On at least one score, President Bush is no worse than a string of his predecessors.
Like presidents before, Bush has failed to topple Fidel Castro, the wily, ranting, Marxist Cuban dictator who strode down from his mountain hideaway with a band of ragtag revolutionaries to seize control of Cuba in 1959—obliquely helped by the United States.
In 1958, President Eisenhower suspended military aid to the Mafia-friendly, abusive military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista, opening the way for Castro's victorious march out of the Sierra Maestras to tumultuous Havana celebrations.
Cubans were in for a shock. Castro wasn't the agrarian revolutionary he claimed. He immediately inflicted terrorizing Marxist programs that reduced a flourishing country into a despotic prison—firing squads, confiscation of foreign corporations, neighborhood spies, fealty to Moscow, economic theories that have left Cuba penniless.
Come next Jan. 1, Castro will have clung to power for 47 years despite his doctrinaire incompetence. Yet he also has had an uncanny ability to withstand the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by President Kennedy, and the years of empty threats, meaningless embargoes, toothless sanctions and foiled assassination attempts of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr.
Cuba is a wreck. Shortages are perpetual, human rights non-existent. Yet, this pipsqueak tyrant has held the world at bay and the Cuban people in chains for nearly a half century.
It's no secret why: Every U.S. president since 1959 has bought into hare-brained ideas of South Florida's loud-mouth, histrionic Cuban exiles who insist ever tougher U.S. sanctions would topple Castro. None have worked.
What would've paid off long ago would've been a heavy dose of free enterprise—open tourism, U.S. investment, two-way trade. Prosperity would've ended Castro's communist tyranny, just as it changed Soviet Russia's communist system and is gradually changing communist China.
But older Cuban exiles would have none of that. As a result, the U.S. is willing to punish its citizens for doing business with Castro and threatens sanctions on nations that trade with Cuba.
So, while U.S. presidents do business with worse tyrannies—mainland China, for one—they were paralyzed by fear of Election Day retribution by Cuban exiles whose competence in diplomatic strategy is as skillful as Saddam Hussein's battlefield tactics against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Castro is bound to go, but not because of clever U.S. strategy or White House resolve. He's 80 and sickly. In the end, the Grim Reaper will prove to be more decisive than powerful U.S. presidents who relied on advice the rest of the world knew was bum.