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The Truth About Ronald Reagan and South Africa
Making Sense
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The whole world mourns Nelson Mandela. Rightly.
But, as usual, some politically and historically challenged liberals have seen the passing of a great man of history as a chance to take more cheap potshots at Ronald Reagan.
One human rights attorney, Gay McDougall, made a fool of herself on “Good Morning America.”
She claimed that while many Americans were urging our government to use economic sanctions to pressure South Africa to end apartheid in the 1980s, “Ronald Reagan wanted to solidify, you know, U.S. support for apartheid.”
That was a pretty dumb thing to say for a 66-year-old who attended Yale Law School. But at least McDougall wasn’t pretending to be a fair and balanced TV news reporter the way Andrea Mitchell does.
Mitchell bared her liberal biases -- and historical amnesia -- to the world during her report on Mandela’s death on the “Today” show.
Instead of concentrating on praising Mandela, Mitchell felt she had to remind her viewers that “The U.S. wasn’t always on Mandela’s side.”
Then she pointed out that “President Reagan supported the apartheid regime, a cold war ally, even as protests broke out on college campuses across America demanding that the U.S. punish the regime....”
Mitchell went on to say that Congress, including some key Republicans, had to override my father’s veto of the South African economic sanctions “that helped break the apartheid regime.”
Truth, accuracy, fairness, political balance, historical perspective, the complex geopolitics of the Cold War?
Mitchell, like McDougall, didn’t bother with that complicated stuff.
It was all about race. And Ronald Reagan was, as usual, called on stage to play the bad guy.
It’s the only role my father gets when the lefty news and entertainment media do their dirty historical work. The latest example was the movie “The Butler,” last summer’s liberal fantasy about Eugene Allen, the real-life White House butler.       
But let’s give Mitchell the benefit of a few doubts she doesn’t deserve.
Maybe she forgot that Mandela was also in jail during the JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations.
Maybe it slipped her mind that those presidents didn’t push for economic sanctions to force the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Apartheid was a horrible system of oppression. But until it ended, the Cold War was more important to American presidents.
They had to keep their eyes on the bigger global picture. That meant supporting the racist regime of South Africa, our only important ally in the region during a time when Moscow was busy inciting revolutions there.
It’s unfair and simplistic for the media to single out my father and smear him for being soft on apartheid because he vetoed Congress’ economic sanctions against South Africa.
My father detested apartheid and wanted to see it end. But he thought economic sanctions -- which hurt South Africa’s poorest black citizens the most -- would be counterproductive.
Andrea Mitchell doesn’t remember. But after my father’s veto of the sanctions was overridden by Congress, he said the debate wasn’t about “whether or not to oppose apartheid but, instead, how best to oppose it and how best to bring freedom to that troubled country.”
Ronald Reagan did not kiss up to South Africa’s leaders, he was in their face.
One of his first moves was to send his close aide William Clark to tell Prime Minister Pieter Botha to his face how much my father abhorred apartheid.
Later my father appointed the first black ambassador to South Africa, Edward Perkins.
And in 1986 he said that as necessary step to achieving political peace in South Africa, all political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, “should be released to participate in the country’s political process.”
Ronald Reagan called apartheid “a malevolent and archaic system totally alien to our ideals.”
Given the realities of the Cold War, and contrary to the selective memories of Andrea Mitchell and her friends, he did the best he could to help Nelson Mandela put an end to it.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan, a political consultant. He is the founder of the email service and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Visit his websites at and Send comments to Follow @reaganworld on Twitter.