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Nelson Mandela and the Caricature of Margaret Thatcher

The only person as maligned as President Ronald Reagan over the last few days has of course been Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who joined Reagan in opposing economic sanctions against South Africa–because, you would be forced to conclude if you listened only to NPR and PBS, she, like Reagan, was some sort of morally obtuse throwback.

That was as completely untrue of Thatcher as it was of Reagan.  Here, one page of a letter she sent in 1985 to South African President P.W. Botha.  

Thatcher-to-Botha.pngAt the beginning of the letter–which is very much worth reading in its entirety–Mrs. Thatcher explains that she opposes sanctions because she believes they would prove counterproductive.  Here, as elsewhere in the letter, she all but demands that Botha pick up the pace of reform, and–note this well–urges Botha to release Nelson Mandela.

Far from being morally obtuse, Thatcher insisted on moral clarity–and toughness, and realistic, practical diplomacy.  She believed implicitly in human liberty–and worked incessantly to expand it.

(With thanks to my friend Kevin Lucey for directing me to this marvelous document.)

  1. Danny Alexander

    OT but in the same vein as the defense of freedom and the promotion of liberty…  I am sincerely hoping that Thatcher admirer Bibi Netanyahu takes advantage of the window of opportunity while the POTUS is attending Mandela’s funeral next week to strike Iran.

  2. Carsten Koenig

    Do we really wonder about these frauds of historical facts? The left and their intellectual rearguards in the universities are interested in social justice, gender justice and newly climate justice.

    To be just means – in its first meaning – to accept the facts. But even facts can not convince these left forces. They refuse any objectivity, especially in history, hence everything is created by the interpretation of compliant follower. The first charlatan Karl Marx was proud of his dialectical approach. His disciples still use it.

    Can we convince them?

  3. flownover

    It looks like a warmup for Palestinian suffrage and more sanctions against Israel. Did they mention Mandela’s views on that ? 

    They are going to milk this for awhile. First , it’s a diversion from Obamascare, then there’s the race card , and watch out it circle back to Israel in view of the new need for Iranian pleasantries ( oxymoronic  -Neda R.I.P. ) .

  4. dash
    Kay of MT: http://www.gingrichproductions.com/2013/12/what-would-you-have-done-nelson-mandela-and-american-conservatives/

    Excellent article by Newt Gingrich. · 1 hour ago

    When Newt’ s good, he’s very good.

  5. drlorentz

    I read the letter carefully. One possible interpretation that casts Mrs.Thatcher in a less sympathetic light is that she was advocating changes in South African policies expressly for the purpose of avoiding imposition of sanctions. The impetus for releasing Mr Mandela is political, not humanitarian. In short, she wants him released to silence critics.

    I agree with her that sanctions were likely counterproductive by damaging to those they were intended to help. In that sense, political considerations are valid. Still, hers was a strictly pragmatic, realpolitik approach.

  6. Kay of MT
    drlorentz: I read the letter carefully. One possible interpretation that casts Mrs.Thatcher in a less sympathetic light is that she was advocating changes in South African policies expressly for the purpose of avoiding imposition of sanctions. The impetus for releasing Mr Mandela is political, not humanitarian. In short, she wants him released to silence critics.

    I agree with her that sanctions were likely counterproductive by damaging to those they were intended to help. In that sense, political considerations are valid. Still, hers was a strictly pragmatic, realpolitik approach. · in 1 minute

    Placing sanctions on South Africa, would have put thousands upon thousands of miners out of work, virtually all of them Black. The Whites, who were in power, weren’t the ones who would go hungry or be really hurt, it was the workers. And I think she knew Mandela would pull his people together and keep them from rioting. Thatcher was a brilliant woman, and in hindsight, what she advised was precisely right.

  7. Kay of MT
    dash

    Kay of MT: http://www.gingrichproductions.com/2013/12/what-would-you-have-done-nelson-mandela-and-american-conservatives/

    Excellent article by Newt Gingrich. · 1 hour ago

    When Newt’ s good, he’s very good. · 1 hour ago

    And unfortunately, when he was bad, he was very bad. Intellectually and patriotically, I think he would make the best president ever, but lord, does he have baggage!

