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Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’
December 6th, 2013 at 4:26 pm
A Classless Act from President Obama
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The White House announced today that President Obama and the First Lady will be traveling to South Africa next week to pay their respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela. That’s as it should be. While the media’s rush to canonize Mandela is a bit overwrought (his ultimate legacy was unquestionably positive, but that shouldn’t be allowed to obscure his many faults, which are presented in an admirably balanced fashion in National Review’s editorial on his life), his was still a deeply significant life, worthy of presidential recognition.

Given that sentiment, you may be wondering what the “classless act” I’m referring to in the title is. It’s not paying homage to Mandela; it’s the contrast with the events of eight months ago, when this happened:

Friends and allies of Baroness Thatcher expressed ‘surprise and disappointment’ last night as it emerged President Obama is not planning to send any serving member of his administration to her funeral.

… a US embassy spokesman confirmed that no serving member of his administration would be present to pay their last respects, citing a busy week in US domestic politics.

Obviously, the President — with his signature policy initiative currently on life support — is no less pressed for time now than he was upon Lady Thatcher’s death. It doesn’t take too deep a dive into his intellectual biography to find the root cause of this double standard: Obama has been open about his identification with Mandela; Thatcher was clearly a figure he regarded as alien at best, an attitude he seems to apply to the British with some regularity.

Obama is perfectly within his rights as an individual to hold some world figures in higher esteem than others. As President, however, he ought to feel obligated to remember the importance of his ceremonial role — one in which he is a totem of the United States, even if it occasionally puts him in positions that make him squeamish. Nelson Mandela deserves his recognition; Margaret Thatcher did too. It’s a shame that he couldn’t rise above his own university campus provincialism to pay her that respect.

August 30th, 2013 at 6:00 pm
The Hollywood Slander of Ronald Reagan
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Ronald Reagan may have been the only American president to emerge from Tinseltown (excepting the fact that Barack Obama is clearly a character created by Aaron Sorkin), but that hasn’t inspired any loyalty. The new movie, The Butler, is rife with mischaracterizations of racial progress in America (as ably pointed out by Richard Epstein for the Hoover Institution) — and it’s especially unkind to the Gipper. As Steve Hayward, Paul Kengor, Craig Shirley, and Kiron Skinner — Reagan biographers all — note in today’s Washington Post, Reagan demonstrated a lifetime’s worth of tolerance and enlightenment on racial issues.

One of the film’s larger errors is an implicit assertion that Reagan opposed economic sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa out of simple indifference to black suffering. But as his chroniclers note, the reality is much more complicated:

The unfairness of this scene can be demonstrated by any number of historical facts. In June 1981, still recovering from an assassination attempt, Reagan sent his closest foreign policy aide, William Clark, on his first official trip; it was to South Africa to express America’s disapproval. An unsmiling Clark told Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha to his face that the new president and administration “abhorred apartheid.” Clark walked out on Botha.

While accurate in depicting Reagan’s opposition to sanctions against South Africa, “The Butler” does not explain why he opposed them. Reagan saw sanctions as harmful to the poorest South Africans: millions of blacks living in dire poverty. He also feared that the apartheid regime could be replaced by a Marxist/totalitarian one allied with the Soviet Union and Cuba and that communism would spread throughout the continent. South Africa’s blacks were denied rights under apartheid, but communism would mean no freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion, conscience, emigration, travel or even property for anyone. Moreover, in communist nations such as Cambodia and Ethi­o­pia, people had been slaughtered and starved on mass scales. Nearly a dozen nations had become part of the Soviet orbit in the immediate years before Reagan became president. He didn’t want South Africa to undergo the same catastrophe.

Reagan adopted a policy of “constructive engagement,” seeking to keep South Africa in the anti-Soviet faction while encouraging the country toward black-majority rule — no easy feat. In one of his finest speeches, he told the United Nations on Sept. 24, 1984, that it was “a moral imperative that South Africa’s racial policies evolve peacefully but decisively toward . . . justice, liberty and human dignity.” Among his administration’s successes was the Angola-Namibia agreement, which led to the withdrawal of the white South African regime from Namibia and paved the way for that nation’s independence.

Moral preening is always easiest when one bears no responsibility for the consequences. Statesmen weigh trade-offs. Ronald Reagan knew that. Thanks to the current situation in Syria, Barack Obama is about to get a master’s class on the topic.