American presidents should avoid shaking the hand of dictators, especially those that have American blood on theirs. One example of many: Raul Castro was Minister of Defense in 1996 when Cuban Air Force MiGs, cold-bloodedly and over international airspace, destroyed two civilian U.S. airplanes with four American rescue workers on board. President Clinton rightly condemned the attack as cowardly, while Raul Castro decorated his pilots for bravery. That incident alone illustrates the difference between the two systems that are embodied in the two leaders. President Obama seems unaware of the importance of his office or of the mantle of honor he wears as the leader of the world’s oldest democracy and the liberator of nations. There is no moral equivalence between the leader of the free world and the leader of a morally bankrupt military dictatorship that holds power only by force.
The Castro brothers have been vying for the world to see a handshake with a U.S. president for over 50 years. (President Clinton did shake hands with Fidel at a U.N. summit in 2000, but there was no photo.) They knew it would represent a form of recognition, something they forfeited by virtue of presiding over a military dictatorship, and their support for violence and anti-American terrorist movements and governments on three continents.
Until now, every American president had studiously avoided this mistake: At U.N. and other gatherings U.S. Secret Service agents and diplomats were under orders to make sure such a “photo op” so highly desired by the Castros did not happen.
With his greeting, President Obama has squandered U.S. prestige and honor.
— Otto J. Reich served President Bush from 2001 to 2004, first as assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere and later in the National Security Council.