As I read the obituaries and saw reactions to Fidel Castro’s death I was struck by two things.
First, history will judge the US embargo policy a total failure. Suppose it’s authors had been told nearly 60 years ago that The Berlin Wall will fall. The Iron Curtain will fall. The USSR will break into 15 separate nations. Central Europe will join NATO. Russia and China will renounce Marxist Leninism. McDonald’s will come en masse to Moscow and Beijing. US Presidents will routinely summit with China which will become one of our largest trading partners.
And a Castro will still rule Cuba for another quarter century.
There is a huge lesson here in the dangers of isolating a nation rather than engaging with it. Yitzhak Rabin was right when he noted that “you don’t make peace with your friends”. We could have done much better.
Second, President-elect Trump’s response has been highly problematic. I share his loathing of Castro, his record, his ideology and all he stood for. And I was disturbed by the statements like those of Canadian PM Justin Trudeau that seemed to celebrate Castro as a heroic leader.
But it’s instructive to contrast the President-elect’s celebration of Castro’s death, condemnation of Cuba’s governance, and bragging about his campaign with America’s response at other epochal moments. After Stalin died at the height of the Cold War, President Eisenhower’s reached out to the Russian people emphasizing our common humanity under God. Or one can consider President George H.W. Bush’s carefully modest and non-gloating response to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The goal of Presidential statements should be to advance US interests not to settle scores or score points. I hope the that President-elect Trump will adopt a different tone once in office.