Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nelson Mandela

Did Obama Pose with Terrorist Leader?

President Obama’s handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro and his “selfie” photograph with the Danish prime minister dominated the diplomatic headlines emerging from Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last week. It gets worse, however. The Polisario Front—an Algeria- and Cuba-sponsored, Cold War relic movement which claims to be fighting for independence in the Western Sahara but is better known for its authoritarian leadership and massive human-rights abuses against its own members—was represented in Soweto by its leader, Mohamed Abdulaziz.

Abdulaziz approached Obama for a photo and, if the photo is to be believed, Obama obliged. How embarrassing: While the Polisario Front is not formally designated a terrorist group by the U.S. Treasury Department, it is by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and many outside groups.

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President Obama’s handshake with Cuban President Raul Castro and his “selfie” photograph with the Danish prime minister dominated the diplomatic headlines emerging from Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last week. It gets worse, however. The Polisario Front—an Algeria- and Cuba-sponsored, Cold War relic movement which claims to be fighting for independence in the Western Sahara but is better known for its authoritarian leadership and massive human-rights abuses against its own members—was represented in Soweto by its leader, Mohamed Abdulaziz.

Abdulaziz approached Obama for a photo and, if the photo is to be believed, Obama obliged. How embarrassing: While the Polisario Front is not formally designated a terrorist group by the U.S. Treasury Department, it is by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and many outside groups.

Perhaps Obama didn’t know with whom he was posing: The president is asked for dozens pf photos at every appearance he makes. But security was tight at the South African ceremonies, and dignitaries were sequestered in their own section. When Abdulaziz ambled up to Obama, the president and his handlers knew it wasn’t the South African equivalent of “Joe the Plumber.” So what to make of the photo? Let us hope that Obama didn’t know with whom he was posing, but the president’s recent antics with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Castro suggest that Obama maintains no moral threshold to his relationships. Quite the contrary, Obama and his aides increasingly embrace radical chic attitudes toward the world’s leftists and revolutionaries. But, if Obama is given the benefit of the doubt, then how incompetent his aides must be to allow leaders whom they cannot identify or do not know to take a photo which a radical or terrorist group can use to imply endorsement.

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Marital Harmony in the White House

If we were the teensiest bit anxious about marital strife in the White House after President Obama yukked it up at Nelson Mandela’s funeral with Denmark’s very winsome Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt and took a rollicking “selfie” with her and British PM David Cameron, we can breathe a sigh of relief. The Washington Post reassures us that Mrs. Obama was not as peeved as she seemed to be in some of the photographs.

As the Post’s Reliable Source reports, AFP photographer Roberto Schmidt (apparently no relation to Helle), who shot the now-famous pic of the cavorting and an apparently displeased Michelle looking on, has personally debunked the story. In a post on AFP’s blog, he noted that, in fact, “photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.” What’s more, he wrote, no one else should be peeved by the funeral jollity either. Obama, Cameron and Thorning Schmidt were just acting “like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium.”

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If we were the teensiest bit anxious about marital strife in the White House after President Obama yukked it up at Nelson Mandela’s funeral with Denmark’s very winsome Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt and took a rollicking “selfie” with her and British PM David Cameron, we can breathe a sigh of relief. The Washington Post reassures us that Mrs. Obama was not as peeved as she seemed to be in some of the photographs.

As the Post’s Reliable Source reports, AFP photographer Roberto Schmidt (apparently no relation to Helle), who shot the now-famous pic of the cavorting and an apparently displeased Michelle looking on, has personally debunked the story. In a post on AFP’s blog, he noted that, in fact, “photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.” What’s more, he wrote, no one else should be peeved by the funeral jollity either. Obama, Cameron and Thorning Schmidt were just acting “like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium.”

I have to say I sort of agree. However deeply people may feel the loss of Mr. Mandela, he triumphed over his enemies and then lived to a ripe old age, surrounded by children, grandchildren, and devoted followers. Under the circumstances, unremitting solemnity at the funeral would have seemed insincere. Still, it was disconcerting to see the (rapidly abdicating) leader of the free world horsing around in the stadium stands.

And hey, Michelle Obama can’t help it that her face looks rather, well, peeved in repose–or when listening to six hours of tributes to the man her husband insists on calling by his tribal name, Madiba. Some people’s faces are just like that.

