Former Secretary of State and Carlyle Group advisor James A. Baker, III spoke with Bob Scheiffer on Face the Nation on the death of Nelson Mandela.
"Certainly, he (President Ronald Reagan) regretted it (vetoing non-binding resolution calling on South African government to free Mandela),” Mr. Baker said. “On the other hand, once that happened and control of South Africa policy passed through the Congress, President Reagan was really determined to meet with the black leaders of South Africa and deal with the problems of apartheid, and he was able to do so.”
Consider how the U.S. long characterized Mandela:
While revered by politicians today as a human rights icon, Nelson Mandela remained on the U.S. terrorism watch list until 2008, when then-President George W. Bush signed a bill removing Mandela from it.
Mandela made the list for adding violence as a method for overthrowing South Africa's oppressive apartheid system. Formerly, Mandela's African National Congress solely utilized peaceful protest and nonviolence. HuffPo reported:
South Africa’s apartheid regime designated Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) as a terrorist organization for its battle against the nation’s legalized system of racial segregation that lasted from 1948 to 1994.President Ronald Reagan served from 1981 to 1989.
Former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also described Mandela’s ANC as a “typical terrorist organization” in 1987, refusing to impose sanctions on South Africa’s apartheid regime. President Ronald Reagan did as well.
In 1986, former Vice President Dick Cheney, then a congressman, voted along with 179 other members of the House against a non-binding resolution to recognize the ANC and call on the South African government to release Mandela from prison. The measure finally passed, but not before a veto attempt by Reagan.
In 2000, Cheney maintained that he'd cast the correct vote.
Reagan initiated a policy of “constructive engagement” toward South Africa’s white supremacists, meaning that he opposed overt pressure such as economic sanctions in favor of quiet diplomacy that sought gradual reform of the apartheid system.
In reality, Reagan’s approach allowed white South African leader P.W. Botha to crack down on the ANC and other revolutionary movements which Reagan viewed as pro-communist. Instead of substantive moves toward full citizenship for blacks, the Pretoria regime instituted largely cosmetic reforms to its apartheid system.
Reagan saw Mandela through a cold war lens. James Baker's attempt to wrap President Ronald Reagan in Mandela's one term Presidency, punctuated by peace and reconciliation, feels hollow. Instead of a sincere alignment of leaders' souls, Baker's words feel like a blatant history rewrite.