Right-wing media figures have rushed to defend President Ronald Reagan's record on apartheid and South Africa in the wake of Nelson Mandela's death.
Reagan's record came under increased attention following the death of the former South African president and anti-apartheid activist. In an interview with Salon, Whitman College historian David Schmitz discussed Reagan's policy toward South Africa, which included opposition to Mandela's party, the African National Congress, labelling Mandela and the ANC as “terrorists,” and vetoing sanctions against the pro-apartheid government that ruled South Africa at the time:
What about U.S. policy toward the opposition groups like the ANC and Nelson Mandela?
They called the ANC terrorists. It was just continuing this notion that the ANC members are the extremists and the South African government has these moderates, and you're going to end up with one extreme against the other if you don't work with the government. Clearly, it never worked. This was a flawed policy.
Would you argue that Reagan's foreign policy extended the life of the regime in South Africa?
Yes. It gave it life. It gave it hope that the United States would continue to stick with it. It gave it continued flow of aid as well as ideological support. It delayed the changes that were going to come. Then you had the big crackdowns in '86 and '87. So there was harm in the lengthening. There was harm in the violence that continued.
Despite his history, right-wing media figures defended Reagan's history after Mandela's death. CNN host Newt Gingrich claimed that Mandela's death was “being used inappropriately” by critics of Reagan:
“Some elements of the left, particularly on one news channel, went overboard in trying to use this as an excuse to attack Ronald Reagan,” Gingrich opined. “And I think people who are Reagan loyalists, who know that Reagan had condemned apartheid, Reagan had called for Mandela to be released, Reagan actually appointed the first black ambassador to South Africa whose job was to pressure the Afrikaans government.”
“This is just another excuse for the left to try to smear Reagan,” he added. “So, there's a lot of anger on the right this opportunity being used inappropriately.”
In a syndicated column titled “Reagan Was Right On South Africa,” Pat Buchanan defended both Reagan's stance toward the ANC and his veto of sanctions, which Buchanan called the result of “a major epidemic of moral posturing”:
Reagan equated the sanctions to “declaring economic warfare on the people of South Africa.”
His Treasury Secretary James Baker said Sunday that Reagan likely regretted this veto. But having worked with the president on his veto message and address on South Africa, I never heard a word of regret.
Nor should there have been any.
As for Reagan's veto, issued in the face of a certain override during a major epidemic of moral posturing, it was both courageous and correct. No regrets needed.
In a Daily Caller post, Charles C. Johnson asserted that Reagan got “a bum rap over Mandela's death”:
Although liberal commentators and Hollywood movies like “The Butler” blame Ronald Reagan for apartheid, Reagan repeatedly called for Nelson Mandela's release and apartheid's abolition.
Despite well-founded concerns about Mandela's pro-terrorist, pro-Communist views, Reagan also pressed South Africa to bring him into the country's politics in a July 22, 1986 speech.
Reagan's actual South Africa policy will come as a surprise to Americans accustomed to the systematic distortion of his actual record. That distortion continued after Mandela's death, as MSNBC among others, selectively edited Reagan's remarks on apartheid.
Right-wing blog FrontPage Magazine claimed “With the death of Nelson Mandela, the mythology continues that, under Ronald Reagan, the 1980s was the lost decade in dealing with South Africa.” The Media Research Center's NewsBusters blog attacked NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell for saying, “The U.S. wasn't always on Mandela's side. In the 1980s, President Reagan supported the Apartheid regime.”