Since Barack Obama’s election on November 4 there has been a flurry of columns written about how U.S. policy toward Cuba might change, should change, or must change. The latest such column trumpeting a new era in bilateral relations is attributed to Fidel Castro, the retired tyrant. It was published in Cuba’s official newspaper, Granma, and dutifully excerpted by media outlets around the world. The truth is that nobody knows if these pieces are actually authored or dictated by Fidel since we only get to see still pictures of a gaunt Castro posed in controlled environments these days.
In any case, Fidel (or his ghostwriter) suggests that “talks could happen anywhere [Obama] wants.” I wonder where he might have gotten the idea that President-elect Obama would be willing to engage in such a meeting. Of course he got it from Obama himself when he told the audience of the CNN/YouTube debate that he would meet with Raul Castro, Cuba’s junior dictator, without preconditions. Charles Krauthammer rightly pointed out at the time that Obama’s answer was a mistake which he should have immediately withdrawn; instead, he somehow managed to build his entire foreign policy around the idea that evil people will stop being evil if only we are nice to them.
When the president of the United States meets with a foreign leader, it’s about more than just working out differences. Such a meeting bestows legitimacy on the foreign leader and his/her government, legitimacy that Obama seemed very cavalier about bestowing on Raul Castro, Kim Jong-Il, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.