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Fidel, you ol' fart.

I find the prospect of losing Fidel Castro a terrific potential learning experience. No Fidel fan here: Never been amused by People who put poets and journalists in jail--although I did notice The New York Times recently favored the former dictator of Paraguay with an obituary headline describing him as "colorful." I guess a good fascist murderer like Alfredo Stroessner was a helluva lot colorfuller than ol' Fidel.

I give Castro points for sheer perseverance. He came to power when Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States and has survived in power through the Administrations of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W Bush. He was always more of a caudillo--old-fashioned Latin dictator--than a commie, and from this simple error in perception has sprung an unbroken forty-eight years of monumentally stupid foreign policy. From that and the Cuban exile community.

In the bad old days near the beginning, Nikita Khrushchev managed to scare the ever-loving crap out of the entire world with the Cuban Missile Crisis. While Kennedy's generals urged the President to invade Cuba, Fidel was trying to get Khrushchev to agree to launch nuclear weapons in retaliation. Kennedy and Khrushchev let cooler heads prevail, thus fending off Armageddon. That close call would not have come to pass in the first place if the U.S. hadn't flipped in full Cold Warrior mode over Castro.

For the next forty-five years, this country remained spooked by the garrulous old fart. We could have and should have made friends with Fidel Castro decades ago.

Bit of a rogue, ol' Fidel. One of the best "gotchas" ever pulled by one ruler on another was the Mariel boatlift during Carter's term. Jimmy Carter, bless his heart, was on the human rights path, and the Cuban exiles demanded that Castro release all his prisoners. So he did. Including the criminals and the insane. It took ages to get it all sorted out--cost Bill Clinton the governorship of Arkansas and was part of the reason Carter lost the Presidency. Further misadventures followed, notably the Elian Gonzalez case, when the Cuban exile community, once more behaving in a dippily irrational fashion, drove American public opinion to side with Fidel.

For some reason, we kept winding up with egg on our national face whereas you could almost see Castro with a few feathers sticking out of his mouth through the beard.

When I was in college, I took a course in experimental psychology and drove a perfectly good rat insane. My rat lived in a Skinner box, and he learned to push a bar at one end to get a pellet of food. Sat there all day, pushing and snacking, a happy rat. Next, he was supposed to learn to press the bar twice for a food pellet. But I let my rat commit something called "overlearning," which, as I recall, can actually be plotted on a bell curve. My rat got so frustrated when he couldn't get any food by pushing that he developed a neurotic ritual: He would turn to the left three times while throwing his little ratty head around and then sort of fall over backward. A useless rat. I felt guilty about it for years.

Then right after the Berlin Wall fell, I had occasion to visit the State Department and noticed everyone there turning three times to the left and falling over backward. The poor things had overlearned and were deep into neurotic ritual. They couldn't accept that the USSR was gone.

So now I'm waiting for State's Cuba Desk to begin showing signs of overlearning. Some of these people weren't even born when Castro took over Cuba. Any day now, they'll be making three turns to the left and flipping over backward. Just you wait, and you'll know what's causing it, too.

Molly Ivins writes in this space every month. Her latest book is "Who Let the Dogs In?"
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Title Annotation:Small Favors; Fidel Castro
Author:Ivins, Molly
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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