IN our concentration on Saddam Hussein, we have temporarily forgotten his evil twin 90 miles off our shore. Cuba's Fidel Castro is every bit as menacing and unpredictable as Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and his hatred of the United States has not mellowed over 30 years.
Though the Soviets have been able to bury the hatchet with the United States, Mr. Castro has proved incapable of moderation.
In fact, the increasing moderation of the Soviets has set him apart from, and even antagonistic toward, them.
Aside from their common hatred of the United States, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein have other things in common. Both came up through the ranks as trigger-men, wiping out appointed targets. Both have been ruthless in maintaining their rule. Both have wiped out freedom in their countries. Both rely on spy networks, political imprisonment of opponents, and torture. Both have engaged in recklessness which could provoke world war.
Just how reckless Castro can be has just become evident with publication of the secret tapes of Nikita Khrushchev. After his ouster, Khrushchev dictated thousands of words of reminiscences, some of which were published in two volumes of memoirs. Some of the most revelatory have just become public and are about to be published by Little, Brown in a third volume, ``Khrushchev Remembers: The Glasnost Tapes.''
In an astonishing account of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Khrushchev reveals that Castro urged the Soviets to launch a nuclear strike against the Americans. If this is correct, it would be the only known instance of a foreign leader calling for a nuclear attack against the United States.
Excerpts in Time magazine quote Khrushchev as saying he was ``haunted'' by the threat of the United States to Cuba. A small group in the Soviet leadership decided to send 42 missiles to Cuba, each with a warhead of one megaton. They were to be targeted against the United States so as to inflict maximum damage.
Soviet security assured that the missiles could be deployed under cover of palm trees without the Americans discovering them. Khrushchev says, ``it was our intention after installing the missiles to announce their presence in a loud voice. They were not meant for attack but as a means of deterring those who would attack Cuba.''
But the Americans caught the Soviets in the act of installing the missiles.
Afraid that the Americans were preparing to strike, Castro suggested that to prevent the nuclear missiles being destroyed, the Soviets should launch a pre-emptive strike against the United States. It was then, says Khrushchev, that the Soviet leadership realized Castro had ``totally failed to understand our purpose. We had installed the missiles not for the purpose of attacking the US, but to keep the US from attacking Cuba.''
In a later meeting with Khrushchev, Castro denied that he had proposed a nuclear attack against the United States, but documents proved that he had. Castro, says Khrushchev, had failed to think through the obvious consequences of a proposal that placed the planet on the brink of extinction.
The lesson of all this is that despite subsiding tension between the superpowers, there are still reckless regional tyrants in the world who can do great damage if left unchecked. North Korea's Kim Il-Sung and Libya's Qadaffi have toyed with nuclear weapons possession.
The Soviets have probably denied Castro nuclear weaponry but he remains frustrated and unpredictable. Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons, developed long-range artillery and rockets, and sought nuclear weapons.
Any of these regional despots could cause problems every bit as severe as those that threatened during 40 years of confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.