Why Fear Castro?
April 27, 2000
Clintons puzzling eagerness to accommodate Fidel Castro in
the matter of Elián Gonzalez is reminiscent of Franklin
Roosevelts fawning on Joseph Stalin during World War II. The
stakes are vastly different a six-year-old boy as opposed to the
fate of a continent but there are interesting parallels as well as
Roosevelt saw Stalin, one of
historys supreme tyrants, as an enlightened ruler who could be
trusted to dominate Europe humanely after the war. He affectionately
called him Uncle Joe and avoided stressing any issue that
might antagonize him. Far from seeing the Soviet Union as a barbaric
empire opposed to everything America represented, he saw it as
Americas partner in ensuring a lasting global peace unlike
the British Empire, which he regarded as a reactionary relic.
At the Tehran Conference of 1943 and
the Yalta Conference of 1945, Roosevelt overrode and humiliated the
British prime minister, Winston Churchill, in order to curry favor with
Stalin. He accepted Stalins word that Poland, under Soviet
supervision, would enjoy free democratic elections. Churchill bore plenty
of blame for the Allies disgraceful and disastrous partnership with
Stalin, but he had enough sense to be terrified of Soviet hegemony in
Europe; Roosevelt ridiculed and ignored his anxieties.
Roosevelt was surrounded by Soviet agents, including Alger
Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and others, possibly including his chief
confidant, Harry Hopkins, but he was no Communist himself. He was
merely a self-deluded autocrat who saw Stalin as a kindred spirit, a well-
meaning and reliable ally. Whatever Stalin wanted, he felt, was reasonable
enough. Above all, he strove to avoid antagonizing the Soviet tyrant, who
intimidated him in their personal encounters. He really thought that if he
could charm Stalin and earn his affection, all would be well. In the words
of one observer at the time, Roosevelt was in a state of infatuated
hallucination regarding the virgin purity of Marshal Stalins
For his part, Stalin was more
hard-headed in his negotiations. He never allowed personal warmth (if he
had any) to influence his decisions. He didnt want friendship. He
wanted Europe. And thanks to Roosevelt, he got an enormous share of it.
Churchills desperate attempts to hold the Soviets back came far
too late. Roosevelts sudden death in April 1945 providentially
saved Western Europe.
Bill Clinton, like Roosevelt, is no
Communist, merely a politician of considerable skill and considerable
cynicism. Also like Roosevelt, he has proved himself a master of amassing
executive power beyond all constitutional bounds.
Castro no longer poses any threat to
the United States or any other country certainly nothing like that
of the enormous Soviet Empire under Stalin. But he seems to have a
strange power to intimidate Clinton. Weak as he is, he wont
concede an inch. He insists that Cuba owns all rights to Elián
Gonzalez without any prattle about fathers
Some veteran Clinton-watchers think
that he can menace Clinton with the kind of refugee influx that helped
defeat Clinton in his 1980 reelection bid as governor of Arkansas; or at
least that Clinton fears a repetition of that episode. That seems
far-fetched. Clintons political career is nearly over, and nothing
Castro does could much affect the fate of Clintons
protégé, Al Gore, this year.
Others think Clinton merely craves
normal relations with Cuba and doesnt want to anger Castro
further. But he is cunning enough to see that Castro needs him far more
than he needs Castro, though youd never know it by watching the
Whatever the reason, Clinton
doesnt dare antagonize Castro. He doesnt mention
freedom or Communism, doesnt
contrast American liberty with Cuban totalitarianism, doesnt
challenge Castros right to the moral high ground in the dispute
over the little boy. As head of the worlds most powerful
government, he behaves as if he were dealing from weakness, as eager to
appease Castro as if his own fate were in Castros hands.
But in contrast to Roosevelts
fulsome idealization of Stalin, Clinton doesnt praise Castro. He
simply acts as if the Cuban dictator werent there, even as he
labors to enact Castros will.
Why? Does Castro have something on
Clinton? Is our president being blackmailed? Or is it simply a matter of
Clintons profound crassness? There is more to this situation than
meets the eye.
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