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Alexander Cockburn | Autumn of a Driveler

Some world leaders mature as they head into the sunset: Jimmy Carter often makes more sense in his 80s than he did as president nearly four decades ago. Others spare the world their midnight thoughts, not always voluntarily. Ronald Reagan succumbed to Alzheimer’s; Ariel Sharon is still animate, albeit effectively dead to the world.

Some world leaders mature as they head into the sunset: Jimmy Carter often makes more sense in his 80s than he did as president nearly four decades ago. Others spare the world their midnight thoughts, not always voluntarily. Ronald Reagan succumbed to Alzheimer’s; Ariel Sharon is still animate, albeit effectively dead to the world.

Alas, Fidel Castro only broke an arm and a kneecap when he tripped on that fateful concrete step six years ago. Would that he had bitten off his tongue and thus spared his erstwhile admirers, myself included, the sound of this once great revolutionary plunging into kookdom.

If President Raul Castro wants to defend Cuba’s record on human rights, all he needs to do point to the fact that his brother has not been deposed from his formal position as first secretary of the Communist Party and carted off to an isolation ward in the Casa de Dementes, Havana’s psychiatric hospital. Instead, he has unstinted access to the state radio and the newspaper Granma.

In both of these media, Fidel Castro, now 84, has spouted a steady stream of drivel.

Memorable among these forays into nutdom was his outburst of conspiracism on the sixth anniversary of the Trade Center/Pentagon attacks with the whole slab of nonsense read out by a Cuban television presenter.

More recently, in early August of this year, Castro touted to his audience in Cuba and across the world his sympathy with one of the standard mantras of nutdom, which is the belief that the world is run by the Bilderberg Club.

The former Cuban president published an article on August 18, spread across three of the eight pages of Granma, quoting in extenso from the Lithuanian-born writer Daniel Estulin’s “The Secrets of the Bilderberg Club,” (2006) alleging the Bilderbergers control everything, which must mean that they pack a lot into the three-day session the club holds each year as its sole public activity. Of course, they probably Skype one another a lot, too, and rot out their brains plotting and planning on their cell phones.

On the evidence of his quotes from Estulin, Castro is much taken by the view that members of the Marxist Frankfurt School such as Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who fled to the U.S. from the Nazis before World War II, had been recruited by the Rockefellers to popularize rock music to “control the masses” by seducing them from the fight for civil rights and social injustice. According to Estulin, reverently quoted by Castro, “The man charged with ensuring that the Americans liked the Beatles was Walter Lippmann himself.”

So Fidel Castro believes that the Beatles were invented by the Bilderberg Club, and that Walter Lippmann, the pundit who drafted President Wilson’s Fourteen Points in 1918, crowned his literary/political career in 1968 by sending John Lennon the lyrics for “Revolution, with its demobilizing message: “You say you want a revolution /Well, you know /We all want to change the world /… But when you talk about destruction /Don’t you know that you can count me out.”

And now Castro’s latest outing into political asininity has been to give an interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, allowing the man Castro cordially describes as “a great journalist” to cite him as saying that the Cuban economic model has been a disaster.

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Goldberg is an appalling journalist, whose most notable achievement was to run an enormous piece in the New Yorker in the run-up to the attack on Iraq in 2003, which was one of the most effective exercises in disinformation designed to stoke up the Congress and public opinion in favor of the war. The piece was billed as containing disclosures of “Saddam Hussein’s possible ties to al Qaeda.”

This was at a moment when the FBI and CIA had just shot down the war party’s claim of a meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before the 9/11 attacks. Goldberg saved the day for the Bush crowd. At the core of his rambling, 16,000-word article was an interview in the Kurdish-held Iraqi town of Sulaimaniya with Mohammed Mansour Shahab, who offered the eager Goldberg a wealth of detail about his activities as a link between Osama bin Laden and the Iraqis, shuttling arms and other equipment.

The piece was gratefully seized upon by the administration as proof of The Link. The coup de grace to Goldberg’s credibility came Feb. 9, 2003 in the London Observer, administered by Jason Burke, its chief reporter. Burke visited the same prison in Sulaimaniya, talked to Shahab and established beyond doubt that Goldberg’s great source is a clumsy liar, not even knowing the physical appearance of Kandahar, whither he had claimed to have journeyed to deal with bin Laden and confecting his fantasies in the hope of a shorter prison sentence. Needless to say, Burke’s demolition was not picked up in the U.S. press, nor has the New Yorker ever apologized for Goldberg’s story, certainly as pernicious as anything offered by Judith Miller in The New York Times.

Since Castro has been sounding tremendous alarums about a possible attack on Iran, it’s bizarre to find him lofting Goldberg, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces, to the journalistic pantheon and to take pains to paint his fellow 9/11 conspiracist, President Ahmadinejad of Iran, as an anti-Semite. Some on the left see Castro’s deprecating remarks about the failure of the Cuban economic model as part of a tactical maneuver to help his brother institute the “reforms” that will see somewhere between half a million and million Cubans lose their jobs. I see it as a spectacularly foolish misjudgment by Castro, who told Goldberg, “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore” and later said he was misinterpreted and that he meant the exact opposite, which is obvious nonsense.

Then Castro took Goldberg to — of all disgusting things — a dolphin exhibition. Lock the old fool up, I say, free the dolphins and turn the exhibition into a theme park for all the CIA’s efforts to kill Castro, including booby-trapping a coral reef. The ironies of history: The CIA failed, and here’s Castro taking up the task, methodically assassinating his reputation, week after week.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book “Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils,” available through

Copyright 2010

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