Old age did what nearly half a century of U.S. policy toward Cuba could not - get Fidel Castro out of office.
The durable 81-year-old dictator outlasted nine U.S. presidents. Had he hung on until next January, he would have made it 10. But on Tuesday he announced he would not "accept" - an unintentionally telling verb, that - another term as president.
The National Assembly on Sunday is to name his brother, Raul, as his successor, ratifying an arrangement that has existed since an ailing Castro withdrew from public life in July 2006.
This transition would seem a propitious time to reassess U.S. policy toward Cuba. Sanctions in effect since 1960 and tightened several times since have failed to dislodge the regime or even persuade it to change its ways. Indeed, it is convincingly argued that the sanctions have had the opposite effect, propping up the regime by providing Castro an all-purpose scapegoat for the numerous failings of his rule.
But the Bush administration quickly said there would be no change in U.S. policy toward Cuba and certainly no consideration of lifting the economic embargo. A State Department spokesman dismissed Raul Castro as "Fidel lite."
Having U.S. policy on automatic pilot may be fine for a while, but Cuba, for all its relative unimportance in the grand scheme of things, has a way of intruding into American affairs. We came close to a war with the former Soviet Union when Castro recklessly invited Moscow to base nuclear missiles on the island. An early attempt to dislodge Castro failed so badly that "Bay of Pigs" became a synonym for "disaster."
Castro's early embrace of Marxism predictably ended up impoverishing his people and his early idealism ossified into merely perpetuating himself, and now his brother, in power.
Perhaps the next U.S. president, the Castros' 11th, will bring a fresh approach to restoring prosperity and liberty to Cuba. In the meantime, the ravages of old age have proved our most effective tool. Raul Castro is 76.