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Don’t Distort the Meaning of Mandela

As our Max Boot has written, Nelson Mandela’s example is more proof that individuals and personal choices are the decisive factors in history. By not choosing to be embittered by his personal experience of persecution and by his embrace of the principles of reconciliation and peace once apartheid ended, he changed the fate of South Africa. As such, his legacy is not just one of a symbol of resistance to oppression but as an example of how humanity can rise above hatred and violence. He is not merely one of the iconic figures of the 20th century but of the history of the world.

As the world honors Mandela this week, there will be much written and said about the difference he made in his own country and the way he inspired others to listen to the better angels of their natures. This is entirely appropriate, and we hope the flood of remembrances of the South African leader will spark not just a greater appreciation of what he did but of the cause of freedom. At a time when tyranny and hate seem to be on the upsurge around the globe, the focus on Mandela should not be just one that honors the demise of apartheid but on the need to resist tyranny, whether it is perpetrated in the name of racism, nationalism, or religion. If Mandela’s lessons are merely confined to the conflicts between black and white in Africa or apartheid is allowed to become a metaphor rather than a specific form of authoritarianism, his legacy will be lost.

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As our Max Boot has written, Nelson Mandela’s example is more proof that individuals and personal choices are the decisive factors in history. By not choosing to be embittered by his personal experience of persecution and by his embrace of the principles of reconciliation and peace once apartheid ended, he changed the fate of South Africa. As such, his legacy is not just one of a symbol of resistance to oppression but as an example of how humanity can rise above hatred and violence. He is not merely one of the iconic figures of the 20th century but of the history of the world.

As the world honors Mandela this week, there will be much written and said about the difference he made in his own country and the way he inspired others to listen to the better angels of their natures. This is entirely appropriate, and we hope the flood of remembrances of the South African leader will spark not just a greater appreciation of what he did but of the cause of freedom. At a time when tyranny and hate seem to be on the upsurge around the globe, the focus on Mandela should not be just one that honors the demise of apartheid but on the need to resist tyranny, whether it is perpetrated in the name of racism, nationalism, or religion. If Mandela’s lessons are merely confined to the conflicts between black and white in Africa or apartheid is allowed to become a metaphor rather than a specific form of authoritarianism, his legacy will be lost.

Mandela came to be embraced by all peoples, both black and white, as a role model, not just because the cause of his opponents was unjust. Tyrants are, alas, a dime a dozen. But freedom fighters that can translate their struggle into one that makes the lives of their people better rather than worse are rare. Mandela was not perfect and the allies he was forced to accept during his struggle were often unsavory. But whatever his associations, he proved once he was freed that his principle interest was in establishing a genuine democracy in South Africa and one in which all of its peoples could play a role. That is why it is vital those who do not share his devotion to liberty or to human rights should not be allowed to hijack Mandela’s story or that of the anti-apartheid struggle. And by that I refer to those who would wish to invoke the struggle against racism in South Africa to justify support for those who seek to destroy the State of Israel.

It has become commonplace on both the extreme left and the extreme right where anti-Zionism flourishes to libel Israel as an apartheid state that is reminiscent of the South Africa that was ruled by a white minority. Given that Israel is a democratic nation in which the Arab minority enjoys equality under the law, this claim is an absurd lie. Moreover, even though the Palestinians refused to make peace and accept a two-state solution (their leadership rejected such offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008) and the West Bank remains in legal limbo, it should also be pointed out that unlike white South Africans, Jews remain a clear majority of those living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. If Israel remains locked in conflict, it is because it still remains under a siege in which the Arab and Muslim world seeks its elimination.

The use of the South African analogy against the Jewish state is also particularly disturbing because Mandela was personally a strong opponent of anti-Semitism and a friend to the South African Jewish community. As Richard Goldstone, the controversial former judge who allowed his name to be used to front a vicious attack on Israel before ultimately renouncing that libel, writes in the Forward today, though his relationship with Israel was difficult at times because of his embrace of Yasir Arafat and Israel’s relations with the old South Africa, “Mandela sympathized with Israel and the aspirations of the Jewish people to live there in peace with their Arab neighbors.”

Thus, it is manifestly dishonest of those who seek to use the tactics of the struggle against apartheid against a democratic state like Israel. The goal of those who boycotted South Africa was to replace tyranny with freedom. Those who support the effort to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel wish to destroy a democracy and to deprive the Jewish people of the same right of self-determination that Mandela wished for his people.

Those who would use Mandela’s memory as a cover for Jew-hatred and intolerance do him and the world he helped enlighten an injustice.

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The Character of Nelson Mandela

While traveling around the country promoting my last book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, I was often asked which insurgents I admired the most. The answer is those insurgents who have fought relatively humanely and, most important of all, once they have seized power have governed wisely and democratically and shown a willingness to give up power when the time came to do so.

