Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Letter From Havana

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic recently visited Cuba at the invitation of the still-alive Fidel Castro. In a series of interviews with the frail former president, he comes out strongly against Iran’s anti-Semitism and makes a rather interesting admission about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

We returned repeatedly in this first conversation to Castro’s fear that a confrontation between the West and Iran could escalate into a nuclear conflict. “The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated,” he said. “Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war.” I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. “That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense,” Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, “At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?” He answered: “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.”

Cuba watchers can come to several conclusions about this revelation and others in the interview. First, Castro is trying to get himself back on the international stage after four years out of sight recovering from his near-death illness; he is trying to offer what he sees as a some kind of reasonable alternative to the wild-eyed anti-Americanism of the Iranians and their sympathizers, or, to paraphrase Bill Cosby, this is an old man trying to get into Heaven by rewriting history before he checks out.