To remember when there was no Fidel Castro blowing cigar smoke and abuse our way, one has to remember nickel soft drinks, Mamie Eisenhower and the words to "Two Silhouettes on the Shade." As it happens, I do, but that’s not the point. The point is the durability of evaded, or only partly addressed, problems.
The Castro problem, we might reflect, given the recent dip in Fidel’s prospects for earthly enjoyments, never needed to become the Castro problem. We could have thrown the bum out, in other words, and spared Latin America and the world a lot of subsequent, not to mention continuing, distress.
Instead, we — the United States — let slip the opportunity. Sentimentality, carelessness, it’s hard to know what exactly undermined our planned KO of Castro, which was launched on President John F. Kennedy’s watch and produced the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The United States outsourced the invasion to a band of Cuban exiles who got themselves walloped and captured.
And so, instead of helping a democratic government to power, we reached uneasy accommodation with a communist despot ready to act at any time to spread Sovietism through Latin America — from a base, as it was then conventional to say, "90 miles off our shores." A lot of Latin Americans got killed on account of Castro, and a lot still languish in his prisons. Cuba is a hellhole — a kind of perverse inspiration to the likes of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who think Castro got it about right.
Plenty of time for rehearsing all that sad saga once the Lord finally moves Castro to a different domicile. Meanwhile, the impending end of Fidelismo provides — it should anyway — food for thought about the risks not only of coming down hard on hard-core anti-American types, but of failing to come down on them at all.
Dictator-toleration, as a foreign policy concept, is presently making a comeback. Iraq hasn’t been good for the opposite principle, namely, throw the bum out. Nor, in practical terms, can there be any warrant for going after everyone in the world who might not like us. On the other hand, names like Iran and Syria come to mind as durable threats we might have dealt with in the past, given more will than we displayed. How often did we need the nasties in Tehran to tell us how much they hated us, and the whole West? There was the hostage crisis of 1979-81. Now there is Hezbollah, as well as the apparent project of building nuclear weapons. Iran’s own "final solution" to "the Jewish problem"?
Surely some bells went off in highly placed heads at some point in the past. Did the Cuban example come to mind — the example of what happens when you let malice and hatred breed without interruption? What now does anyone do with Iran? Is there a good answer?
This is to deal with dictator-toleration in only the broadest terms, without mention of strategies for throwing out the bums or the costs for so doing. I note the matter mainly because of how bad we presently feel about Iraq — and how grave would be the mistake of concluding that, because the way has been hard, we were wrong not to stay home and tend to our knitting.
It would have been hard to get rid of Castro and to clean up after him. Yet, is it really doubtful, all these years later, what a gain to peace and freedom his political demise would have been? There would have been no missile showdown with the Soviet Union; no Kennedy assassination; no Cuban-inspired attempt to communize Chile; no bloody guerrilla wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador; no political prisons for freedom-minded Cubans; no flight of Cubans to the United States; no Mariel refugee crisis; no overturned boats and drowned refugees between Cuba and Florida; no Elian Gonzalez mess; no…
Action has its undoubted costs and dangers — just like non-action, when you get right down to it.