I have come to praise Nelson Mandela, not to condemn him. His selfless act of forgiving his captors paved the way for South Africa to end its policy of apartheid in 1990 and commit itself to equality and democracy. During those decades in prison, Mandela took his support where he could get it: the USSR, Cuba, Libya, Iran. (Somehow, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein ended up in his circle of friends, though neither lifted a finger while he was in prison.) Hey, desperate times can force you into alliances of convenience. We turned to Russia for help against Hitler in World War II.
Mandela's in a tough situation. When he was languishing in prison, he didn't have the luxury of screening the policies of his supporters. He's stuck with the unenviable choice of turning his back on his despotic friends and reveal himself as a short-term opportunist or stick with his friends and not get invited to many parties.
Mandela has obviously chosen to remain loyal to his friends, though he still craves the influence that comes with being the world's moral leader. He doesn't realize, however, that he can't be a referee or impartial commentator on world affairs while declaring "It is a realization of a dream for me to … pledge my solidarity with my friend Yasser Arafat."
But you can't blame him for trying. Paid lobbyists prowl Washington, D.C. trying to influence public policy. Just think of Nelson as a paid lobbyist for Qaddafi, Hussein, Arafat, and Castro.
With Friends Like These …
Nelson Mandela's initial instincts were right on the mark. In November 2001, he expressed his "support for the President for his action in Afghanistan …. [I]t is quite correct for the President to ensure that the terrorists, those masterminds, as well as those who have executed the action and survived, are to be punished heavily. And it would be disastrous if the President gave in to the call that the army must now withdraw, before he has actually flushed out the terrorists…. They will claim that they have defeated the United States of America, and they will continue doing the same thing."
The boys at the Dictator Bar & Grill must have had a fit with that, because in January 2002, he said his anti-terrorist view "may have been one-sided and overstated." In fact, he opposed "labeling Osama bin Laden as the terrorist responsible for those acts before he has been tried and convicted." Mandela must have been traveling when CNN showed the tapes of bin Laden taking credit for the attacks.
By September 2002, he was dusting off Ayatollah Khomeini's "Great Satan" speeches. "The attitude of America is a threat to world peace." By preparing for military action against Iraq, the U.S. "is saying that if you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries." How's that for a slap in the face? Bush gave Mandela the Presidential Medal of Freedom just two months before. I guess he should have figured things were about to turn ugly when Mandela didn't show, leaving his daughter to accept the award.
In this context, Mandela's comments from last Thursday were inevitable. Despite months of attempts by the President to build a multilateral coalition -- the existence of which apparently didn't excuse going after the as-yet unconvicted Osama bin Laden -- he accused Bush of undermining the United Nations for threatening to attack Iraq without a consensus. "Is it because the secretary-general of the United Nations is now a black man?"
I Guess There's No "U" in United Nations
The heart of Mandela's complaint is that George W. Bush doesn't have a lot of respect for the U.N. So far, however, Saddam Hussein is way ahead in the game of "Who Wants to Undermine the U.N.?" Iraq is currently in violation of Resolution 687 (destruction of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, agreement not to develop weapons of mass destruction, allowing UNSCOM and the IAEA to conduct inspections) and the Security Council resolution of November 8, 2002 (giving "immediate, unimpeded and unconditional" access to search for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons). For that matter, Saddam Hussein has previously violated Resolutions 660, 678, 707, 1194, and 1284.
Frankly, Mandela's pro-U.N. fanaticism is of recent vintage. He has been accused (and has denied it) that South Africa, during his Presidency, traded arms and military equipment to Libya for cheap-price oil in violation of U.N. sanctions against Libya. What is not in dispute is that, while President Mandela was giving lip service to adhering to the U.N., he was proclaiming his friendship to Qaddafi and agreeing with the Organization of African Unity to ignore the sanctions.
According to the 2003 version of Nelson Mandela, blind adherence to the U.N. is the only acceptable option (unless you are Iraq). He claimed Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. undermined its ability to determine whether Iraq was concealing weapons of mass destruction. "We are going to listen to [Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei] and to them alone. We are not going to listen to the United States of America."
Mandela's comments carry a certain weight because he is, after all, a Nobel laureate. He certainly deserved the award. Despite the problems South Africa had and still has, its commitment to racial equality and democratic rule would not have been possible without his spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Frankly, though, I think the award has gone to Nelson's head a little. Remember, he only won half the award. Fredrik Willem de Klerk received the other half, so I think we should start getting de Klerk's position on these issues and give it equal weight.
Mandela should also be more knowledgeable of Nobel history. Numerous awards have gone to individuals and groups for their efforts at reducing the spread of nuclear weapons: Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs in 1995, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in 1985, Alva Myrdal and Alfonso Garcia Robles in 1982, and Linus Pauling in 1962. In short, nuclear disarmament is Nobel Peace kind of stuff. I don't expect Mandela would go so far as to nominate President Bush for the prize, but when you think of it, isn't Bush's goal to stop the spread of nuclear weapons?
This might just be a bad time to be a Nobel Peace laureate. Jimmy Carter just disgraced himself last week, claiming, even though it is "quite likely" Iraq possesses chemical or biological weapons, "exposing the lies and trickery of Saddam Hussein…will not indicate any real or proximate threat by Iraq to the United States or to our allies."
I'm beginning to think that maybe those Nobel medallions contain some trance-inducing design on the back. This would not only excuse Nelson Mandela's kooky ranting and Jimmy Carter's faux pax, but give us hope that something can be done about Yasser Arafat.