Fidel Castro is dead, and the world is better for it. I do not mean to say I am celebrating the death of a human being; Castro’s final disposition awaits a ruling before the Judgment Seat of Christ and is not up to me. Rather, I mean that nature, after waiting a lot longer than the time usually allotted to us mortals, has finally removed from this planet a man so odious and responsible for so much human misery that our common human experience is better for his absence.
Not that you’d know it from reading President Obama’s carefully parsed farewell. “We know that this moment,” the president said on Saturday, “fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation.”
This is the kind of wordsmithing that seeks to replace words like “evil” with fuzzy notions about being “consequential.” It’s a way of saying that Castro had a huge effect on many lives, without mentioning what kind. It’s like looking back at Joseph Stalin’s mass collectivization then talking about “the countless ways in which Mr. Stalin altered the course of individual lives.” It’s true, especially if by “altered” the lives of others we mean “ended them brutally.”
“During my presidency,” Obama continued, “we have worked hard to put the past behind us.” I’ll say.
Good and Bad Ways to Put the Past Behind Us
Castro’s crimes against his own people are well-documented by many others, and need not be recounted in detail here. My particular animus toward Castro is rooted his eagerness to see the Soviet Union engage in the nuclear destruction of the United States during the 1962 Cuban crisis. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had to remind Castro that the point of putting Soviet missiles in Cuba was to further Communist interests, not spark Armageddon. “This is insane!” Khrushchev exploded at the time. “Fidel wants to drag us into the grave with him!”
In later years, Castro tried to underplay his hotheaded insistence on starting World War III. That tepid backtracking was good enough for liberals who thought implementing a shoddy socialist state by force was worth the imprisonment and death of political dissidents and other inconvenient people (including Christians, gays, and anyone else who crossed Castro). The whole “nuclear destruction of the United States” was Just One of Those Things that had to be forgotten.
But will we forget? President Obama seems to think so. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” he said in his statement. This, again, is the kind of thing one says when too timid to render a judgment—or when one fears to speak a morally defective judgment aloud.
History has already judged Castro. The insane ideas he espoused, the anti-human global system for which he fought, and the Soviet ally whose bidding he did for so long, are all gone. I do not expect a liberal president to engage in triumphalism, but something more than watery rhetorical oatmeal might have been a better signal to the Cuban people, who are destined to rejoin the modern world sooner rather than later and who might want to know whose side we were really on.
Moral Bankruptcy at Its Worst
“Today,” the president added, “we offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people.” Our thoughts and prayers? What could that even mean? Our prayers for what? Perhaps that Cubans who are glad to see their tormentor finally go cold after the luxury of dying in peace are not accidentally discovered celebrating by the dictatorship Castro’s brother leads?
Yes, there are Cubans who will be distraught over Castro’s death. They don’t need our prayers. Rather, they need a reminder that their regime’s days, one way or another, are numbered, and they should think about where in President Obama’s revered “History” they’ll find themselves.
Obama’s statement not only shows the bankruptcy of the administration’s foreign policy, but also of the general inability of American liberals since at least the 1970s to cope with leftist dictatorships. The liberal adoration of Castro falls neatly in line with a Democratic Party foreign policy that for nearly 40 years has been based on the notion of “no enemies to the Left.”
Anyone who was against Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both George Bushes, the reasoning went, had to be getting something right. (The fact that St. Jack of Kennedy inflicted the Cuban embargo in the first place was usually left politely unsaid, or explained away as a necessity of the Cold War.) But the idea that Castro stood for anything besides violence abroad and repression at home now only reflects a willing suspension of disbelief that requires a huge expenditure of mental energy to maintain. Youthful leftists might be forgiven their ignorance and inexperience, but a man Barack Obama’s age—that is to say, my age—should know better.
What Happens When You Can’t Stand Up to Evil
I say this, by the way, as one of the few conservatives who backed the president’s call for normalizing relations with Cuba. As is always the case with the Obama administration’s foreign policy, however, the White House took a perfectly sensible idea and implemented it in the worst way possible, and I have since ended up regretting that support. Instead of requiring that Cuba take steps away from its totalitarian past, Obama decided all was forgiven, and joined Raul Castro at a baseball game. Bygones.
This romance with leftist dictators was one of many reasons prominent Democrats, such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, defected to the Republicans in the 1980s. Fortunately, a more sensible Republican president in the 1980s would have nothing to do with this kind of moral equivocation. However, in the two decades after the Cold War—a time I now fear we will later call “the interwar period”—this unwillingness to criticize leftist dictatorships has strengthened an inability among Americans in general to think clearly about foreign policy.
This moral muddle-headedness, particularly among the young, has severe consequences. Liberals are appalled—as am I—that the new Trump administration seems hell-bent on correcting Obama’s foreign policy with an equally ridiculous, and perhaps even more dangerous, policy of “no enemies to the Right,” which suits Russian President Vladimir Putin just fine.
But years of liberals insisting on moral equivalence for leftist dictators in fact paved the way for Donald Trump’s utterly transactional politics. What Trump proposes is, indeed, a morally empty foreign policy. It makes no judgment about how dictators treat their own people, or whether they mean us harm.
In other words, it is exactly the kind of vacuous foreign policy for which American liberalism prepared the ground decades in advance by sucking up to hideous people like Fidel Castro. If young Americans who in an earlier time might have worn Che Guevara T-shirts cannot see the danger in Putinista chic today, there’s plenty of blame to go around. The president’s whitewashing of Castro on Saturday is one of the prime examples of how we got to this desolate point.