This is not, needless to say, the norm. Much more common are insurgents like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Mugabe, Kim Il Sung, and (fill in the blank) who, while posturing as freedom fighters battling an evil dictatorship, swiftly become dictators in turn as soon as they seize power. The exceptions to that rule are some of the greatest figures of modern history–the likes of George Washington, Michael Collins, David Ben-Gurion, and, most recently, Nelson Mandela.

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While traveling around the country promoting my last book, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present, I was often asked which insurgents I admired the most. The answer is those insurgents who have fought relatively humanely and, most important of all, once they have seized power have governed wisely and democratically and shown a willingness to give up power when the time came to do so.

This is not, needless to say, the norm. Much more common are insurgents like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Mugabe, Kim Il Sung, and (fill in the blank) who, while posturing as freedom fighters battling an evil dictatorship, swiftly become dictators in turn as soon as they seize power. The exceptions to that rule are some of the greatest figures of modern history–the likes of George Washington, Michael Collins, David Ben-Gurion, and, most recently, Nelson Mandela.

I can remember growing up in the 1980s when there was widespread suspicion among conservatives in the U.S.–including many in the Reagan administration–that if the African National Congress were to take over, South Africa would be transformed into another dysfunctional dictatorship like the rest of the continent. That this did not come to pass was due to many reasons including F.W. de Klerk’s wisdom in giving up power without a fight.

But the largest part of the explanation for why South Africa is light years ahead of most African nations–why, for all its struggles with high unemployment, crime, corruption, and other woes, it is freer and more prosperous than most of its neighbors–is the character of Nelson Mandela. Had he turned out to be another Mugabe, there is every likelihood that South Africa would now be on the same road to ruin as Zimbabwe. But that did not happen because Mandela turned out to be, quite simply, a great man–someone who could spend 27 years in jail and emerge with no evident bitterness to make a deal with his jailers that allowed them to give up power peacefully and to avoid persecution.

Mandela knew that South Africa could not afford to nationalize the economy or to chase out the white and mixed-raced middle class. He knew that the price of revenge for the undoubted evils that apartheid had inflicted upon the majority of South Africans would be too high to pay–that the ultimate cost would be borne by ordinary black Africans. Therefore he governed inclusively and, most important of all, he voluntarily gave up power after one term when he could easily have proclaimed himself president for life.

The (not unexpected) tragedy for South Africa is that Mandela’s successors, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, have not been men of his caliber: Mbeki, the previous president, was a colorless technocrat who could not inspire his people or face head-on the challenge of AIDS; Zuma, the current president, is a rabble-rouser who has been accused of numerous improprieties from rape to corruption. Their struggles and that of the ANC bureaucracy they preside over only place in starker relief the transcendent genius and sheer goodness of Nelson Mandela.

His example should dispel any illusions, so popular in the historical profession, that history is made by impersonal forces. Mandela’s example is a ringing endorsement of what is derisively known as the “great man school of history”–the notion that influential individuals make a huge difference in how events turn out. He certainly made a difference, and for the better. He will go down as one of the giants of the second half of the twentieth century along with Reagan, Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping, Lech Walesa, and Pope John Paul II.

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Juan Cole: Illogic :: Michael Jordan: Basketball

Professor-cum-blogger Juan Cole’s habit of producing illogical analogies to evaluate events in the Middle East is legendary. As Martin Kramer has noted, Cole’s faulty analogies have been employed misleadingly to compare such dissimilar phenomena as the caliphate to the papacy; Saudi Arabia to Amish country; and the Sunni-Shiite divide to the Catholic-Protestant one.

Well, Cole is at it again:

Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman called Carter a bigot for his diplomacy. Gillerman called Hizbullah, an Arab party, “animals” in summer of 2006. Would he like to expand the reference to include other races? … For Likudniks to call Jimmy Carter a “bigot” is sort of like the Ku Klux Klan denouncing Nelson Mandela for racial insensitivity.

Just in case you missed it, Cole’s stunning logic goes something like this: the Likud Party is to Jimmy Carter what the KKK is to Nelson Mandela. Or, as it would have been written on the old version of the SAT, “Likud: Carter :: KKK: Mandela.”

Still don’t get it? Let me help. To make sense of Cole’s analogy, one must accept the bizarre premise that denouncing Hizbullah–a militant group representing one extreme faction within one of twenty-one Arab states–constitutes KKK-like racism against all Arabs (and possibly against many other peoples). It therefore follows logically that, in protesting the anti-Hizbullah “Likud Light” Israeli government, Jimmy Carter is actually protesting KKK-like racism, much as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.

