Irwin M. Stelzer, the legendary 84-year-old American economist (once reviled as Rupert Murdoch’s right hand man) and US economic and business columnist for The Sunday Times, has neither lost his touch nor his acumen.
Between Brussels under attack by Islamic terrorists and Britain’s political pre-occupation with Brexit, we, he said, on this side of the pond, managed to miss the significance of a world-historic event on his side last week.
What he was referring to was the list of humiliations that Barack Obama was subjected to in Cuba as the price of bringing the final remnants of the Cold War to an end – all rotten compromises of principle he ignored to achieve his so-called epoch-making moment.
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, the real architects of the Cold War’s conclusion, would have been turning in their graves. When Margaret Thatcher travelled to Moscow to meet Mikhail Gorbachev and Russian dissidents to discuss perestroika and glasnost, did she compromise for fear of offending her hosts? No, she steadfastly refused back down on retaining the nuclear deterrent. Ronald Reagan too travelled to Berlin to demand that Gorbachev tear down the Wall – all the while holding fast to the development of his anti-missile system.
Did either pose in front of a portrait of Lenin in order to achieve their political ends? Of course not.
Not so that former student hippy Mr Obama. When he travelled to Havana, he “..posed in front of a portrait of the murderous Che Guevara, the idol of the Left in the president’s university days; laid a wreath at the tomb of poet Jose Marti, famous for his attacks on the American “monster . . . its excessive worship of wealth . . . [and its] inequality, injustice and violence”; and promised to consider dictator Raul Castro’s criticisms of America’s education and healthcare systems.”
Did Obama really need to play patsy to this old Soviet sympathiser, who personally oversaw the summary execution of scores of Batista soldiers?
Brother Fidel’s 1,500-word letter in the state media heralding “Brother Obama’s” visit (in which he diplomatically reviewed a half-century of U.S. aggression against Cuba) might have set some alarm bells tinkling. But it didn’t seem even to give him pause for thought.
Hence the lasting news image of the trip of Obama attending a baseball game beside a smiling (Raul) Castro, who Stelzer commented, “ ..had thoughtfully rounded up hundreds of dissidents lest they cast a pall over the president’s visit, then denied to reporters that any such existed in Cuba’s workers’ paradise” while the President was given another public slap in the face when Raul expressed his offence at the question. “It is not correct to ask me about political prisoners,” he adjured the US President.
Though, like Stelzer, one might admire Castro’s chutzpah as he sought to embarrass his guest, one might also cringe with embarrassment and shame at the US President’s subservient behaviour.
You could argue that Mr Obama’s “eloquent plea for the regime to open up the economy and political system” and “his long meeting with dissidents, which no head of state, not even the Pope, has previously dared do”, made his and the USA’s humiliation worth it.
I don’t think so. The chance of this happening as a result of opening up trade is not worth a light, let alone a puff of a Cuban cigar. You only have to look at that other authoritarian State – China – whose ruthless President Xi Jinping began clamping down on freedom as his country’s economy sparkled.
No, this was a win for Cuba and a loss to the USA’s world standing. Another example of its President demonstrating that on matters of principle he does not stand like a rock.