Barack Obama and Raul Castro both got what they wanted out of their
meeting in Havana. It’s likely Castro got more, however.
Mr. Obama got a legacy-building tour, which at least one observer termed an “ego trip.”
But the Castro regime got embarrassing photos of the U.S. president standing at attention in front of a giant likeness of communist icon Che Guevara. It’s a public relations coup for the Castro family business. And it’s an image impossible to un-see. It smacked more of
capitulation than détente.
It got even better for Castro.
In another moment of stumbling diplomacy, Mr. Obama allowed Castro to hold the president’s arm hostage in the air – at best a sign of friendship that Obama might not have wanted captured on camera as long as it was.
And then the president opened his mouth.
In a speech to the Cuban people, Obama basically presented communism and tyranny as a lifestyle choice he merely disagrees with, and couldn’t help but take note of the Bay of Pigs. And while he didn’t overtly apologize for America, as he did on his inaugural European/Mideast tour, he pointed to American battleships having come to “liberate but also to exert control over Cuba.”
And when Castro leveled the usual tired communist critique of the U.S., Obama meekly confessed he “personally would not disagree.”
Well, we knew that by now. But he needn’t have thrown the U.S. under the bus on the international stage yet again.
When the president announced his unilateral thaw in relations with Cuba in December 2014, we reluctantly supported it. We thought then, as we do now, that a change in approach to the island sanctuary of Stalinism was warranted after half a century of stalemate.
But we feel now, as we did then, that if left to Mr. Obama the U.S. will get precious little in return for turning a blind eye to the Castro brothers’ continued abuses. We also wondered if Cuban expatriates in the U.S., from whom land and property and relatives were taken in the revolution, would be given any consideration whatsoever. We needn’t have wondered.
Nor are we surprised at how flat-footed the Obama administration was caught when Castro offered to release any political prisoners the U.S. could cite by name. Back at the Obama State Department, a spokesman was wholly unprepared for it.
Mr. Obama’s trip to Havana came much too soon, lent far too much legitimacy to the regime, required far too little of it, and in the end exhibited far too much deference. He may have diminished the office of president as a result.
As Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan summed it up, the president’s trip “effectively gets nothing in return, and he legitimizes a tyrannical dictatorship.”
It’s also just a little disconcerting to see the president who presided over the rise of “JV” ISIS doing the wave at a baseball game with the communist leader of Cuba while ISIS bombs its way through Belgium. Not great optics.
Instead of engaging in the West’s fight against terror, commentator Charles Krauthammer said Obama “does this sort of ideological holiday trip in Cuba while the world burns.”
Mr. Obama did indeed add to his legacy. Whether for good or ill.