Yet, for Cole, the notion that criticism of Hizbullah constitutes anti-Arab racism is dangerously revealing of his true intentions. After all, Cole has often railed against the exact same logic when applied to Israel, arguing that accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s most vitriolic critics–such as himself–are “designed to silence.” Indeed, by accusing Dan Gillerman of racism for denouncing Hizbullah, Cole’s own internal logic suggests that he is trying to stifle one of Hizbullah’s most prominent detractors–an aim consistent with Cole’s legacy of apologias for radical Islamists.

Of course, Cole’s pollution of the blogosphere is nothing new. But, insofar as Cole’s students now hail from a generation that no longer studies analogies in preparation for the SATs, his distortions may be more dangerous than ever before.

Professor-cum-blogger Juan Cole’s habit of producing illogical analogies to evaluate events in the Middle East is legendary. As Martin Kramer has noted, Cole’s faulty analogies have been employed misleadingly to compare such dissimilar phenomena as the caliphate to the papacy; Saudi Arabia to Amish country; and the Sunni-Shiite divide to the Catholic-Protestant one.

Well, Cole is at it again:

Israeli ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman called Carter a bigot for his diplomacy. Gillerman called Hizbullah, an Arab party, “animals” in summer of 2006. Would he like to expand the reference to include other races? … For Likudniks to call Jimmy Carter a “bigot” is sort of like the Ku Klux Klan denouncing Nelson Mandela for racial insensitivity.

Just in case you missed it, Cole’s stunning logic goes something like this: the Likud Party is to Jimmy Carter what the KKK is to Nelson Mandela. Or, as it would have been written on the old version of the SAT, “Likud: Carter :: KKK: Mandela.”

Still don’t get it? Let me help. To make sense of Cole’s analogy, one must accept the bizarre premise that denouncing Hizbullah–a militant group representing one extreme faction within one of twenty-one Arab states–constitutes KKK-like racism against all Arabs (and possibly against many other peoples). It therefore follows logically that, in protesting the anti-Hizbullah “Likud Light” Israeli government, Jimmy Carter is actually protesting KKK-like racism, much as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.

Yet, for Cole, the notion that criticism of Hizbullah constitutes anti-Arab racism is dangerously revealing of his true intentions. After all, Cole has often railed against the exact same logic when applied to Israel, arguing that accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s most vitriolic critics–such as himself–are “designed to silence.” Indeed, by accusing Dan Gillerman of racism for denouncing Hizbullah, Cole’s own internal logic suggests that he is trying to stifle one of Hizbullah’s most prominent detractors–an aim consistent with Cole’s legacy of apologias for radical Islamists.

Of course, Cole’s pollution of the blogosphere is nothing new. But, insofar as Cole’s students now hail from a generation that no longer studies analogies in preparation for the SATs, his distortions may be more dangerous than ever before.

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Carter, Annan to Head Peace Mission to Mideast

No, really: that’s the headline of the story. Here are the details:

The council of world leaders launched by former President Nelson Mandela is sending a three-person team to help ease tensions in the troubled Middle East, the organization known as The Elders said Friday.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Irish president Mary Robinson will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from April 13th to April 21st.

In other news, Rudy Giuliani and Benjamin Netanyahu will head a mission to Tehran seeking to ease international tensions over the Iranian nuclear program, Lou Dobbs is leading a delegation to Mexico City that hopes to assuage controversy about illegal immigration, and Al Sharpton will be appearing at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center to speak about his leadership in promoting social harmony between blacks and Jews.

No, really: that’s the headline of the story. Here are the details:

The council of world leaders launched by former President Nelson Mandela is sending a three-person team to help ease tensions in the troubled Middle East, the organization known as The Elders said Friday.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former Irish president Mary Robinson will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia from April 13th to April 21st.

In other news, Rudy Giuliani and Benjamin Netanyahu will head a mission to Tehran seeking to ease international tensions over the Iranian nuclear program, Lou Dobbs is leading a delegation to Mexico City that hopes to assuage controversy about illegal immigration, and Al Sharpton will be appearing at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center to speak about his leadership in promoting social harmony between blacks and Jews.

