Wednesday, September 08, 2010

About Fidel Castro's Supposed Epiphany

Jeffrey Goldberg managed to swing the interview of a lifetime by sitting down with the former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (his brother Raul runs the show now since Fidel's brush with death after a serious ailment). The clarity of hindsight and of his own impending mortality appear to be informing his decision making in ways that should have been apparent to anyone in his position even just a few years ago (like after the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of other communist countries).

Some of the things he says are eminently sensible at first blush, including that the Cuban model has failed. It only took him 20+ years to realize that. After all, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 and the former Warsaw Pact has largely moved in a direction of capitalism and improved standards of living. Without its benefactor, Cuba's standard of living stagnated, and that had nothing to do with the US embargo.

Then, there's the issue of Castro's comments about Iran's anti Semitism and warning to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From Goldberg's interview:
He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. “I remember when I was a boy - a long time ago - when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside,” he said, “and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.’ God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.’ They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?”

He went on, “Well, I didn’t know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a ‘Jew,’ and so for me the Jews were those birds. These birds had big noses. I don’t even know why they were called that. That’s what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was.”

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.
Prior to the Cuban Revolution, the country was home to a small Jewish population (12-15,000), and many who couldn't directly get into the US first stopped in Cuba so it served as something of a way-station. There is a small Jewish community that is still there to this day, and it dates back to the expulsion of Jews from Spain during the Inquisition. However, more than 90% of Jews in Cuba at the time of the revolution fled Castro and his cronies.

So if this is a genuine change of heart on his part, it is late in coming, and it doesn't absolve him of his prior actions, which includes support and training for Palestinian terrorists (who continue using many of those anti-Semitic slurs in their ongoing propaganda against Israel).

Much more likely is that he's trying to reset himself as an elder statesman, but like Yasir Arafat, you can't trust the guy. He's also trying to have it both ways. He knows that Iran is walking a thin line with its bellicosity, but thinks that it is the US and Israel who need to step back - particularly with Israel eliminating its own nuclear arsenal:
Castro opened our initial meeting by telling me that he read the recent Atlantic article carefully, and that it confirmed his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran. This interpretation was not surprising, of course: Castro is the grandfather of global anti-Americanism, and he has been a severe critic of Israel. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he said, was simple: Israel will only have security if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the rest of the world’s nuclear powers will only have security if they, too, give up their weapons.
We'd just have to ignore that Iran has any role in creating the conflict, up to and including its clandestine efforts to build an enrichment capability that exceeds what it would need for a civilian nuclear program and that it incessantly evokes genocidal flourishes in reference to Israel's existence (as in wiped off the map and using Hamas and Hizbullah as its proxies). We'd also have to note that Israel's nuclear arsenal (such as its neighbors believe exists) is seen as a counterbalance to Israel's small military size and deterrence to large scale attack. Eliminating that nuclear arsenal as a deterrent would potentially open Israel up to further aggression down the road.

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