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White House: No major reorganization needed

There isn't a whole lot of news in the just-released White House Security Review  on the Christmas bombing attempt. (Not sure what James Jones was so "shocked" by.) As President Obama basically said two days ago, the U.S.government "had sufficient information" to disrupt the plot, primarily by placing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on a the no-fly list, but the intelligence community failed to "connect the dots." The report recommends a number of reforms and reviews to improve communications and strengthen the watchlist, but also finds that major fixes aren't needed:

A reorganization of the intelligence or broader counterterrorism community is not required to address problems that surfaced in the review, a fact made clear by countless other successful efforts to thwart ongoing plots. 

That should please the editors of the Financial Times who argued in a smart editorial today against undertaking major bureaucratic reorganizations:

In one way the US is the victim of its own increased efforts. After 9/11 the US created new agencies, and agencies within agencies. Proliferating bureaucracies gather more data, but connecting the silos and empowering somebody to act gets harder.

In addition, as information increases, background noise goes up too. One of the US watch-lists includes half a million names. That number, which will probably now rise, is already too high to be much use. The no-fly and selective-screening lists, on the other hand, are too small, since Mr Abdulmutallab was not on them.

I do worry that making the watchlisting system more aggressive will open up a can of worms (Just ask Nelson Mandela.)  but from this review, the administration seems to be proceeding with caution.

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Is Obama out of options on Cuba?

The tone of U.S.-Cuban relations have taken a number of turns for the worse in recent days. The largest of these may be the arrest of an American contractor for distributing laptops on the island. Christopher Sabatini explains the significance of this for U.S. policy on Foreign Policy today: 

Ultimately, though, last month's arrest of the USAID contractor demonstrates the ineffectiveness of Obama's much-heralded April announcement of opening up telecommunications with Cuba. In his speech, Obama called for a change in U.S. policy, allowing private companies to develop direct contacts with the Cuban people. It sounded nice, but unfortunately something got lost in the translation from presidential directive to governmental regulation to reality.

The final regulations that resulted and were released in September did little to advance any of Obama's lofty rhetoric. The sale or construction of telecommunications infrastructure to Cuba by U.S companies -- necessary to allow the famously antiquated island to have digital contact with the rest of the world -- is forbidden. Instead, what is allowed are donations, something Cuba already permits.

Simply put, Obama's plan is not enough to unleash the initiative and potential of private businesses to open up the island.

Also this week, Cuba bitterly protested their inclusion on a list of countries whose citizens will receive increased scrutiny when traveling into the United States in the wake of the Christmas bombing attempt.

The chances of  rapproachement also took  a hit from the U.S. side with the resignations of Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan. Dodd, in particular, was an outspoken advocate of easing the embargo.

Thanks largely to the Castro brothers' increasingly bellicose anti-Obama rhetoric, a parade of recent articles. But how much of the honeymoon was just hype. I suspect that blogger Fidel's early praise of Obama's election led many to think that there was more potential for change than there actually was. (After all, Ahmadinejad once said nice things about Obama, as well.)

Now that it's fairly clear the Castro's have little intention of enacting political or economic reform, and, John Kerry notwithstanding, there's little congressional momentum to normalize relations for their own sake, Obama is left with relatively few options for changing the policy beyond relatively unconrtoversial steps like lifting the travel ban for Cuban-Americans, and moral-support gestures like agreeing to be interviewed by Cuban bloggers.  

Perhaps it was unrealistic to expect anything more.

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images