WASHINGTON — I’m sorry to say it, but Secretary of State Colin Powell is a disgrace.

I wish it were not true, but this guy is not much of an improvement over Madeleine Albright.

The latest outrage from Powell was his praise last week of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

“He’s done some good things for his people,” Powell said.

Now, I guess that’s true on some level. The problem is that it would be literally true of just about any murdering dictator in history — including Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong. Bloody dictators who rule by brute force and terror do tend to make the trains run on time.

But that is no excuse for a U.S. secretary of state to give aid and comfort to a dictator-for-life who maintains a gulag for political prisoners, who is an enemy of freedom in every way and who is personally responsible for the wholesale executions of thousands of his own countrymen.

Castro came to power in a violent Communist revolution in 1959 when I was 4 years old. That’s 42 years without elections. That’s 42 years without any political dissent being tolerated in Cuba. That’s 42 years of people risking their lives to flee that totalitarian hell-hole on shaky rafts in shark-infested waters.

Colin Powell became an official U.S. apologist for that record last week. Powell went even further.

“He is no longer the threat he was,” Powell said in response to questioning at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing by Rep. Jose E. Serrano, D-N.Y., who denounced U.S. diplomatic isolation of Cuba as senseless.

“That policy makes no sense,” Serrano told Powell, who sat impassively in the witness chair.

“It is a country that has not done any harm to us,” Serrano said. “Why China and why not Cuba?”

The United States has diplomatic relations with China and Vietnam, had relations with the Soviet Union and negotiated with North Korea, Serrano said.

I agree with Serrano in pointing out the double and triple standards in U.S. foreign policy. Why China and not Cuba, indeed. The answer should be to view China with the suspicion we have had as a nation for Cuba for the last 42 years. Just recently, the U.S. witnessed a manifestation of China’s hostile intentions toward the U.S. when it forced down a U.S. surveillance plane. It still refuses to return the plane and probably never will.

Such actions by tyrants ought to increase our suspicion of all tyrants — big and small, far and near.

Instead of trying to guide Cuba toward democracy and a better economy, the United States refuses to deal with Castro, Serrano said. “It is bad for them and it is bad for
us.”

Can Serrano or Powell tell me that our
favorable trade policies with China have moved it any closer to accountability to its own people? Absolutely not. What we have done is to improve the economy of a belligerent power with expansion on its mind.

Under Castro, Serrano said, Cuba exports physicians, not revolution. Actually it exports physicians only because doctors want to be able to make a living — and they can’t in Cuba. And Cuba doesn’t successfully export revolution any longer because it lost its sponsor with the collapse of the Soviet Union. If we want to see Castro export revolution once again, all we need to do is open up trade with the island and he’ll have all the resources he needs.

Castro has not changed his stripes. He is
still the unrepentant Communist dictator he was when he rose to power. Even his rhetoric has not changed.

Powell said that in China, Russia and Vietnam you can see leaders who know the world is changing. Really? Is that what we witnessed in the first foreign policy crisis of the Bush administration a few weeks ago?

Even Powell admits Castro has not shown any signs of changing in more than four decades.

“He hasn’t changed his views in any way,” Powell said.

What I dislike about Powell is that he makes no moral distinctions between friends of freedom and enemies of freedom. He speaks as harshly, if not more so, to Israel as to China. Now he is making excuses for Castro’s Cuba. He rationalizes bombing Iraq by blaming them for the same abuses he overlooks in Iran.

That’s not even-handed diplomacy. That’s making up the rules of the game as you play.

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