President Barack Obama sent high-level administration officials to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s funeral procession last week, a gesture of respect he did not offer for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s funeral.
After Castro’s death, Obama released a statement saying: “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and the world around him.”
The carefully guarded words made no reference to the legacy of tyranny and destruction Castro left for the Cuban people, nor did it explain how much Castro’s communist ideology played a role in the half-century of humanitarian catastrophes during his regime.
As reported in Conservative Review, “Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser and one of the president’s closest aides,” was sent to attend Castro’s funeral service along with the U.S. ambassador to Cuba, Jeffrey DeLaurentis.
Rhodes became notorious this spring when he boasted of selling a “narrative” about the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal to journalists to push the president’s agenda through Congress.
He was also a key player in opening up relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 2015, ending a long-standing American policy to isolate the communist nation.
The Obama administration failed to send high-level members to Thatcher’s funeral in 2013, which many British saw as a “snub” of their famous leader. Nor was that the first sharp elbow thrown at legendary British leaders by the Obama administration.
The words and actions of an administration, such as who a president chooses to send to a funeral, have a heightened influence on the global stage without the chief executive ever having to act officially.
As historian Richard Neustadt wrote, paraphrasing President Harry Truman, “presidential power is the power to persuade.” And as Neustadt noted, this power to persuade leads to the more tangible power to negotiate—perhaps the most important presidential role in foreign relations.
That the president seems so willing to symbolically and concretely abandon the “special relationship” the U.S. has had with Britain while going out of the way to tiptoe around the sore spots of the Cuban regime is a reversal of priorities for a nation that stood as a beacon for the free world.
Of course, Castro and Thatcher stood at opposite ends of the Cold War in the ultimate test of freedom against authoritarianism—Castro was a revolutionary communist who battled with the United States for decades and Thatcher was a legendary Cold Warrior who stood shoulder to shoulder with President Ronald Reagan against international communism in the 1980s.
When Thatcher was elected prime minister in 1979, she, along with Reagan, pursued a more confrontational approach to the Soviet Union, which she viewed as a primary global threat to human liberty.
She saw the difference between free countries like the United States and Great Britain and authoritarian regimes like under the Soviet Union and Cuba as fundamental.
Like Reagan, who called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” in a famous 1983 speech, Thatcher rhetorically undermined the tyrannical regimes and indicated that a mere détente with them was unacceptable.
When negotiating with the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, Reagan and Thatcher came from a position of strength.
In a 1983 television appearance, the Iron Lady, as Thatcher came to be called, explained the radically different outcomes for people living under these nearly opposite systems of government:
[Nations] that have gone for equality, like communism, have neither freedom nor justice nor equality, they’ve the greatest inequalities of all, the privileges of the politicians are far greater compared with the ordinary folk than in any other country. The nations that have gone for freedom, justice, and independence of people have still freedom and justice, and they have far more equality between their people, far more respect for each individual than the other nations.
Castro’s Cuba has been the very picture of this despotism based on a false “equality,” as Thatcher described.
“Castro’s communism has not just left Cubans economically pauperized, but politically bereft, a situation that Obama’s unilateral concessions to Castro’s little brother, the 85-year-old Raul, Cuba’s present leader, has only made worse,” Heritage Foundation senior fellow Mike Gonzalez wrote for The Daily Signal.
Cuba’s pursuit of communism under Castro crippled the island nation and pushed hundreds of thousands to risk their lives to escape. Thatcher and Reagan’s rhetorical stands against autocracy helped break the power of communism as an international threat as they pushed the Soviet Union to collapse.
But the Obama administration now has sent high-ranking officials to the funeral service of the man who pleaded with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to wage nuclear war against the United States during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The system the now-deceased Castro created still exists after his death and continues under his brother.
The simple act of administration officials attending or not attending a state leader’s funeral service communicates a great deal to the world about what a president’s intentions are.
Signaling that free countries like the United States will back off in their condemnation of oppressive, communist regimes like the one propped up by the Castro brothers helps breathe new life into their failed ideology.