now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the United States and Cuba after over half a century.


And it’s absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton’s entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba. [emphasis mine]

Why should Raúl Castro, or whoever will be the next president of Cuba, want to meet with us? Dictatorships are not like republics: they are not as much under the sway of popular opinion. Since 1961, we’ve restricted commerce with Cuba, in an attempt to remove Fidel Castro from power. It has failed. Death, not the United States, will remove Castro. And death will remove his successors as well. The embargo will not. They prefer death over defeat.

Cuba is playing a game of endurance chicken. Will they run out of money, or friends, first, or shall we? Will they blink first, or shall we? Meanwhile, we pretend that an embargo is an effective means of coercion. It is not. Like a cartel, the participants in an embargo have an incentive to cheat.

Whom do we harm with this embargo?

(In other news, the Cato Institute has analyzed Congressional votes on trade since 1999, and provided a tool for viewing the results online: Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating Congress. Here’s how the current crop of presidential candidates fare: Clinton, McCain, Obama, Paul. Gov. Huckabee has no record.)