What tipped you off?

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic recently had the high honor of interviewing Fidel Castro, tin-pot dictator emeritus of Cuba. He writes:

I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

One of Goldberg’s friends then chimed in to provide either some context or some cover for Fidel’s comment, but it remains surprising nonetheless.

Well, I wonder what finally gave it away. Was it the economy? The low wages? The food rationing? The housing shortage? The collapse of the sugar industry? The dismal capital markets? Michael Moore singing the praises of Cuban health care? The standard of living that by some measures isn’t too much better than in 1959, despite all that sugar, nickel, tobacco, and (apparently) petroleum? Was it the thousands upon thousands of people who risk death every year trying to escape Cuba via inner tubes, rafts, and truckboats?

Perhaps he got the idea from looking off-island. Perhaps it was the realization that the fastest-growing economic sectors in Red China are the ones being privatized. Perhaps it was the gap in per capita incomes between the remaining communist countries and everybody else. Perhaps it was the stark contrast between North and South Korea. Or between Hong Kong and the rest of China. Or maybe he caught a news broadcast from 1989 and he noticed some differences between East and West Germany, or between eastern and western Europe, or that quite a few formerly communist nations just aren’t there anymore, and most of those that are still there gave it up a while back.

Maybe the illness that drove him from office somehow purged just enough of the evil and just enough of the stupidity to allow him to make his minor concession.

And just what did Fidel mean by “anymore”? Had communism been working down there at some point and we all just missed it?

Does hearing him say “never mind” make up for not killing/deposing/debearding him 50 years ago?

[UPDATED 9/11/10]: Fidel claims to have been misinterpreted. Oh well, his moment of clarity didn’t last.

15 comments

  1. My beloved INR class has me all sorts of confused. The course, although entitled “International Relations Theory and Practice”, emphasizes that international relations is a strictly theoretical science with almost no actual practicality. My professor refers to Thucydides and The History of the Peloponnesian War about a hundred times throughout his 50 minute lecture and I’m assuming a large portion of his dissertation also focuses on this and the parallelism between Athens and the United States.

    My areas of profound confusion are as follows :

    1. Why. Take. A. Theoretical. Class.

    2. I agree with you that communism is an extraordinary example of a terribly executed idea of idealism. It doesn’t work. Kim Jong Il and baby brother Castro need to accept that.

    BUT

    Does democracy work any better in the long run? Athens power began to decline and ultimately failed with the rise of democracy. (Making a very long story very short) Some could argue that today the United States is in a path of declining power as we become more and more democratized. The founding fathers knew of the danger of democracy and purposely imposed “restrictions” on the actual power of the demos (The electoral college, etc.). As voters have more power over idiot politicians looking simply to seal their election for the next go-around, the actual progress of the state is restricted. Stupid people should not vote for even more stupid people who will then make key decisions for the future of the country. So aren’t I in essence saying boo democracy?

    (I think I might actually be an elitist)

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  2. 1. You take theoretical classes for the same reason you would study physics or math: to learn principles that (ideally) help to explain the behavior of the real world. The trouble in the social “sciences” is that we can’t possibly test principles as well as physicists or mathematicians, so there’ll always be massive questions about how useful those historical/political principles are.

    2. Democracy, taken very broadly, works better in the long run in the sense that it allows people to vote against a bad government or bad laws (I’ll leave the definition of “bad” for another time). The problem is when they start voting for bad government or bad laws.

    3. I think it’s very safe to say that historically, the places generally called “democratic” have lasted longer (though many failed eventually) and been wealthier and happier over the course of their existence than the places generally called “communist.” Granted, that’s taking a very broad and generous conception of a political system (democracy) and comparing it to a somewhat more specific political/economic/social system (communism), so it’s probably not the most fair comparison. But then, I’m not interested in being fair to commies.

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  3. We are actually skimming the surface of a more mathematical approach to IR through the use of mathematical equations and variables, etc. (I’m not a math person anyway… Out of 10 AP classes taken the only one I failed was Macroeconomics. And I didn’t just fail it. I got a 1.)

    But anyway, yes, typically democracies are longer lasting and enjoy a higher quality of life than other forms of government but I think the issue occurs when they become more democratized .. if that makes any sense.

    Democracy is never mentioned in the Constitution because the United States was intended to be a Republic, not a democracy. Fair law, not law by the people.

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  4. Haha shut up Mr. V it’s apparently real.

    Scholars have mathematical equations, both basic and complex, that to some degree can predict the action or response of 1. the individual 2. the state or 3. an international organization based on variable input… the variables ranging from type of government and economic system, a states wealth, a persons motivation (economic, social, political) etc etc etc etc etc and so on. The more accurate the more complex the equation.

    That’s the gist of it, my Professor could tell you about it until he turned blue.

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  5. Yes for sure, I have the class again on Wednesday I’ll ask my professor for a good example to send you. He doesn’t focus on equations he’s more about the historical aspects but in class today he did say

    “The classical theories in regard to international relation are considered obsolete today because there is no science involved in them. Today to have a sound and respected theory it needs to adhere to strict scientific and mathematical standards.”

    So that’s promising.. I’ll get on a solid example asap!

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  6. And if you don’t feel like reading through all that – the fifth or six page down on the harvard link is where the actual equations begin.

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  7. It is… game theory is interesting stuff. So is modeling, until the models become well-enough-known that they risk self-defeat (i.e., knowing what a model predicts enables actors to behave in such a way that negates the prediction).

    A lot of the 1989 Harvard paper is based on US-USSR “games,” in which borders and nationalities were pretty rigidly defined… I wonder (sincerely, not sarcastically) what changes the author of the 1989 paper would make (has made?) to his systems given the splintering of the Soviets and Eastern Bloc, and the increase in the number of “borderless” organizations, such as multinational corporations and terror groups.

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  8. I think that’s a very interesting question, I’m sure it’s had to develop overtime. An issue I find is that with every INR theory there are exceptions, which is annoying. I want some magical model that accounts for everything that has been and will be – my choice for a thesis topic would be much easier.

    I also wonder how stateless organizations and nations, such as the Taliban or even al Qaeda plays into the models.

    Interesting stuff! I’m glad my examples were sufficient enough to prove that INR is atleast a vaguely scientific study. It makes me feel a little better!

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