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Ear to the Ground

President Obama Shook Raul Castro’s Hand: Big Whoop

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Posted on Dec 10, 2013
AP

Raul Castro, left, has been running Cuba since 2006, when he took over for his brother, Fidel.

Thousands of words are being generated over an incidental greeting between two world leaders.

After bounding up the stairs at the Nelson Mandela memorial in Soweto, South Africa, on Tuesday, President Obama of the United States briefly shook hands with President Raul Castro of Cuba.

Gasp.

What does it mean? According to The New York Times, “Mr. Obama’s own remarks, delivered just moments afterward, offer tantalizing possibilities about what was going through the president’s mind when he approached Mr. Castro.”

Obama spoke of reconciliation, and while it’s possible he would like to thaw relations with Cuba, just as he has with another of the U.S.’s old rivals, Iran, in all likelihood, Obama was probably just trying not to be a jerk. He also shook hands, as the Times points out, with former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2009, and that didn’t lead to any blooming of warm relations between Caracas and Washington.

We can’t fault international observers for speculating on the nuances of diplomacy, but it all seems a bit silly and overblown. Still, if there is a possibility that in the final years of his term Obama can rid the United States of its archaic and pointless policy toward Cuba, then add it to the list of second term goals: gun control, immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, jobs-jobs-jobs, striking a nuclear deal with Iran (check) and, let’s not forget, peace in the Middle East.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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