Off the Record

Greta: Shaking or not shaking Cuba's Raul Castro's hand was a no-win situation for Obama

'Off the Record', 12/10/13: You can't judge the president's handshake with Cuban dictator Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service by whether you personally like him or his politics. It's 'complicated'


By Greta Van Susteren

OK, let's go "Off the Record" for just a minute.

First, it is so conflicted, one of those topics with no perfect answer but with lots of heated debate. President Obama shook hands with Cuba's Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela's memorial service. And that handshake, well, now it's the epicenter of the new controversy. Was the president wrong to do it or was he right? One thing is certain: The wrong way to judge this is by whether you like President Obama or don't like him.

If you are a big fan of President Obama and agree with his policies, don't just knee-jerk decide it was a great idea to shake the hand. Likewise, if you are not a big fan of the president or you think his policies are dismal, don't just knee-jerk decide he was wrong to shake Raul Castro's hand.

Here is the way to judge it. First, take a deep breath, sit back and consider. Yes, Cuba is a Communist country, and Communist countries are terrible place to leave. Fidel Castro stole property belonging to many Cuba-Americans. He nationalized it. Of course, they fled for their lives. That's horrible. Over the decades he has been in power, Fidel Castro has done even worse. And let's not forget that right now, Fidel Castro and Raul Castro are holding American Allen Gross - he has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. We want our fellow American back and we want him back right now.

But on the flip side -- and this is where it gets difficult for many -- this was a memorial service involving an international figure, a man who was about transcending differences and bitterness, and this controversy has an element of manners associated with it. And if President Obama went down the line shaking hands and had skipped Castro, you know the story would have been all about President Obama. And likely many would have jumped him, claiming he was making this Mandela memorial all about himself. That would be a lousy thing to do at a memorial.

So, yes, it is complicated. And if you are looking for reasons to criticize in any complicated situation, you can find them. But the bottom line: Shaking hands or not shaking hands was an absolutely no-win situation for our president.

That's my "Off the Record" comment tonight. If you have an important story or issue you think I should take "Off the Record," go to and tell us about it.