Thus does the first RINO of the 2016 presidential primary reveal himself. That’s a joke, of course, but imagine if Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney or Chris Christie had offered even this tepid of an endorsement for Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations with the Castro brothers in Cuba. Instead, Rand Paul told an interviewer earlier today that the decades of existing policy didn’t achieve its objective, and it makes sense to try engagement to see whether that works instead:

Paul became the first potential Republican presidential candidate to offer some support for President Barack Obama’s decision to try to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba. The president’s surprise announcement on Wednesday was slammed by several potential GOP candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who said it amounted to appeasing the Castro regime.

Paul said in a radio interview with Tom Roten of News Talk 800 WVHU in Huntington, West Virginia, that many younger Cuban Americans support opening up trade with Cuba. He also said many U.S. farmers would back Obama’s moves because the country is a new market for their crops.

“The 50-year embargo just hasn’t worked,” Paul said. “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship.

“In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea,” he said.

Conceptually, I agree with this. In practice, though, the issue is very complicated. It’s true that our 52-year embargo has failed to do anything to deflect the Castros from their oppression. The price signals from the American embargo may not have had the impact we hoped, but changing policies sends a signal, too. In this case, the signal seems to be weakness, or at least indifference to the regime’s continued oppression. We didn’t get very much out of this except our own people out and a handful of dissidents momentarily let out of prison. For that kind of shift, we should have demanded more reform from Cuba. Instead, we got an embassy and a likely return of Cuban cigars to American tobacco shops.

With that in mind, small wonder most Republican contenders to replace Obama reacted negatively. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz adamantly oppose normalization with the Castros for very personal reasons (as well as policy reasons), but one might expect the self-styled pragmatists to be pragmatic about a failed policy. Nope; Jeb Bush called it “a policy misstep,” while Mitt Romney declared the Castros the victors over the US in the shift. Chris Christie has been quiet about it, but Scott Walker lined up behind Marco Rubio and called it “a bad idea.”

If we’re really going to open up Cuba, does that mean we can get extradition back in place? The FBI has a few people it wants to arrest that the Castros have been sheltering for decades:

Assata Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, escaped from prison in 1979 after being convicted of murdering state trooper Werner Foerster. She had been in a car with two fellow members of the Black Liberation Army when Foerster and another trooper pulled them over on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Shakur was on the run for five years after her prison break before managing to reach Cuba, where she was granted asylum in 1984. …

Cuba also granted asylum to three black militants who hijacked an airplane from Albuquerque while being sought for the 1972 murder of New Mexico State Trooper Robert Rosenbloom during a traffic stop.

One of the three, Ralph Goodwin, is said to have drowned while swimming at a beach outside Havana. The other two, Charlie Hill and Michael Finney, continue to live in Cuba. Hill told a Washington Post reporter in 1999 that he had no regrets about killing Rosenbloom, who had a wife and two young daughters.

“I have never felt guilty about that cop,” Hill was quoted saying. “I never think about that dude.”

Did the agreement with the Castros at least get that much? Because if the issue is “opening up Cuba,” then that should be a big part of the process. If not, then it looks even more like a case of the US throwing in the towel and accepting defeat.

Update: Fixed a formatting error that I should have caught before the post went live. My apologies.