With the coming of a New Year we are again reminded that on January 1, 1959, now 51 years ago, Fidel Castro and his band of rebels rolled into Havana and established a Communist government in the Western Hemisphere.  Castro is now enjoying his senior status as a thorn in the side of his eleventh American Administration.  Originally regaled as the “Robin Hood of the Caribbean” and the “George Washington of Cuba”, the gradual realization that Castro was a Communist became an embarrassment to President Eisenhower and may have hurt Vice-President Nixon in the 1960 election.  The Bay of Pigs fiasco, intended to oust Castro, weakened the credibility of the new Kennedy Administration.  Claims of Castro’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination have never been completely silenced.  Castro backed insurgencies throughout Latin America presented shifting challenges to the Johnson and Nixon Administrations.  Intervention in Angola would attract the attention of President Ford and contribute to the impression of a bungling President Carter leading the U.S. into a period of decline.  Castro’s support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua would lead President Reagan into aiding the Contras, which spawned the greatest scandal of his administration.  With the fall of his Soviet sponsors, Castro faded into the role of a minor irritant whose major influence on the U.S. was to drive the Cuban community in Florida, with its growing influence, into the arms of politicians seen as “tough on Castro.”  With the rise of his soul-mate, Hugo Chavez, Castro became a cult hero whose comments were given enhanced attention.  Despite decades of attempts by Exiles and the CIA to achieve regime change or assassination, Castro, protected by his status as a Head of State and Soviet missiles, has lived to peacefully transfer power to his brother and slide into the role of an elder revolutionary.  Absent unforeseen turmoil, Fidel will probably pass on quietly of natural causes.
While Fidel’s influence and irritation coefficients have been declining, those of Osama Bin Laden have been rising.  Slated for capture or death by President Clinton and the target of cruise missiles in 1998 because of his role in attacks on U.S. Embassies in eastern Africa, Bin Laden became Public Enemy # 1 after the September 11 attacks.  Despite President Bush’s proclamation that he was “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and over eight years of manhunts, Bin Laden remains at liberty to fire periodic audio or video messages of threats or suggestions to the Western public and their leaders.  Speaking of the Tora Bora Battle of December 2001, John Kerry said:  “When Bush had an opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden, he took his focus off of him, outsourced the job to Afghan warlords and bin Laden escaped.” He would later claim that Bin Laden’s last minute tape cost him the 2004 election and, as recently as last month, wrote:  “If we had captured or killed Bin Laden, the world would look very different today. His death or imprisonment would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat, but our failure to finish the job represents a lost opportunity that altered the course of the conflict in Afghanistan and the future of international terrorism. It left the American people more vulnerable, and it inflamed the strife that now threatens to engulf Pakistan and Afghanistan.”  Now President Obama is entangled in the War in Afghanistan which was begun to deprive Bin Laden and Al Qaeda of sanctuaries from which to launch further attacks against the West.  Through all this, Bin Laden, protected by his band of tribal militants, roams the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  For how long will this outlaw avoid justice?  For how long will Western politics be influenced by his tapes and even his continued life?  For how many presidents will the capture or death of Bin Laden be an elusive goal?  Will he, in the end, be the next Castro, who will continue to avoid the long arm of the U.S. until, full of days, riches and, in the eyes of some, honors, he will die, perhaps at a time and place unknown to his pursuers?  The story develops.