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Don’t Give Up on Democracy

Gideon Rachman has a good column in the Financial Times in which he argues against the fashionable impulse to ditch democracy promotion simply because President Bush is in favor of it. Rachman, hardly a firebreathing pro-democracy evangelist, says (rightly, in my view) that the problem with Bush’s democracy agenda has not been that it is too radical but that Bush has been too hesitant to back up his soaring words with appropriate actions.
But that doesn’t mean that the goal of spreading democracy should be abandoned by the U.S. or its allies. As Rachman writes:

Historical events usually throw up people who will push for political freedom at crucial moments. When such people emerge—whether they are Chinese students in Tiananmen Square, Burmese monks in Rangoon, Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Ayman Nour in Egypt—they deserve the strong support of the outside world.

Gideon Rachman has a good column in the Financial Times in which he argues against the fashionable impulse to ditch democracy promotion simply because President Bush is in favor of it. Rachman, hardly a firebreathing pro-democracy evangelist, says (rightly, in my view) that the problem with Bush’s democracy agenda has not been that it is too radical but that Bush has been too hesitant to back up his soaring words with appropriate actions.
But that doesn’t mean that the goal of spreading democracy should be abandoned by the U.S. or its allies. As Rachman writes:

Historical events usually throw up people who will push for political freedom at crucial moments. When such people emerge—whether they are Chinese students in Tiananmen Square, Burmese monks in Rangoon, Nelson Mandela in South Africa or Ayman Nour in Egypt—they deserve the strong support of the outside world.

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Zuma’s In

There is good and bad news from South Africa. The good news is that the ruling party, the African National Congress, had its first wide-open and competitive election to choose a new leader. The bad news is that the winner is Jacob Zuma, an uneducated populist given to violent rhetoric (at campaign rallies he sings a catchy ditty called, “Bring me my machine gun”). With this victory, Zuma becomes a shoo-in for the Presidency. Zuma was fired as Deputy President over charges of corruption, and still faces trial over those allegations. He has beaten charges of rape in the past (his defense was that the woman was asking for it by wearing a short skirt in his house). It is almost as if Huey Long had become the Democratic Party Presidential nominee in the 1930’s, except that democracy in South Africa is much newer and more fragile than it was in America at the time.

The incumbent President and ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki, has hardly had an unimpeachable tenure. As my fellow contentions blogger Jamie Kirchick has pointed out, he has been guilty of not paying enough attention to AIDS or to human-rights abuses next door in Zimbabwe. But he has been a model of economic stewardship, eschewing the ANC’s Marxist rhetoric in favor of sound fiscal management. Despite pressure from his party’s base, he has not moved to punish whites or to dispossess them of their farms and businesses. Instead, he has continued the reconciliation policies of Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of the 20th century. In the process, Mbeki has made his country a model of democracy and economic growth on a continent that badly needs some success stories.

The concern now is that Zuma could undo Mbeki’s legacy, the worst case being that he could turn into another out-of-control tyrant like Robert Mugabe. Such concerns seem overblown, at least for the moment. Zuma has been promising business leaders that he will not depart too radically from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. More importantly, although South Africa has a fairly anemic, if vocal, opposition party, it does have some robust checks and balances from an independent press and judiciary. The latter may wind up being the country’s salvation. If Zuma is convicted in a pending bribery case, he would be ineligible to serve as President, and a more moderate ANC leader might emerge to succeed Mbeki.

There is good and bad news from South Africa. The good news is that the ruling party, the African National Congress, had its first wide-open and competitive election to choose a new leader. The bad news is that the winner is Jacob Zuma, an uneducated populist given to violent rhetoric (at campaign rallies he sings a catchy ditty called, “Bring me my machine gun”). With this victory, Zuma becomes a shoo-in for the Presidency. Zuma was fired as Deputy President over charges of corruption, and still faces trial over those allegations. He has beaten charges of rape in the past (his defense was that the woman was asking for it by wearing a short skirt in his house). It is almost as if Huey Long had become the Democratic Party Presidential nominee in the 1930’s, except that democracy in South Africa is much newer and more fragile than it was in America at the time.

The incumbent President and ANC leader, Thabo Mbeki, has hardly had an unimpeachable tenure. As my fellow contentions blogger Jamie Kirchick has pointed out, he has been guilty of not paying enough attention to AIDS or to human-rights abuses next door in Zimbabwe. But he has been a model of economic stewardship, eschewing the ANC’s Marxist rhetoric in favor of sound fiscal management. Despite pressure from his party’s base, he has not moved to punish whites or to dispossess them of their farms and businesses. Instead, he has continued the reconciliation policies of Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of the 20th century. In the process, Mbeki has made his country a model of democracy and economic growth on a continent that badly needs some success stories.

