Washington won't dare congratulate itself over Fidel Castro's decision to retire. Nothing the world's most powerful government did in 52 years of trying—strangling economic sanctions, an embargo, the Bay of Pigs invasion, at least one attempted assassination, Radio Marti, diplomatic threats—brought Castro down.
Frailties of old age (84) did it, folks.
Blunders are common in U.S. foreign policy. But Cuba? This was one lollapalooza of a turkey in U.S. history.
Costs in direct efforts by 11 presidents—Eisenhower through Obama—to unhorse Castro would be an embarrassment, if tabulated. Indirect costs of lost trade by U.S. business, billions. Losses to Cubans, staggering -- although they persisted through the Castro tyranny and made do with handouts from Russia and sympathetic Western nations that ignored U.S. attempts to suffocate Cuba.
Lost U.S. prestige worldwide from the farce? Make your own guess.
Except for Castro's bloodletting executions and star chamber trials of political dissenters and a harsh rule, the Washington vs. Havana saga since Jan. 1, 1959, has had laugh lines of a comedy.
Castro and his 26th of July movement began with 18 followers in the Sierra Maestra mountains, not hundreds he led the world to believe. He also got away with denying he was a communist for years, thanks to star-struck American journalists that portrayed him as a romantic Robin Hood fighting for beleaguered campesinos. He periodically sneaked out of the mountains to Miami to star in rallies at a downtown theater to gather in cash and enlarge his stardom.
After sending dictator-president Fulgencio Batista packing, Castro forthwith turned tyrant and international rogue. He sent troops and air forces to Africa and failed to spread his revolution to South America through Marxist toughie sidekick, Che Gueverra.
All the while, U.S. presidents continued a hypocritical charade. They demanded that Castro release political prisoners, hold elections and allow a free press, but excused China's far more brutish rulers of any such reforms. Pipsqueak Cuba was easier to bully. Simultaneously, noisy Cuban exiles in Florida became de facto policymakers, trading election time support for tougher (and futile) sanctions on Castro out of Washington.
What did this get us? A diplomatic black eye. Castro never faltered. Castro pulled the plug on himself.
Bogged down as we are in Afghanistan, and failing on threats to oust Libya's Qaddafi, Washington could use a foreign policy victory of sorts by opening the doors to Cuba, reestablishing trade and flooding the island with Yankees to poison the communist regime with dollars and free-enterprise consumer goodies.