For reasons you may appreciate, I find it hard to get worked up over President Obama’s handshake with Raúl Castro. First, statecraft requires all sorts of nose-holding. You hold your nose with one hand and shake with the other. My concern, though, is that Obama doesn’t find the Castros as repellent as he should.
But the second reason for my relative calm, in the face of this handshake, is more important: Obama has been our president for five years now. He is the people’s choice. Cubans can’t choose their leaders, but we Americans can. And the American people have chosen Obama twice now. His way of looking at the world is perfectly well known. There are no surprises.
This is the way it will be until Americans make another choice. They did not want Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012. I don’t have great confidence that their judgment or taste will improve in four years’ time.
Blasé or resigned as I try to be, I am not free from indignation. I have all too much of the stuff. And I begin today’s Impromptus with a note about the handshake. Mainly, I quote an essay I had in a recent National Review. Here is a sample of that essay:
As a rule, dictators crave the legitimacy that democratic statesmen can confer. They crave the mere rubbing of shoulders. At the U.N. in 2002, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat wanted to be up close and personal with President Bush. Elliott Abrams captures the moment in his recent memoir, Tested by Zion: The secretary of state, Colin Powell, “served as defensive tackle, literally pushing Arafat back when he tried to get into a photo with Bush as the president moved down a General Assembly corridor.”
Finally, let me get to the main reason I’m bothering you here on the Corner. I want to say something about Otto Reich — who had a post yesterday on the Obama-Castro handshake. An excellent post it was. But Otto is too modest to tell you what I’m going to tell you now.
At an early stage of his career, he was at a gathering where Somoza was present. At a later, but still early, stage, he was at a gathering where Pinochet was present. He did not make a show of it in either case — but he avoided shaking their hands. He was not strictly required to greet them, and he did not. He was simply loath to extend his hand to them.
(Otto, as you may know, is Cuban-born. He has a German name, however, because his father, Walter Reich, was an Austrian who escaped the Nazis. The rest of Walter’s family did not, could not. They were murdered. Walter ultimately found refuge in Cuba’s capital, whose name means “haven.” Then, thanks to the Castros and their fellow Communists, Walter had to flee again, taking his family with him. His son Otto has the peculiar idea that America should stand for, and defend, freedom. Strange bird, Otto.)
(Ted Cruz is a strange bird too. He walked out of Raúl Castro’s speech at Mandela’s funeral. Ted’s father, Rafael, came to America as a refugee from Cuba. He was a teenager. He had fought with Castro’s forces, and had been tortured by Batista’s forces. Then he got out of the country. After the revolutionaries came to power in Cuba, he was appalled: The new gang proved to be worse than the old gang, far worse. Rafael Cruz is passionate about freedom, and he instilled this passion in his son. Strange birds, all around. But maybe, considering their experiences, we can forgive them.)