The concern now is that Zuma could undo Mbeki’s legacy, the worst case being that he could turn into another out-of-control tyrant like Robert Mugabe. Such concerns seem overblown, at least for the moment. Zuma has been promising business leaders that he will not depart too radically from Mbeki’s pro-business policies. More importantly, although South Africa has a fairly anemic, if vocal, opposition party, it does have some robust checks and balances from an independent press and judiciary. The latter may wind up being the country’s salvation. If Zuma is convicted in a pending bribery case, he would be ineligible to serve as President, and a more moderate ANC leader might emerge to succeed Mbeki.

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South Africa’s Gall

Yesterday on contentions, Gordon Chang called for the United Nations Security Council to vote on a sanctions resolution against the Burmese military junta led by General Than Shwe. “It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions,” he declared.

There are several countries that have such “gall,” though one of them might come as a surprise: South Africa. Back in January, the United States introduced a fairly innocuous resolution urging the Burmese junta to release political prisoners, enact democratic reforms, and halt violent attacks on ethnic minorities. South Africa, which had just assumed a temporary seat on the Council in January, joined human rights luminaries of China and Russia in siding against the Western democracies. How could the African National Congress-led government of South Africa oppose such a measure? This is a government that, during the apartheid years, called for similar international sanctions against the white-led regime, which was less repressive than the Burmese junta.

In response to a parliamentary question on the South African Security Council vote filed by a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs replied:

The adoption of this resolution would have set a precedent for the work of the Council, because any member of the Council could bring any country for consideration, even though it might not pose a threat to regional and international peace and security.

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Yesterday on contentions, Gordon Chang called for the United Nations Security Council to vote on a sanctions resolution against the Burmese military junta led by General Than Shwe. “It’s time to see who has the gall to vote against condemning the junta with words and sanctions,” he declared.

There are several countries that have such “gall,” though one of them might come as a surprise: South Africa. Back in January, the United States introduced a fairly innocuous resolution urging the Burmese junta to release political prisoners, enact democratic reforms, and halt violent attacks on ethnic minorities. South Africa, which had just assumed a temporary seat on the Council in January, joined human rights luminaries of China and Russia in siding against the Western democracies. How could the African National Congress-led government of South Africa oppose such a measure? This is a government that, during the apartheid years, called for similar international sanctions against the white-led regime, which was less repressive than the Burmese junta.

In response to a parliamentary question on the South African Security Council vote filed by a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs replied:

The adoption of this resolution would have set a precedent for the work of the Council, because any member of the Council could bring any country for consideration, even though it might not pose a threat to regional and international peace and security.

How is it that South African apartheid threatened “regional and international peace and security,” but the daily atrocities of the Burmese junta do not? The bizarre position of the South Africans is the product of much forward-thinking analysis on the part of the African National Congress, which has ruled the single-party-dominated democracy since 1994. South Africa has long opposed international and even regional efforts to stave off the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, telling the world that the situation is one for the Zimbabwean people to deal with themselves. This is an abject impossibility, considering that one side to the dispute is a crazed tyrant who has no desire to negotiate any of his power away, and who controls the army, police force, and the distribution of scarce food supplies.

The African National Congress looks north to Zimbabwe in horror at what might become of its own political power in South Africa. No, South Africa is not about to become the nightmare situation for whites that Zimbabwe has become. Rather, the ANC sees that an upstart opposition—consisting of trade unionists, ethnic minorities, civil society activists, and white farmers—successfully challenged Zimbabwe’s legendary liberation hero in a series of democratic polls (only to be thwarted by physical intimidation and murder). The ANC worries, understandably, what precedent would be set if a liberation movement-cum-political party were thrown out of power in Zimbabwe, and what would happen if a similar fate were to befall them. It is for this reason that the African National Congress government allows Zimbabwe to fester, never approaching what can be the country’s only viable political solution: regime change.

Peter Vale, the Nelson Mandela Professor of Politics at South Africa’s Rhodes University, traveled to Burma over a decade ago at the behest of a Scandinavian government, in order to provide advice to opposition groups based upon the South African anti-apartheid experience. “Was SA’s experience instructive elsewhere?” he asks. This is what he reports:

But the high hopes that the African National Congress had promised for this country’s foreign policy had been largely muted. The cunning insertion of the 19th-century idea of “national interest” into the foreign policy agenda had emptied all high-sounding words of their content. In their place, a new procedural discourse purported to link SA to the “real world”—this held that the legal clause always carried greater weight than the liberation cause. . . .
It was both difficult and painful to explain this to the Burmese. Their understandings of this country glowed in the hype around the ending of apartheid and were embellished by Nelson Mandela’s commanding international standing. Surely, I was repeatedly asked, SA would do something that would both secure the release of Aung San Sui Kyi—who had been under house arrest for six years—and get conversations going between her and the junta.

