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The Magnanimity of Nelson Mandela

- Abstract

The death of Nelson Mandela on December 5 instantly became an occasion for liberals to bash conservatives for failing to support Mandela’s cause in the 1980s. This kind of historical gotcha-game is irresistible, and you can’t deny people their fun; certainly, cold warriors could not get enough of it after the fall of the Soviet Union.

But there is irony in it, especially today, because the key exhibit in the indictment against the right for its misconduct in the 1980s was its opposition to the impositions of sanctions against South Africa. In one sense, the indictment is correct: The sanctions proved spectacularly effective in altering the regime’s monstrous behavior. But the right learned from its error. In the aftermath of the South African example, sanctions became a favored foreign-policy tool, not only as an expression of moral opprobrium against an evil-doing regime but also as a means of seeking change in a regime’s conduct.

About the Author

John Podhoretz is editor of COMMENTARY.