Finally, Barack Obama saw the light and broke with Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. It took him 20 years to realize that its leaders, its in-house publications, and even its guest preachers were anti-American. If elected president, he will not have so long a grace period to make his decisions.
Another vulnerable point for Senator Obama is his changing policy toward Cuba. A few days ago he announced that, if elected president, he would promote a much friendlier policy toward that country. It was a rousing speech. Even Fidel Castro rose from his sickbed to praise this oration by “the most progressive candidate to the U.S. presidency,” in a hand-signed piece published — in English, of course — in Cuba’s official Granma.
Senator Obama is smart, well-spoken, charismatic, and charming. But I have reason to doubt he can bring Raúl Castro’s corrupt mind back to normal just by meeting him, even “at a time and place of my choosing,” and by waving the American flag-pin of liberty at him. When we sift the wheat from the chaff in the senator’s flamboyant speech, little remains in his new policy toward Cuba — or toward Iran, Syria, and Chávez’s Venezuela, for that matter.
As national security adviser to Romanian president Nicolae Ceauçescu, I dealt with many tyrants, and I learned that being nice to them never succeeds in making them nice to you. On April 12, 1978, I was in the car with Ceauçescu as he drove away from a meeting in the White House. He took a bottle of alcohol and splashed it all over his face, after having been affectionately kissed by President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office. “Peanut-head,” my boss whispered disgustedly. Afterwards, two other American presidents went to Bucharest to pay Ceauçescu respect. None was ever able to twist his arm — or charm him.
Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military philosopher whose Art of War is still the bible of military strategists worldwide, has credibly demonstrated that knowing the enemy is crucial for winning any war. I do not know how well Senator Obama knows Raúl Castro. But in my former life, I established a fairly close relationship with Raúl. We even raced each other in our identical Alfa Romeos. In all those years, I could not find any hole in his armor to persuade me that by just meeting a U.S. leader — even one as eloquent as Barack Obama — Raúl would follow in my footsteps and switch from tyranny to democracy.
Raúl is a Cuban Ceauçescu. Like Ceauçescu, Raúl supervised his country’s political police before becoming president. Like Ceauçescu, Raúl also desperately dreamed of becoming his country’s president. Sergio del Valle, my Cuban counterpart and Raúl’s closest associate — going back to their early days in the Sierra Maestra — used to call him “Raúl the Terrible.” That was a friendly allusion to Ivan the Terrible, the first Russian to crown himself tsar. Also like Ceauçescu, Raúl wanted to build his country into a monument to himself.
In 1971, on Ceauçescu’s advice, Raúl started transforming Cuba’s party leaders and the top government officials into undercover intelligence officers secretly subordinated to Cuba’s political police, the Dirección de Inteligencia (DI), which the younger Castro built and led. During that same year I traveled to Cuba, Raúl told me he had already sworn in as undercover intelligence officers most members of Cuba’s government, the deputy ministers of foreign affairs and foreign trade, and the majority of Cuba’s ambassadors. Those new undercover officers swore secret allegiance to Raúl’s intelligence community, which remunerated them with salary supplements under the table. They had to follow intelligence discipline and carry out intelligence tasks to keep their privileged jobs.