If you're thinking about a vacation this year, may I recommend North Korea?
I am not kidding. If you visit this website, "North Korea 1 on 1," you will see some pretty impressive itineraries. They offer a 13-day trip coinciding with the annual May Day Festival. Other trips enable American tourists the chance to see "card stunts" featuring thousands of school children holding up colored cards, and great displays of choreography and artistic performances by tens of thousands of gymnasts and dancers.
You don't have to worry about U.S. government restrictions. Americans can travel to North Korea freely; scheduling and affordability (tours costing $4,000 per person are not unusual) seem to be the only barriers. And what won't stop American tourists from visiting North Korea are political differences or threats posed to the United States by the North Korean government.
What are those threats? As the World Fact Book published by the CIA summarizes them:
North Korea's history of regional military provocations, proliferation of military-related items, long-range missile development, WMD programs including nuclear weapons test in 2006 and 2009, and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community.
These facts aside, the Obama administration places some values on maintaining citizen-to-citizen connections with North Korea. It even allowed the New York Philharmonic to play a concert there. If you can afford the ticket, and the idea of traveling 6,300 miles to get there doesn't daunt you, U.S. policy seems to say -- knock yourself out. Go.
But, if you'd rather stay closer to home; if you'd rather visit a destination that welcomes Americans; if you'd like to go to a place which offers no security threat to the United States (as a variety of respected, retired senior military officers have said repeatedly); please do not even consider visiting Cuba. It's off limits. Visiting the island without a license can subject you to civil fines -- even prosecution. Coming to Cuba as a tourist from the United States is flatly illegal. Even the New York Philharmonic can't play there -- they tried to get to Cuba last year, but the Obama Administration wouldn't let them go.
So, our policy under President Obama boils down to this: engagement is for the North Koreans (the guys with nuclear weapons), but we'll continue to isolate America from Cuba (whose army, the CIA says, lacks replacement parts and sufficient fuel). Engagement, he seems to say, works better the further we are from home, and only with nations that threaten our security, while Cubans will learn more about real democracy and American values when our government ignores both to keep us from traveling there.
It's a glaring inconsistency, "the audacity of nope," a policy where common sense has taken a holiday.