In JFK's metaphor, Obama traded a horse for a rabbit.
We got back Alan Gross before his Communist jailers killed him, along with an American spy, in exchange for three members of a Cuban espionage ring. Had we left it at that, the deal would have been fine.
But Obama threw in an admission that all nine presidents before him pursued a "failed policy." Calling for recognition of the Castro regime as the legitimate government of Cuba, Obama said, "Isolation has not worked."
"Not worked"? What is he talking about? Isolating Cuba during the last 30 years of the Cold War helped bankrupt and bring down the Soviet Empire, which had to carry Cuba on its back.
Obama's admission is being seen in Cuba as vindication of half a century of hostility to the United States. But with the new Congress controlled by Republicans, it will be a while before the U.S. embargo is lifted, Cuban goods began to flow across the Florida Strait, and U.S. dollars flow back to sustain one of the last of the Leninist regimes in its terminal stage.
But why did Obama choose now to bail out Cuba?
With the Soviet Union dead and gone, with Russia no longer able to buy up Cuba's sugar crop at inflated prices, with oil prices having tanked and Venezuela on the brink of default, unable to ship free oil to Cuba indefinitely, the Castro brothers were staring into the abyss.
Then Barack Obama rode to the rescue.
Nevertheless, though he has handed Fidel and Raoul a diplomatic triumph, their regime is not long for this world, as its maladies are incurable.
Marxist ideology, the political religion in which the regime is rooted, is a dead faith. The world communist revolution was a god that failed. It is over, finished. Outside of North Korea and Cuba, who preaches that Marxism-Leninism is the future toward which mankind is heading? Who still believes that?
Consider the record of the regime with which Obama wishes to restore diplomatic relations.
Before Fidel, Cuba had the fourth highest standard of living in the hemisphere. Today, her standard of living is not much higher than that of Haiti and Cuba is less free than under the dictatorship of Batista.
Castro may go down in history as one of the great antagonists of the American superpower. But what, enduring, did he accomplish?
In his youthful days, Fidel allowed Nikita Khrushchev to put ballistic missiles on the island, and brought about the gravest crisis of the Cold War, perhaps the gravest in world history.
For three decades his homeland was a satrap and strategic base of an odious empire that no one mourns. For those same decades, Cuba provided troops to advance communist revolutions in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. Now the whole rotten enterprise has gone to seed.
Who looks upon Castro's Cuba today as a model to follow?
When Castro goes, his monuments may remain. After all, Lenin's corpse is still entombed in Red Square, as is Mao's in Tiananmen Square.
But how long can the successor regime hang on?
Vladimir Putin's Russia and Xi Jinping's China are nationalistic and autocratic. They have embraced state capitalism. When the Castro brothers pass on, how will their successors justify their police state and permanent monopoly of power -- if U.S. tourists are walking the streets of Havana?
When Cuban-Americans travel all over the island, Cuba's young, who know nothing of the revolution, will surely ask: Why do we not have what these Americans have?
This is not to say that Cuba is headed for a democratic future. There remains the possibility, as happens in Latin America, of a new charismatic strong man emerging. A Cuban Hugo Chavez.
But, today, dictators have to deliver. Or they, too, have to resort to greater repression. Or they, too, have to go.
Castro is a famous man from the 20th century. But consider the price the Cuban people have paid for his fame.
Two generations of Cubans have lived without freedom. Heroic Cuban dissenters have gone to the wall and died in the thousands in his jails and prisons. Refugees have been machine-gunned off the Cuban coast. The toxicity of Marxism-Leninism has polluted Cuba's culture.
Some Cubans may remember Fidel with admiration. After all, even Stalin still has his admirers.
There was once a time in America in the 1960s when useful idiots of the New Left plastered posters of Che Guevara in dormitory rooms and traveled to Cuba to cut sugar cane to identify with the revolution.
On seeing the adulation Fidel yet receives, even from some in our own land, one begins to understand how the ancient Egyptians could have worshipped an insect.