Don’t say Barack Obama never tells it how it is. When he revealed to Jeffrey Goldberg that, in his opinion, the Washington foreign policy establishment fetishizes “credibility,” that obsession with credibility got us into Vietnam, and that he personally has broken out of credibility’s limiting box—well, you might have thought that deep down this was just an embarrassed, ex post facto rationalization of the Syrian red line debacle. But to watch him stand there today in Cuba, next to a doddering, pompous communist dictator going out of his way repeatedly to insult Obama and the United States, and in response mustering little more than a weak, “You know, I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels we’re falling short,” it is painfully clear that our president is a man long past caring about public humiliation.
Before a televised press conference in Havana, Raul Castro harangued Obama about the continuing American “blockade” of Cuba, its “illegal” occupation of Guantanamo Bay, seemed to accuse the president of being friendly to “destabilization” in Venezuela, and implied that his own family’s corrupt ownership of an entire country was justified because, unlike in America, “We find it inconceivable that a government does not defend and ensure the right to health care, any patient, social security, food provision and development, equal pay, and the rights of children.”
Welcome to Cuba, Mr. President!
With the man who ought to command the title of “leader of the free world” standing right next to him, Castro flatly lied to an American reporter who asked him about political prisoners, saying that CNN’s Jim Acosta should give him a list when the press conference was over, because he was unaware of any such detainees. (A partial list is here, if you’d like to see it.) When another reporter followed up on human rights issues, Castro responded with a robust defense—you can’t make this stuff up—of Cuba’s commitment to a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work.
And the president of the United States just stood there and took it. Virtually the only resistance he offered came at the end, when Castro, a man whom we may presume is accustomed to getting what he wants, grabbed Obama’s wrist and tried to hoist it into the air for some sort of victory photo op. Obama responded by letting his wrist go limp as Castro weirdly waved his arm around in the air.
As Obama advanced his foreign policy of giving away the store to third-rate dictatorships in the supremely arrogant belief that his generosity will teach their leaders to be virtuous, almost simultaneously the GOP frontrunner was in Washington advancing a vision of American leadership that appears to be based on shaking down our allies. Trump told the Washington Post‘s editorial board that “NATO is costing us a fortune,” and that “we are not reimbursed” for the help we give South Korea. Because America is “a poor country now,” we need to pull back from these and other similar relationships—though, implicitly, our friends could always pay up if they wanted to keep our protection. In an appearance later in the day, he also appeared to support cutting off aid for Israel, before walking that position back a few minutes later, because he’s pretty much making most of this up as he goes along.
In short, this was a pretty humiliating day to be an American.