Chang wants to know if any country has “the gall” to oppose sanctions on the miserable junta in Rangoon. South Africa, or, more precisely, the African National Congress, does.

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One Cheer for Jimmy Carter

I know it’s unusual, if not unheard of, to read a kind word about Jimmy Carter in these pages. But praise is nevertheless in order for his confrontation with Sudanese security officers during a visit to the troubled Darfur region last week. Carter had wanted to visit a refugee camp in southern Darfur, but was dissuaded by United Nations officials who advised that such a trip would be too dangerous. Carter instead chose to visit a World Food Program Camp in a town called Kabkibaya in the northern part of the region. There, the Associated Press reports,

[N]one of the refugees showed up and Carter decided to walk into the town, a volatile stronghold of the pro-government janjaweed militia, to meet refugees too frightened to attend the meeting at the compound.

He was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into town when Sudanese security officers stopped him.

“You can’t go. It’s not on the program!” the local security chief, who only gave his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as “The Elders.”

“We’re going to anyway!” an angry Carter retorted as a crowd began to gather. “You don’t have the power to stop me.”

However, U.N. officials told Carter’s entourage the Sudanese state police could bar his way. Carter’s traveling companions, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, tried to ease his frustration and his Secret Service detail urged him to get into a car and leave.

“I’ll tell President Bashir about this,” Carter said, referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

This incident has won Carter many heroic headlines in the international press. It’s all well and good for Carter to speak truth to power like this. But perhaps, as a follow-up to this bravura performance, Carter could pay a visit to the starving and oppressed people of Zimbabwe, ruled by a tyrant whom he and his former ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, were instrumental in bringing to power.

I know it’s unusual, if not unheard of, to read a kind word about Jimmy Carter in these pages. But praise is nevertheless in order for his confrontation with Sudanese security officers during a visit to the troubled Darfur region last week. Carter had wanted to visit a refugee camp in southern Darfur, but was dissuaded by United Nations officials who advised that such a trip would be too dangerous. Carter instead chose to visit a World Food Program Camp in a town called Kabkibaya in the northern part of the region. There, the Associated Press reports,

[N]one of the refugees showed up and Carter decided to walk into the town, a volatile stronghold of the pro-government janjaweed militia, to meet refugees too frightened to attend the meeting at the compound.

He was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into town when Sudanese security officers stopped him.

“You can’t go. It’s not on the program!” the local security chief, who only gave his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as “The Elders.”

“We’re going to anyway!” an angry Carter retorted as a crowd began to gather. “You don’t have the power to stop me.”

However, U.N. officials told Carter’s entourage the Sudanese state police could bar his way. Carter’s traveling companions, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, tried to ease his frustration and his Secret Service detail urged him to get into a car and leave.

“I’ll tell President Bashir about this,” Carter said, referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

This incident has won Carter many heroic headlines in the international press. It’s all well and good for Carter to speak truth to power like this. But perhaps, as a follow-up to this bravura performance, Carter could pay a visit to the starving and oppressed people of Zimbabwe, ruled by a tyrant whom he and his former ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, were instrumental in bringing to power.

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Where Is Nelson Mandela?

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an open letter from the Elie Wiesel Foundation, originally released July 11, signed by 51 Nobel laureates, including Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, and a host of other luminaries, decrying the various British boycotts of Israel. These boycotts, the statement read, “glorify prejudice and bigotry.”

But there is one man, reputed to know more about the horrific effects of “prejudice and bigotry” than anyone on earth, missing from the collection of signatories. The absence of his name is made even more conspicuous by the presence of another name: that of Frederick Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid-era President of South Africa, who ably helped his country transition into multi-racial democracy. (No doubt the “Israel is apartheid” crowd will use his presence for their propaganda purposes. The presence on the list of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist and playwright, should complicate their attempt.) The missing name, of course, belongs to Nelson Mandela. And its absence is not all too surprising. Mandela has long been a friend of tyrants, from Fidel Castro to Muammar Qaddafi to Yasir Arafat. In the current issue of Azure, I explore the theme of Mandela’s support for these autocrats within the larger context of the troubling direction in which his political party—the African National Congress—is taking South African foreign policy.

