Ben Rhodes now looking like Castro's biggest dupe

The New Yorker this week has an amazingly good investigative piece by Adam Entous and Jon Lee Anderson titled 'The Havana Syndrome,' exploring every aspect and angle of the sonic or electromagnetic attacks on U.S. diplomats and CIA officers last year in Cuba. I read the 10,000-word piece, and was struck by all of its amazingly well-reported angles and insights, as well as its superb sourcing, which included interviews with the diplomats who were actually targeted, and accounts from Obama administration officials, such as Ben Rhodes, who led the Cuba normalization efforts. What really happened. Was it real? How did it come to be? Who did it? And how did it connect to the Obama administration's ill-considered opening with Cuba? It reminds me of the kind of immersing and insightful pieces that used to run in The Atlantic in the 1970s.

The part that leaps out arises on the question of who did these immensely painful and injurious attacks on U.S. embassy personnel. Was it Russians? Chinese? Or was it some faction of the Castroites upset over normalization of relations with the U.S., hardline or otherwise? No one really knows yet, but a very important argument was laid out by one of the writers' sources:

In Cuba and in the U.S., the advocates of diplomatic opening are no longer in office. In April, Raúl Castro stepped down as President, and was replaced by Miguel Díaz-Canel, a longtime loyalist. Raúl remains the head of the Communist Party, but Alejandro Castro suffered in the transition. He was not nominated as a deputy in the National Assembly—a prerequisite for the Presidency—and his department at the Interior Ministry was reportedly dissolved. Several former American officials who dealt with him during the normalization say that he is no longer returning their messages. They have heard that he is isolated, appearing rarely in public; in the Cuban expression, he is stuck at home, on plan pijama—the pajama plan. “He worked with us, and it would send a terrible message if he suffered for that because of the shift in U.S. policy,” one official said. A former associate of Fidel Castro suggested a darker possibility: Alejandro could have been fired because he was responsible for the sonic episodes. “Either he ordered them or covered up for those who did—but acting on his own, without his father’s knowledge,” he said. “That is the only possible explanation for Raúl taking action to punish him

Alejandro Castro was the nephew of Fidel Castro,* son of number two brother Raul, and considered third in line to the throne after Raul. He led the negotiations with the Obama administration's Deputy National Security Advisor, Ben Rhodes, meeting him in airports and on Skype over the course of events, making himself Rhodes' best buddy (you can read all about it in Ben Rhodes' memoirs, which reveal an astonishing and embarassingly unwitting naivete about the Cubans) and now there's speculation that the same guy Rhodes wrote so glowingly about, and who so impressed Ben he gave the Castros everything they wanted - a no-concessions, zero-conditions normalization of diplomatic relations, plus Obama visiting Havana and doing the wave with Raul - was actually plotting to stick the knife in to U.S. diplomats through the sonic attacks. Raul Castro himself, who's always styled himself as a Chinese-style communist, did want those relations but someone in Havana didn't. Fidel was obvious enough about not wanting them, and well, Alejandro was close enough to him to amass considerable power as heir apparent. So while Alejandro was backslapping with and flattering Rhodes, who ate it up, he is now accused of actually planning and executing these attacks.

Which would make Rhodes a boob.

In that position he held, it certainly does. The naivete, coupled with the vanity, is what Eric Hoffer once wrote was "indistinguishable from stupidity" is in full play here. Up until now, Rhodes has been arguing on Twitter that Trump's downgrading of U.S. relations with Cuba only serves the interests of Cuba's hardliners. Now it turns out the biggest hardliner out there, and certainly the sneakiest, was Alejandro, the Cuban that Rhodes trusted most. Only the fact that he did his vicious attacks on U.S. diplomats was done off the books, without comradely party discipline, explains why he didn't get the promotion and power he would have wanted.  Think of that next time you read a sniveling tweet of his criticizing President Trump for cutting the Castros to size on the diplomatic front. Ben Rhodes stands revealed as gulled and played by Alejandro Castro, and Castro, caught as he appears to be, must still be laughing.

*an earlier version misidentified the younger Castro's family position. Hat tip: Zifferblatt

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