Sunday, April 05, 2009

Eisenhower and Castro

Rob makes some interesting points in his discussion of Eisenhower's foreign policy in his response to me during last week's Herring Review. Among them is this bit on Castro.

Herring makes the case that the collapse of relations between the United States and Cuba was mainly the fault of Castro. This is to say that Castro's vision of Cuba didn't have a lot of room for the United States; the Eisenhower administration was surprisingly flexible, turning on Batista towards the end and extending feelers towards the new regime. For Castro, however, alienating the United States was a feature, not a bug. Herring is skeptical that the United States could have engaged in any policy that would have produced amity with Cuba, although the invasion and the continuing efforts at destabilization and assassination (which he details in the next chapter) probably didn't help.

Rob and Herring are probably right here. Certainly alienating the U.S. was a way for Castro to consolidate power. For the last 50 years, this has allowed him to downplay his own failings by blaming the United States, often rightfully, for Cuba's problems. But if Castro deserves a lot of fault, so does Eisenhower and the United States. While it's unlikely that any other president at the time would have treated Castro all that differently (and certainly Kennedy's policies suggest this), had the United States thought of the Cubans as able to rule themselves and had respected the sovereignty of that nation for the 61 years before the Cuban Revolution, conditions might have been far different. While Eisenhower may deserve some credit for pulling away from Batista in 1958 and at least considering dialogue with Castro, ultimately only continued American domination of the island's economy was going to satisfy Eisenhower and the American political and business establishment. Maybe Eisenhower's not really to blame per se, but the racist and imperialist foundation of American foreign policy toward the developing world during these years certainly must shoulder its share of fault.

On another issue, Rob expresses some tolerance for people who lived through World War II to compare bad leaders to Hitler. I have much more of a problem with it. I see his point; they were reacting to their lived experience as opposed to Bill Kristol and Doug Feith screaming about Munich on every foreign policy issue. At the same time, comparisons of Nasser or Castro to Hitler were patently absurd on the face of it.