The Twittersphere went wild Tuesday morning, when President Barack Obama exchanged a brief handshake with Cuban President Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, at the memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela.
The gesture was unplanned, according to the White House, but substantial nonetheless. Fifty years after the Communist revolution that placed Fidel Castro in power, the U.S. and Cuba still share no formal diplomatic relations. And the last time an American president shook hands with a Cuban leader was in 2000, when former President Bill Clinton exchanged greetings with Fidel Castro at a United Nations gathering in New York.
While some viewed Obama's handshake as a symbol of hope for reconciliation with Cuba, and others viewed the exchange as nothing more than diplomatic civility, there were, of course, those that chose to portray it as the latest traitorous act by our socialist commander-in-chief.
But if a handshake is truly an endorsement of every (or any) action undertaken by the other party, the United States really has a lot of explaining to do:
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President Harry Truman shakes hand with Soviet General Secretary Josef Stalin (right) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Potsdam Conference, which took place between July 17 and 25, 1945.
Stalin's record on human rights was atrocious, with the death toll directly attributable to his rule reaching around 20 million people
. He was also obviously a communist.
This photo shows Churchill and Stalin mid-hand shake at Livadia Palace in Yalta, Ukraine, on Feb. 13, 1945, but FDR, seated behind the two, also shook hands with the brutal dictator during the conference.
(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
President George W. Bush was very close with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia throughout his time in the White House, during which Bush was seen greeting his counterpart with a customary bow, kiss and even the occasional hand-hold.
A close ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia has had a controversial record on human rights
(MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK/AFP/Getty Images)
Obama shakes hands with then-Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi during the Group of Eight (G8) summit in L'Aquila, central Italy, on July 9, 2009.
Less than two years later, international forces including the U.S., helped topple Gaddafi over concerns about his brutal suppression of a civil war. Gaddafi would ultimately be killed by rebel forces in October of 2011.
(AWAD AWAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Bush laughs as he shakes hands with then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a bilateral meeting at the Four Seasons Resort in Sharm el-Sheikh on May 17, 2008.
Mubarak had a terrible record on human rights
. In 2012, following a military coup, the former strongman was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a crackdown that killed hundreds of protesters during the Arab Spring. He was later released from jail.
U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro leave Nixon's office April 19, 1959, after a two hour and 20 minute chat behind closed doors. The meeting had been listed on Castro's program as a 15 minute visit. In answer to a question, Castro said the meeting had been "very friendly."
Gingrich, then speaker of the House, shakes hands with then-Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat at the beginning of a two-hour meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah on May 27, 1998.
Gingrich spoke out loudly and frequently against Arafat and the Palestinian role in peace talks throughout the 1990s, though he did also embrace the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization
During his run for president in 2011, he would say that he believed we had "invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places."
U.S. President Richard Nixon shakes hands with Chinese communist party leader Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, right, during Nixon's groundbreaking trip to China, Feb. 21, 1972, in Beijing.
Nixon puts his arm around the shoulder of President Nicolae Ceausescu of the Socialist Republic of Romania as the two men wave to cheering crowds at Otopeni Airport following official farewell ceremonies for Nixon on Aug. 3, 1969.
Chilean President Augusto Pinochet greets Secretary of State Harry Kissinger on his arrival at the President's office on June 8, 1976. Kissinger took up the issue of the Human Rights Commission which has raised objections to Chilean abuses of civil liberties, but stopped short of taking any direct American action against Chile in the Organization of American States meeting here.
Thanks in part to Kissinger's help orchestrating the coup
that led to the death of the democratically elected Salvador Allende, Pinochet's dictatorial rule extended up until 1998, though he relinquished the title of president in 1990. More than 3,200 people were executed or disappeared under his reign.
Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, greets then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in Damascus, on April 4, 2007. Pelosi held talks with Syria's president despite White House objections, saying she pressed Bashar Assad over Syrian support for militant groups and passed him a peace message from Israel's prime minister.
Assad has since been accused of widespread human rights abuses and war crimes
in his attempts to suppress a violent civil war.
The U.S. threatened to mount military action against Assad earlier this year following allegations that he had launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians.