Nelson Mandela and the Cheap Caricature of Ronald Reagan

 

It started in the recent movie The Butler, in which President Reagan is portrayed as opposing sanctions against South Africa because–well, the movie leaves the audience to suppose he simply had a heart of stone–and now, in the coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela, Reagan is being mentioned—at least on NPR, to which I listened this morning—as if he were some kind of racist throwback.

A handful of facts:

1.  Reagan opposed apartheid and said so, often and publicly. From his 1986 speech on South Africa:

The root cause of South Africa’s disorder is apartheid, that rigid system of racial segregation wherein black people have been treated as third-class citizens in a nation they helped to build. America’s view of apartheid has been, and remains, clear: apartheid is morally wrong and politically unacceptable. The United States cannot maintain cordial relations with a government whose power rests upon the denial of rights to a majority of its people, based on race.

If South Africa wishes to belong to the family of Western nations, an end to apartheid is a precondition.

2.  Far from playing cozy with the Afrikaans government, as, for example, Bill Keller of the New York Times seemed to suggest on NPR this morning, Reagan himself imposed sanctions against the South African government, issuing an executive order that curtailed military and official relations between the U.S. and Pretoria. I repeat: Reagan himself imposed sanctions against South Africa.

3.  Did Reagan oppose economic sanctions against South Africa? He did indeed. Because he had a heart of stone? Nonsense. “The primary victims of an economic boycott of South Africa,” the President explained, “would be the very people we seek to help.” Again, from his 1986 speech on the matter:

Most of the workers who would lose jobs because of sanctions would be black workers. We do not believe the way to help the people of South Africa is to cripple the economy upon which they and their families depend for survival.ODhhNzAzOTQ3OCMvZEUxWEEtcjlVTkQtLURUZFp1dy0wNzI5OVVVPS84NDB4NTMwL3NtYXJ0L2ZpbHRlcnM6cXVhbGl0eSg3NSk6c3RyaXBfaWNjKDEpL2h0dHAlM0ElMkYlMkZzMy5hbWF6b25h.jpg

Alan Paton, South Africa’s great writer, for years the conscience of his country, has declared himself emphatically: ”I am totally opposed to disinvestment,” he says. ”It is primarily for a moral reason. Those who will pay most grievously for disinvestment will be the black workers of South Africa. I take very seriously the teachings of the Gospels, in particular the parables about giving drink to the thirsty and the food to the hungry. I will not help to cause any such suffering to any black person.” Nor will we.

Looking at a map, southern Africa is a single economic unit tied together by rails and roads. Zaire and its southern mining region depends upon South Africa for three-fourths of her food and petroleum. More than half the electric power that drives the capital of Mozambique comes from South Africa. Over one-third of the exports from Zambia and 65 percent of the exports of Zimbabwe leave the [continent through South Africa.  Mines in South Africa employ] 13,000 workers from Swaziland, 19,000 from Botswana, 50,000 from Mozambique and 110,000 from the tiny landlocked country of Lesotho. Shut down these productive mines with sanctions and you have forced black mine workers out of their jobs and forced their families back in their home countries into destitution….

Reasonable people can certainly differ about Reagan’s assertion that economic sanctions would do more harm than good. What is clear—what is a matter of public record so obvious that only the mainstream media could ignore it—is that his motives were high. Reagan had an argument.  A humane one.

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  1. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland

    We get the same thing with Thatcher and Cameron (there’s a lot of nasty, false, claims being made right now), but Mandela appreciated Thatcher.

    If Samuel’s still about, he has some interesting stories about South Africa’s role in protecting Angola that would seem to be part of this issue.

    • #31
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    @Mallard

    BTW, the photo is of the President and that idiot Desmond Tutu. Thanks to that fools boycott of the educational system in S.A. during the 80’s there is an entire generation of black illiterates now.

    • #32
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    @Neolibertarian
    James Of England

    Neolibertarian

    Heh.

    Bywhatstandardofmeasure? OrmaybeI shouldjust ask: what is the definition of “worked” in this case? · 2 hours ago

    I think that they have delayed Iranian nuclearization, giving us, the Iranian people and/ or Israel, more time to do something else. In Iraq, the DoD stepped up to the plate and the State Department whiffed, but on Iran, the State Department’s done a stand up job until recently with sanctions. It’s the kinetics that haven’t come through. 

    The IAEA inspections may have slowed Iranian nuclear enrichment production, but those aren’t taking place because of the sanctions, they’re taking place because of the conditions of the NPT.

    The sanctions, themselves, have hurt the bonyads (their primary target), but bonyads also provide relief to the poor.

    It’s never going to be the upper echelon in the syndicates who get hurt, at any rate, because that’s not how things work in this universe.

    The kinetics never come through because sanctions can never achieve their stated aims–they only achieve their obvious aim: to punish. And they always punish the least deserving of punishment; those with the least power to change anything in your favor.

    • #33
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    @Franciscus

    Black Prince @#39Sorry, you are wrong; embargo on Cuba still remains, as it did then.

    • #34
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    @Franciscus
    Neolibertarian

    …The kinetics never come through because sanctions can never achieve their stated aims–they only achieve their obvious aim: to punish. And they always punish the least deserving of punishment; those with the least power to change anything in your favor. · 0 minutes ago

    Exactly the point of the late, great Milton Friedman.

    • #35
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    @CommodoreBTC

    Reagan himself imposed sanctions against the South African government, issuing an executive order that curtailed military and official relations between the U.S. and Pretoria. I repeat: Reagan himself imposed sanctions against South Africa.

    Peter, wasn’t that executive order to implement the Anti-Apartheid Act, which was passed over Reagan’s veto?

    • #36
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    @MarionEvans

    Spreading lies and confusion about Ronald Reagan has been one of the left’s more pernicious efforts at rewriting history. Two years ago, I was dragged by a friend to a talk by Paul Krugman. In the Q&A, Krugman was asked who was to blame for the financial crisis of 2008. He stroked his beard for a moment, as if he was thinking, and then: “Ultimately, it is Ronald Reagan.”  Note that Reagan had left office 20 full years before the crisis. I emitted a very audible “Hah!” from the middle of the audience.

    • #37
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    @MikeHs

    Thanks, Peter.  Why am I not surprised that the Left and all of their outlets would use Mandela’s death for yet another round of President-Reagan-bashing.

    • #38
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    @FLBooth

    That discussion brings back memories of time I spent in South Africa in the ’80’s, and was introduced to the debate at the time. In looking for one specific article by Paton on the topic I ran across another one.

    http://www.crisismagazine.com/1986/why-disinvestment-is-immoral 

    • #39
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    @WhiskeySam

    Thank you for sharing this, Peter.  It’s good to be reminded of the truth after a sea of negative falsehoods from the usual sources.

    • #40
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    @VanceRichards

    If I recall correctly Reagan would also steal food from homeless people (just for fun), wanted an all out nuclear war, and according to my high school history teacher, “only cared about big-business.” So none of this is a surprise to those of us old enough to remember how Reagan was portrayed by the Left when he was in office.

    • #41
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    @TotusPorcus

    As well known as Reagan was for brilliant turns of phrase, the thing that jumps out at me about these old speeches is that they are classically arguments – facts mustered in support of a conclusion. As you note, “reasonable people can differ” when presented with this. 

    A world of difference from the current President’s reliance on slogans and jargon, which is not designed to be reasonable or to entertain differences, no matter how many times he pleads the contrary.

    I have no doubt Reagan’s opposition to apartheid was also expressed in his administration’s diplomacy, although I haven’t seen much written about this.  Just as he sent Paul Laxalt to the Philippines when it was time for Marcos to go, I wonder what quiet diplomacy he undertook to “bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice,” as Obama so likes to say. 

    • #42
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    @TommyDeSeno

    Peter this is my South Africa story:

    It was late 1980’s, I was in law school and the issue of the day was divestiture by governments/companies to pressure the end of apartheid.  The school’s Federalist Society asked me to moderate a debate between the Ambassador from South Africa and a leading activist on the pro-divestiture side. When it was scheduled, the Black Student Union erupted in protest.  I met with them. They angrily accused The Federalists (and me) of “giving the South African Ambassador a platform for his racism.” I said that might be true if he were invited to give a speech. Instead we were asking him to debate his rival. The Federalists wanted to learn (as did I) the pros and cons of divestiture from advocates. The protestations grew stronger. False accusations of racism were hurled, threats were made, etc. In the end, the Dean of the law school cancelled the debate. The Federalists were the only student group that had no faculty advisor (you can guess why).   Political correctness won. The students who shut down the debate reminded me of the people who were keeping Mandela in jail – they wouldn’t listen.

    • #43
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    @PeterRobinson
    Totus Porcus: As well known as Reagan was for brilliant turns of phrase, the thing that jumps out at me about these old speeches is that they are classically arguments – facts mustered in support of a conclusion.  · 8 minutes ago

    Very good of you to notice that, Totus.  The President always used to tell us speechwriters–and I heard him say this a half dozen times–“Specificity is the soul of persuasion.”  He wanted facts–he wanted, as you note, arguments.

    • #44
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    @johnlisker

    Why all this pandering by conservatives over Mandela?  He was a racist communist terrorist.  He was also anti-Semitic.

    • #45
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    @Franciscus

    Sanctions, embargo, normalized relations, etc. have had a poor success rate in achieving their stated goals.  Where has this actually compelled a regime change, or major policy shift among major players?

    Distancing the US economically, and politically from India didn’t change the course of India, only drove them towards the soviets.  For Iran, it has driven them towards the Russians.

    If you want a short term effect to make a more bold move, then sanctions are your thing.  This might have had a place in Iran, but now?

    • #46
  17. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    Franciscus

    James Of England

    Didn’t work with India.

    The Indian sanctions came after the fact, 24 years after the first completed and detonated Indian bomb, which makes them a little less impressive. The sanctions were milder, and were very temporary. India’s economy was less dependent on international trade (when your domestic economy has a billion people, being limited to your domestic economy isn’t so bad). I’m not sure there’s much evidence that India developed much in the way of nuclear weapons during the period of sanctions, but I’d be keen to learn if I’m wrong on that.

    And, as I noted, the chief benefit of the Iranian sanctions is that they buy time for a more direct response or for internal revolution. Obviously, in the case of India, there was no more direct response forthcoming and the government has been stable.

    • #47
  18. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    Neolibertarian

    James Of England

    I thinkthatsanctionsareachievingdelaysindependentlyof inspections. Thenuclearprogramisunbelievablyexpensive, and Iran is struggling a good deal more to get hard currency than it would otherwise do. Sanctions also make it easier to monitor Iran’s trade.

    Granted. Not only is the atomic bomb project expensive, so is the international revolution business pretty pricey, as well.

    However…..

    I agree that there are many other factors in play. Nonetheless, while Albright should obviously have contested the absurd UN figures, I think that she was right, and that even if the Iranians were suffering today as Iraqis suffered during the 1990s (which they are not; Saddam was actively committing genocide, whereas the Iranians are relatively humanitarian), contributing a significant additional factor would still be worth it.

    Iraq, as it happens, is a pretty good example of a sanctions regime that worked, albeit at a truly horrific cost. Saddam was not toppled by it, but his nuclear program was put on hiatus.

    • #48
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    @Neolibertarian
    Black Prince

    Neolibertarian

    What I was getting at was Castro WANTED the sanctions reinstated (they’d not formally been lifted under Carter, anyway). It was in his best interests, and he insured that Carter’s successor, whoever he might be, would likely reinstate them.

    I’m quite intrigued about what you wrote.  Are you saying that Reagan was manipulated by Castro to reinstate the embargo against Cuba?  If this is the case (it’s plausible…perhaps it’s even fact) then it’s certainly not a point in Reagan’s favor.  Thanks for your comments! =) · 

    If Reagan and Castro both benefited from the US  re-affirming the embargo, the fact of it would neither be a point in favor nor against.

    • #49
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    @BlackPrince
    Franciscus

    First, Ford was president in 75.

    Teddy?  His policy changed with the wind, and was all for the increased embargo by the mid/late 80’s.  Oh, after trying to challenge Carter in a primary in 1980.

    Yes, of course Ford was President in 1975…I don’t know how I missed that…quite embarrassing.  As far as Teddy is concerned, I only mentioned him because you did in your initial response to my comment.

    • #50
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    @BlackPrince
    Neolibertarian

    If Reagan and Castro both benefited from the US  re-affirming the embargo, the fact of it would neither be a point in favor nor against.

    If Reagan and Castro both benefited from the embargo, the Cuban people most certainly did not—I guess that’s the tragedy of the situation.  I realize that Reagan was caught between a rock and a hard place—there were no good options, and thus (I agree with you) no points.

    • #51
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    @Neolibertarian
    James Of England

    I agree that there are many other factors in play. Nonetheless, while Albright should obviously have contested the absurd UN figures, 

    That’s one school of thought.

    How much better was the truth than “as many as 500,000 children under the age of 5 have died as a result of the sanctions”?

    A much more accurate revision of the numbers in a Columbia University study released in 1999, concluded that at least 106,000 excess deaths of children under the age of 5 had occurred by 1999. The more likely total, according to the 1999 study, was 227,000. By the time OIF was launched in 2003, the revised total was as high as 350,000.

    Deaths under age 5 must be considered the miner’s canary. Suffering doesn’t always result in death. 

    Multilateral sanctions are the only really effective kinds of sanctions. The sanctions leveled on Iraq were the most effective in modern history: every UN signatory nation was obligated to participate and enforce them. Iraq’s GDP plummeted from $66 billion in 1989 to $10 billion by 1996. This would be something like the US’s GDP suddenly falling to $3 trillion. Overnight.

    • #52
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    @Neolibertarian

    Do you really think for a minute that any of those children were Ba’ath Party member’s children?

    • #53
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    @Neolibertarian
    James Of England

    I think that she was right, and that even if the Iranians were suffering today as Iraqis suffered during the 1990s (which they are not; Saddam was actively committing genocide, whereas the Iranians are relatively humanitarian), contributing a significant additional factor would still be worth it.

    Iraq, as it happens, is a pretty good example of a sanctions regime that worked, albeit at a truly horrific cost. Saddam was not toppled by it, but his nuclear program was put on hiatus. 

    What would any good Stalinist do faced with a crisis like UN Security Council Resolutions 661 and 687?

    Purges, of course.

    Saddam purged his government and military of all officers with doubtful loyalties. This left him with only close relatives and childhood friends from Tikrit running the government of Iraq. Where Saddam had formally been known to run a rather taught ship; with a government relatively free of corruption (at least by Middle Eastern standards), now in order to ensure loyalty and devotion, he turned a blind eye. Corruption in Saddam’s regime became the stuff of legends.

    • #54
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    @Neolibertarian

    And Saddam was not merely a Stalinist. He was also his own man. From the first moment of Operation Desert Shield, Saddam reinvented himself to become an Islamic King. By the close of the Iran-Iraq War he’d concluded that Pan-Arabism was as dead as the rotting corpse of Nasser. Overnight he became a Pan-Islamist.

    This was observed but ignored in the West. It was believed that Saddam’s new-found religion was merely cynical window dressing. But Western analysts have been proved wrong about a great deal, and nowhere so acutely as this. The Return to Faith Campaign in 1992 made Iraq an Islamic Nation by official state policy.

    In 1995, when Hussein Kamal defected to Jordan, he explained his greatest concerns about Iraq which had led to his defection:

    “The Government of Iraq is instigating fundamentalism in the country. This is of concern for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait. It is against Europe and US. Now Ba’ath Party members have to pass a religious exam. This would strengthen Iran. It would be detrimental for the whole region. [The interpreter remarked that Iraq and Iran would have the same mentality.]”