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Over the weekend, the New York Times published an open letter from the Elie Wiesel Foundation, originally released July 11, signed by 51 Nobel laureates, including Wiesel, the Dalai Lama, and a host of other luminaries, decrying the various British boycotts of Israel. These boycotts, the statement read, “glorify prejudice and bigotry.”

But there is one man, reputed to know more about the horrific effects of “prejudice and bigotry” than anyone on earth, missing from the collection of signatories. The absence of his name is made even more conspicuous by the presence of another name: that of Frederick Willem de Klerk, the last apartheid-era President of South Africa, who ably helped his country transition into multi-racial democracy. (No doubt the “Israel is apartheid” crowd will use his presence for their propaganda purposes. The presence on the list of Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist and playwright, should complicate their attempt.) The missing name, of course, belongs to Nelson Mandela. And its absence is not all too surprising. Mandela has long been a friend of tyrants, from Fidel Castro to Muammar Qaddafi to Yasir Arafat. In the current issue of Azure, I explore the theme of Mandela’s support for these autocrats within the larger context of the troubling direction in which his political party—the African National Congress—is taking South African foreign policy.

Say an ill word about Nelson Mandela and you become, in the eyes of the mainstream media, international glitterati, and pop culture stars, a heretic of all that’s right and good in the world. But no one is immune from criticism, not even someone who spent 27 years of his life languishing in prison for the ideals of non-racialism and democracy. And if that’s the standard for sainthood, why are figures like Armando Valladares (who spent 22 years in a Cuban gulag suffering conditions far worse than those Mandela faced), Vladimir Bukovsky, and Natan Sharansky not given the same hagiographic treatment as Mandela? One cannot help concluding that the nature of the regime behind the imprisonment—whether a right-wing authoritarian one in the case of South Africa, or a left-wing totalitarian one like the Soviet Union or Cuba—affects the attention paid to the prisoner. And so I am left asking the same question Nat Hentoff posed four years ago, regarding Mandela’s silence in the face of Robert Mugabe’s destruction of Zimbabwe: “Where is Nelson Mandela?”

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Elders (Not Betters)

Nelson Mandela will celebrate his 89th birthday tomorrow. To mark the occasion, Mandela, along with Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and other “elders” of our global village will launch an extraordinary worldwide humanitarian campaign. The Council of Elders, as the Daily Mail calls it, will be a “United Nations of the great, the good and the rich.” (Expect Clinton—Bill, that is—to have a leading role.)

Conceived by entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel, this new assemblage will tackle (and presumably attempt to eradicate) armed conflict, AIDS, and global warming. But are these people really capable of saving the world? Many of the big names on this list didn’t exactly distinguish themselves the first time around. Kofi Annan presided over the decline and (further) corruption of the United Nations; Bill Clinton, his successes at home notwithstanding, failed to use American power abroad wisely. Carter was weak as a president, and seems to have gone around the bend since leaving office. It will take people of great vision and courage to guide the world through the strife undoubtedly lying ahead. (As Washington journalist David von Drehle memorably put it, “some very different sort of world is roaring up at us.”) These “elders,” unfortunately, do not possess that vision.

This new multilateralist group may have commendable aims; ironically, its charter members have helped discredit multilateralism as an instrument in global politics. I worry that this irony will be obscured by the pomp and circumstance attending tomorrow’s celebration.

Nelson Mandela will celebrate his 89th birthday tomorrow. To mark the occasion, Mandela, along with Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan, and other “elders” of our global village will launch an extraordinary worldwide humanitarian campaign. The Council of Elders, as the Daily Mail calls it, will be a “United Nations of the great, the good and the rich.” (Expect Clinton—Bill, that is—to have a leading role.)

Conceived by entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel, this new assemblage will tackle (and presumably attempt to eradicate) armed conflict, AIDS, and global warming. But are these people really capable of saving the world? Many of the big names on this list didn’t exactly distinguish themselves the first time around. Kofi Annan presided over the decline and (further) corruption of the United Nations; Bill Clinton, his successes at home notwithstanding, failed to use American power abroad wisely. Carter was weak as a president, and seems to have gone around the bend since leaving office. It will take people of great vision and courage to guide the world through the strife undoubtedly lying ahead. (As Washington journalist David von Drehle memorably put it, “some very different sort of world is roaring up at us.”) These “elders,” unfortunately, do not possess that vision.

This new multilateralist group may have commendable aims; ironically, its charter members have helped discredit multilateralism as an instrument in global politics. I worry that this irony will be obscured by the pomp and circumstance attending tomorrow’s celebration.

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