Finally: Obama shakes hands with Raul Castro

Via Charlie Spiering, kismet at today’s memorial service for Mandela. One’s a communist who’s reduced his country to ruins, the other’s Raul Castro.


Seriously, though, some background from Joel Pollak on Castro’s presence:

South Africa has close ties with Cuba because the ruling party, the African National Congress, was supported by Castro during its years of exile and guerrilla warfare against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Many South African leaders, including Mandela, were willing to overlook human rights abuses in Cuba. Today Cuba exports professionals to South Africa to fill a skills shortage partly created by aggressive affirmative action policies.

What’s the protocol for something like this? You’re at the funeral of South Africa’s great conciliator. Castro’s right in front of you — and to my eye, it looks like he positioned himself there deliberately to meet O as he was coming down from the podium. Do you stiff-arm him or do you do a five-second heyhowareya and move on? Here’s what Obama said after he shook hands with another anti-American socialist leader early in his first term:

Rebuffing criticism of the warm greetings he exchanged with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, President Obama said Sunday that the United States, with its overwhelming military superiority and need to improve its global image, could afford to extend such diplomatic “courtesy.”…

He said the 2008 presidential campaign proved that American voters want the president to engage with his counterparts, whether or not they are avowed friends of the U.S.

He said it “was a nice gesture to give me a book. I’m a reader.” The president added that the election was a referendum of sorts on the argument that U.S. solicitude toward foreign leaders could be seen as “weakness.”

“The American people didn’t buy it,” Obama said. “And there’s a good reason the American people didn’t buy it, because it doesn’t make sense.”…

“Its defense budget is probably 1/600th of the U.S.,” he said. “They own [the oil company] Citgo. It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.”


If that was his line on Chavez, and if he was willing to make phone chitchat this year with the leader of a regime whose motto is “Death to America,” go figure that he’s willing to press the flesh with a Cold War dinosaur who’s recently taken the babiest of baby steps towards liberalization. If anything, rapprochement with Cuba might be his “legacy” fallback option if/when his outreach to Iran collapses. And even if it doesn’t collapse, in the highly unlikely event that he and other western leaders broker a comprehensive nuke deal with Iran, the mullahs will almost certainly demand formal recognition by the U.S. as part of the deal — and O will agree to it. If he can get something for the U.S. from it, he’s not going to let moral objections to how a regime treats its own people, let alone people abroad, bar diplomacy.

By the way, he also shook hands with Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Robert Mugabe. Now’s your chance, Rouhani! The man can’t say no.

Update: From today’s eulogy for Mandela. Just words?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: So we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.


Update: Joel Pollak notes on Twitter that NBC has quietly deleted its claim that Obama also shook hands with Mugabe. I haven’t seen other reports that they two met; looks like NBC blew it and, rather than issue a correction, simply disappeared the bogus “fact.”

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