Category “Diplomacy”

Orbitz Lobbying to end Cuban Travel Ban

Dis­cuss amongst your­selves the Cuban travel ban, I just found this story fas­ci­nat­ing at a Trade Law site I occas­sion­ally fre­quent.  The travel web­site,, has begun a lob­by­ing cam­paign to end the travel ban to Cuba.

Online travel provider Orb­itz recently launched the web­site to give trav­el­ers the oppor­tu­nity to get directly involved in a grass­roots effort to con­vince the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion and Con­gress to end the ban on travel to Cuba for those Amer­i­cans who do not have imme­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers located on the island.

The site allows trav­el­ers to sign a peti­tion call­ing for an end to the travel ban. Orb­itz exec­u­tives will for­mally present the peti­tion to U.S. offi­cials in Wash­ing­ton, DC later this year.

As an incen­tive to sign the online peti­tion, every per­son who signs the peti­tion will receive a $100 coupon redeemable on Orb­itz against a vaca­tion to Cuba valid if and when the U.S. Gov­ern­ment removes the ban on travel to Cuba, and as soon as Orb­itz is able to offer such travel on its website.

It makes you won­der — espe­cially with the $100 coupon — are they sim­ply doing this to get your travel dol­lars, or the pol­i­tics behind it all.


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Meet the New Boss, Just Smoother than the Old Boss

Wash­ing­ton Post monthly colum­nist Robert Kagan, who’s often seen by the anti-war left as a “Neo-Con Boo­gie­man and War Mon­ger,” writes in today’s paper how a lot of the “change” being adver­tised is just spin.

Pres­i­dent Obama’s for­eign pol­icy team has been work­ing hard to present its poli­cies to the world as con­sti­tut­ing a rad­i­cal break from the Bush years. In the broad­est sense, this has been absurdly easy: Obama had the world at hello.

When it comes to actual poli­cies, how­ever, sell­ing the pre­tense of rad­i­cal change has required some sleight of hand — and a help­ful press corps. Thus the New York Times reports a dra­matic “shift” in China pol­icy to “rig­or­ous and per­sis­tent engage­ment,” as if the pre­vi­ous two admin­is­tra­tions had been doing some­thing else for the past decade and a half. Another Times head­line trum­peted a new “softer tone on North Korea,” based on Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clinton’s sug­ges­tion that the United States would have a “great open­ness to work­ing with” Pyongyang — as soon as it agrees to “ver­i­fi­able and com­plete dis­man­tling and denu­cleariza­tion.” Startling.

The media have also reported a dra­matic shift in the Obama administration’s approach to con­duct­ing the Activ­ity For­merly Known as the War on Ter­ror. “Bush’s ‘War’ on Ter­ror Comes to Sud­den End,” The Post announced on Jan. 23, and sub­se­quent sto­ries have pro­claimed a trans­for­ma­tion from “hard power” to “soft power,” from mil­i­tary action to diplo­macy — even as the Obama admin­is­tra­tion sends 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, sig­nif­i­cantly expands Preda­tor drone attacks in Pak­istan and agrees to a timetable for draw­ing down troops in Iraq scarcely dis­tin­guish­able from what a third Bush admin­is­tra­tion (with the same defense sec­re­tary) might have ordered.

So, too, the administration’s insis­tence on link­ing pro­posed mis­sile defense instal­la­tions in Europe to the “threat” posed by Iran, or its offer to nego­ti­ate Russia’s acqui­es­cence to this plan and even to share mis­sile defense tech­nol­ogy. All this is widely cel­e­brated as new. But Defense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates began these nego­ti­a­tions with Moscow more than a year ago. On Iran, the empha­sis on car­rots, in the form of a global polit­i­cal and eco­nomic embrace if Tehran stops pur­su­ing nuclear weapons, and sticks, in the form of inter­na­tional sanc­tions and iso­la­tion if it doesn’t, is not exactly novel. Add to this the administration’s jus­ti­fi­able hes­i­tancy, cam­paign rhetoric notwith­stand­ing, to jump into direct, high-level nego­ti­a­tions but to focus instead on mid-level con­tacts or mul­ti­lat­eral meet­ings on other sub­jects such as Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s no sur­prise if Iran­ian offi­cials won­der what’s the big deal.

There was a lot of dis­cus­sion on the talk­ing head shows dur­ing the final months of the 2008 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion the ques­tion was along the lines of “just how much can the new Pres­i­dent effect for­eign pol­icy.”  Most of the pun­dits thought — even the lib­er­als on the panel — there really was much which could be done.  A lot of U.S. for­eign pol­icy dates back decades, and all a new Admin­is­tra­tion can do is put a new smil­ing face on it.

After all, his­tory has shown this to be true unless a Pres­i­dent lit­er­ally grabs the bull (In this anal­ogy, that’d be the State Depart­ment) by the horns and turn it in the direc­tion he wants it to go.  Few have had remark­able suc­cess in doing so unless in times of war.

It’s good to see Kagan point this out today, because I really don’t think a lot of lib­eral Amer­ica real­ized the Admin­is­tra­tion of George W. Bush was actu­ally try­ing to get thinks wrapped up in for­eign pol­icy before they left the build­ing.  All Team Obama is doing is cross­ing the goal line.

Here’s hop­ing they don’t fum­ble the ball along the way.

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