The baton has passed in Cuba. The question now is, between us and the Soviets…er, the Russians…who do they like more?
There are numerous potential flashpoints—bad and scary neighborhoods—around the globe where the United States and Russia may bang heads in the coming months/years. But one is only 90 miles away. Or slightly farther in the case of my living room in Port St. Lucie, Fla., which is 313 miles from Havana, Cuba.
Ask yourself this: If I were Vladimir Putin, what sort of brazen and ironic mischief could I perpetrate on a beleaguered Trump administration stumbling through its second year? Tell me that some kind of Cuban Missile Crisis redux is not a tempting possibility. After all, the United States appears willing to shore up military capabilities in former Soviet states along Russia’s borders. Additionally—and certainly apropos of nothing, I hope—in the 1950s Havana had some of the most beautiful hookers in the world…a brag that Batista never laid on Eisenhower, I’m betting (pun intended).
As one who seems to prefer private rather than public displays of pique, Putin is unlikely to emulate Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-banging at the United Nations on October 12, 1960. But, in pursuit of his mandate to reverse everything Obama, Trump appears happy to let U.S-Cuba relations unravel. Now, as Raul Castro backs off and Miguel Diaz-Canel steps up—both promising a continuation of the Communist/socialist state-controlled system—it’s entirely possible that Putin views the situation as a U.S. eye waiting to be poked. And it’s all too possible to envision a covert influx of Russian war tech to Cuba leading to a U.S.-Russia faceoff as tense as the 13 days in October 1962.
The regular appearance of Russian ships in Havana harbor—one as recent as last month—is enough to elicit some Cold War shivers. And you’re not paranoid if someone really is out to get you.
So, if you’re interested enough to pursue this thought experiment to its conclusion, you can’t help but wonder how President Trump would respond. Where would he draw the line? Would John Bolton choose that day to quit smoking? Would the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago be reduced?
There was only one fatality during the Cuban Missile Crisis: U2 pilot Rudy Anderson. If we’re lucky, a Cuban Missile Crisis II would have zero fatalities on both sides. Obviously, Americans have already died in the ongoing proxy wars in the Middle East, where a U.S.-Russia faceoff has existed for years now and has risen to assume a frightening and terrible normality. But a Cuban confrontation remains a possibility, despite a president who wonders openly why the U.S. and Russia can’t just get along, and where the respective loyalties and agendas of the major players remain frustratingly unclear.
Unfortunately, history is often muddled like this. There are those who swear that Khrushchev never banged his shoe at all.