Ever since American Alan Gross was sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison the Obama administration has been muted in its response. At times Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to suggest a deal was in the offing. Now we know that is bunk. The Associated Press reports:

Former President Jimmy Carter left Cuba on Wednesday without gaining the release of a U.S. government contractor jailed the past 16 months, a deflating end to what was otherwise a groundbreaking visit. ...

When the 86-year-old ex-president flew off in the afternoon without Alan Gross on board, it dashed the hopes of Washington officials and relatives who had hoped Carter would be able to bring the Maryland native home.

Gross, who was working on a USAID-funded democracy building program when he was arrested in December 2009, is serving a 15-year sentence after being convicted earlier this month of bringing communications equipment into Cuba illegally.

State Department officials have said privately that Cuban authorities indicated they might release Gross on humanitarian grounds following his trial and sentencing earlier this month.

But Carter said that from the very beginning, he knew Gross would not be freed during his visit.

So why in the world would Carter go? And more important, why does the Obama administration continue its silence and decline to reconsider recent rollbacks in sanctions? Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, e-mailed me: “President Carter’s visit would have been worthwhile had he been able to secure the release of Alan Gross. We are now told that Carter knew before he went that Castro would not release Gross, so why did he go at all? All the visit did was to raise hopes and dash them.”

The State Department has not returned my request for comment on Carter’s visit or on potential responses to Gross’s continued incarceration. What we do know is that President Obama’s Cuba policy is an abject failure, and Gross is a hostage in a dramatic show by the Cuban thugocracy that it can best the American administration.