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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cuba in Perspective

War has a way of putting all other foreign-policy issues in perspective -- Cuba, for one. Most of the news media gave minimal attention to last week's announcement by President Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin is closing its spy center in Cuba and pulling its last soldiers off the island.

As a longtime Latin Americanist, I normally might argue that Putin's epic decision was a much bigger story.

The truth is, dictator Fidel Castro and his country have long retained an importance in U.S. foreign policy that is far out of proportion for an underdeveloped nation of only 11 million people -- with more people fleeing every day. Even most Latin Americans consider Washington's fixation with Castro irrational and irrelevant.

Now that the United States is waging a long-term war on terrorism, it has a chance to put the irritating Cuban caudillo and his poor, sad island back into proper perspective.

After the denouement of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when Nikita Khrushchev briefly stood eye to eye with President John F. Kennedy over Soviet missiles based in Cuba, Castro was reduced to a noisy pest.

He lost more support -- monetary and otherwise -- with the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago. Now that the last Russian troops are leaving, Washington needs to move along, too.

For most of us, that will be easy. Castro's visage has been replaced on America's most-wanted list by another bearded enemy, Osama bin Laden. And as we recall the thousands who died Sept. 11, purportedly at this Saudi terrorist's behest, it is easier to look back at Castro's 42 years in power and see the Cuban dictator for the comparative nuisance he was. Of course, that won't stop Miami's vocal Cuban-American lobby, abetted by a handful of unreconstructed cold warriors in Washington, from trying to feed their Castro obsession like desperate junkies.

One professional anti-Castro lobbyist, Otto Reich, was even nominated by President George W. Bush in March to be undersecretary of state for Latin America -- the top U.S. diplomat for the region.

Fortunately, his nomination is stalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Committee staffers are still investigating Reich, according to a Senate spokesman. Most likely the probe includes Reich's tenure in the early 1980s as director of the so-called Office of Public Diplomacy at the State Department.

That was a propaganda operation that the Reagan administration set up to sell the CIA's covert war against Nicaragua to a skeptical American public. And there have been hints in the past -- in investigations of the Iran-Contra scandal -- that some of the money the CIA used in its covert war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua may have been spent in this country, which would be a violation of federal law.

But whether or not Reich broke the law, his obsession with Castro should be enough to disqualify him for the post.

At a time when we are trying to win our closest neighbors' support, not just to fight terrorism but also for more cooperation against illegal drugs and on immigration and trade matters, the last thing this country needs is a representative whom Latin Americans can shrug off as a Juanito-one-note.

Putin has shown that he realizes the Cold War is over. Bush can do the same thing by finding himself another nominee to oversee his government's diplomatic activities in Latin America.

Frank Del Olmo is an associate editor of the Los Angeles Times, to which he contributed this comment.