  8. David Williamson

    He probably would not have left Mr Obama off the hook, and he would have made a fool out of Ms Crowley.

    As for sanctions, I wonder whether Mr Reagan and Mrs Thatcher would have thought the sanctions against Iran counter-productive, for the same reasons? They might have supported the Green Revolution, instead.

  9. drlorentz
    Kay of MT

    Placing sanctions on South Africa, would have put thousands upon thousands of miners out of work, virtually all of them Black. The Whites, who were in power, weren’t the ones who would go hungry or be really hurt, it was the workers. And I think she knew Mandela would pull his people together and keep them from rioting. Thatcher was a brilliant woman, and in hindsight, what she advised was precisely right.

    And yet sanctions were imposed.

    Thatcher was brilliant – no argument there. She might be my favorite 20th century leader after Churchill. Still, one could argue that sanctions did move the process forward. It’s not clear she was entirely right.

  10. drlorentz
    David Williamson: He probably would not have left Mr Obama off the hook, and he would have made a fool out of Ms Crowley.

    As for sanctions, I wonder whether Mr Reagan and Mrs Thatcher would have thought the sanctions against Iran counter-productive, for the same reasons? They might have supported the Green Revolution, instead.

    Many on the Right have argued that sanctions brought Iran to the table. That would be inconsistent with opposition to sanctions for South Africa. Granted, the two situations are quite different. Nevertheless, some of the same arguments work for both: hurting innocents, sanctions don’t work in general.

  11. James Of England

    Firstly, thank you, Peter. I have related conversations fairly often, but had never come across this exceptionally useful document. This may turn out to be amongst my most frequently referred to favorited Ricochet posts.

    David Williamson: He probably would not have left Mr Obama off the hook, and he would have made a fool out of Ms Crowley.

    As for sanctions, I wonder whether Mr Reagan and Mrs Thatcher would have thought the sanctions against Iran counter-productive, for the same reasons? They might have supported the Green Revolution, instead.

    Sanctions make people poorer. When the aim of impoverishment is to punish people for non-pecuniary sins and to improve the lot of the poor in the punished country, they are a very blunt instrument indeed.

    When the aim of impoverishment is to hinder the spending of large sums of money on government programs, with the welfare of the poor in the impoverished country being an acceptable casualty, a much stronger link between means and ends appears.

    The sanctions against Saddam, for instance, were total failures from a humanitarian perspective, but highly successful from a nuclear perspective.

  12. Stephen Bishop

    Communism fell in 1989. Mandela was let out the next year.

    ANC was a self-proclaimed Marxist organization. So they waited until communism fell.

    So  spinning it Mandela was kept locked up because of communism.

  13. Barbara Kidder
    drlorentz

    David Williamson: He probably would not have left Mr Obama off the hook, and he would have made a fool out of Ms Crowley.

    As for sanctions, I wonder whether Mr Reagan and Mrs Thatcher would have thought the sanctions against Iran counter-productive, for the same reasons? They might have supported the Green Revolution, instead.

    Many on the Right have argued that sanctions brought Iran to the table. That would be inconsistent with opposition to sanctions for South Africa. Granted, the two situations are quite different. Nevertheless, some of the same arguments work for both: hurting innocents, sanctions don’t work in general. · 24 minutes ago

    Unlike in Iran, the government in South Africa was still controlled by white  European settlers, mainly from England and Holland.  They had worked in and developed their ‘homeland’, for many generations, and  had huge investments in the country.

    Whatever political motivations  moved Mrs. Thatcher, she must have felt that her government  had a ‘peculiar’ interest and  unique responsibility to exert influence at such a crucial time in South Africa, a former colony.

  14. Leigh
    drlorentz: I read the letter carefully. One possible interpretation that casts Mrs.Thatcher in a less sympathetic light is that she was advocating changes in South African policies expressly for the purpose of avoiding imposition of sanctions. The impetus for releasing Mr Mandela is political, not humanitarian. In short, she wants him released to silence critics.

    I agree with her that sanctions were likely counterproductive by damaging to those they were intended to help. In that sense, political considerations are valid. Still, hers was a strictly pragmatic, realpolitik approach.

    This was my thought, too.

    Still, she was using political, pragmatic arguments to someone she thought would respond better to those arguments.  Nothing wrong with that.