    Continued…

    • #55
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    @Neolibertarian

    “This will be another world war. Every party member has to pass a religious exam. They even stopped party meetings for prayers.”

    This might be passed off as Kamal’s hysteria, except for what happened next. In 1996-1997 Saddam gained rapprochement with Hafez al-Assad, of all people. Bitter enemies ever since the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam had convinced Assad of his repentance, most likely through his Return to Faith in Iraq. Saddam, longtime friend to Arafat, had also become a hero to HAMAS. Hafez relented. In 1997 the Iraq-Syria border was reopened, and relations between the two countries warmed greatly (even more so under Bashar al-Assad, as he rose to replace his father in 2000).

    An old Iraq-Syria oil pipeline was repaired and reopened.

    The UN protested that Iraq and Syria were using the pipeline to bypass the UN Sanctions, but was unwilling by that point to do anything about it.

    Saddam felt so secure in his new alliance with Syria that in 1998 he refused to cooperate any further with UN inspectors.

    • #56
  27. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Neolibertarian

    Clinton pulled them out and bombed Iraq for four days. The UN weapons inspectors wouldn’t return to Iraq for four long years. When Saddam had over 150,000 foreign troops staged on his borders, he suddenly decided to let them back in (coincidentally in November of 2002, the original launch date for OIF).

    James, you say that “his nuclear program was put on hiatus,” but that might prove to be the most simplistic of views.

    Yossef Bodansky in 2004 makes the case that Iraq’s nuclear weapons project was in actuality a joint project between Libya, Syria and Iraq. Subsequent events lend credibility to Bodansky’s assessments.

    I confess that I fail to see how the Iraq Sanctions proved to be “effective.”

    • #57
  28. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Neolibertarian
    Black Prince

    Neolibertarian

    If Reagan and Castro both benefited from the US  re-affirming the embargo, the fact of it would neither be a point in favor nor against.

    If Reagan and Castro both benefited from the embargo, the Cuban people most certainly did not—I guess that’s the tragedy of the situation.  I realize that Reagan was probably caught between a rock and a hard place—there were no good options, and thus (I agree with you) no points. 

    As I’m in agreement with you.

    That’s really the trap of sanctions in the first place: It puts you “between a rock and a hard place, and there are no good options.”

    But today, sanctions seem to be leveled at the drop of a hat.

    “Well, at least we’re doing SOMETHING” doesn’t hold much water, does it?

    • #58
  29. Profile Photo Inactive
    @BlackPrince
    Neolibertarian

    Black Prince

    If Reagan and Castro both benefited from the embargo, the Cuban people most certainly did not—I guess that’s the tragedy of the situation.  I realize that Reagan was probably caught between a rock and a hard place—there were no good options, and thus (I agree with you) no points. 

    As I’m in agreement with you.

    That’s really the trap of sanctions in the first place: It puts you “between a rock and a hard place, and there are no good options.”

    But today, sanctions seem to be leveled at the drop of a hat.

    “Well, at least we’re doing SOMETHING” doesn’t hold much water, does it?

    No, it doesn’t.  Perhaps politicians should be mindful of age old principle in medicine: “First do no harm”.

    • #59
  30. Profile Photo Moderator
    @JamesOfEngland
    Neolibertarian

    James Of England

    That’s one school of thought.

    How much better was the truth than…?

    A much more accurate revision of the numbers in a Columbia University study….

    I agree with the great bulk of what you write; much of it is stuff that I frequently find myself saying, but do not frequently hear from others, so I am doubly pleased.

    That said, the “much more accurate” version was still hackery committed by a dedicated partisan. Even if the numbers were true (which I don’t believe they were), as the link says and you imply, the increase in mortality was entirely in areas where Saddam was committing genocide.

    While I agree that the sanctions made life worse for everyone, and are an important part of the context for the genocide, I don’t believe that they bear primary responsibility for it, much like alcohol manufacturers are not primarily responsible for the rapes that they make more likely.

    As such, I think Albright should have contested the numbers, and should also have contested responsibility, but her policy would have been right even if the numbers were true and if the responsibility America’s.

    • #60
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