Today I attended a conference/summit/program put on by the U.S. Center for Global Engagement titled “Putting ‘Smart Power’ to Work.” For those of you not up on the current lingo, “smart power” is essentially the same exact thing as soft power, but way less flaccid sounding. The panel included some serious luminaries, including Gen. Colin Powell, former Rep. Jim Leach, Wendy Sherman, and Sen. Bob Menendez. Anyway, as the title might betray, the discussion centered on what President Obama and Congress should do to empower the civilian dimensions of our foreign policy and just why it’s in our best interest to foster developmental and diplomatic capabilities. This is why I was sort of confused to learn that the very same Senator Menendez who was in front of me earlier singing paeans to development, was being such a dick about Cuba policy. In specific, Menendez has threatened to oppose the budget because it contains provisions that would allow Cuban-Americans to visit their families in Cuba once per year as well as end the ban on selling American foods and medicines in Cuba. What’s more, Menendez has put a “hold” on two of Obama’s science appointees to make a completely unrelated point about Cuba. I’m not sure what gets people so worked up about Cuba, but regardless of any emotional dimensions that might heat the debate, I’d think you’d be forced to reconsider Cuba policy based solely on the fact that it’s been rather unsuccessful. Since Kennedy instituted the embargo, Cuba has remained Communist and remained poor. At the same time, we do stupid things like make corn-based ethanol which is four times less effective than sugar-based ethanol, in large part because we refuse to trade with Cuba. It makes no sense.