From email@example.com Sun Aug 20 10:39:26 2000
Date: Sat, 19 Aug 2000 22:00:29 -0400
From: Art McGee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Conservative Whitewash
Dick Cheney is relying on our cultural amnesia to
wipe away his record on South Africa
By Joe Conason <email@example.com>, in Salon,
1 August 2000
"Whitewashing" is the only word to describe the weak
explanations offered by Dick Cheney about his votes on South
Africa during the apartheid era. Ever since the peaceful
advent of democracy in Pretoria, politicians like Cheney
who habitually coddled the old racist regime have escaped
accountability for their actions. And he is still relying on
our customary national amnesia to wave away the questions
raised by his vice presidential nomination.
For American conservatives who misused their influence to
defend apartheid, the controversy over Cheney's congressional
voting record actually presents an opportunity to own up to
their terrible mistakes. Unfortunately, however, Cheney and
his supporters have prevaricated and obfuscated rather than
admitting forthrightly that they were on the wrong side.
This disingenuous response is a poor start for a man who
boasts that he and George W. Bush will restore straight
talk and integrity to the White House.
Cheney bristled in response to questions about his voting
record, revealing a mindset that never understood what was
at stake in South Africa -- or perhaps understood all too
well. Challenged last Sunday to defend his 1985 vote against
a House resolution urging the release of Nelson Mandela from
23 years of imprisonment, he first denounced such inquiries
as "trivia." Does he really think that the oppression
inflicted on millions of black citizens during more
than five decades was a trivial matter?
He quickly tried to correct that gaffe, praising Mandela as
"a great man." (He also remarked, with baffling condescension,
that the African leader has "mellowed," whatever that
means.) He had opposed the resolution to free Mandela,
according to Cheney, because it was attached to
recognition of the African National Congress.
"The ANC was then viewed as a terrorist organization," he
said. "Nobody was for keeping Nelson Mandela in prison.
Nobody was for supporting apartheid." Let's parse that
feeble answer, one of several attempts to justify his
votes that Cheney has offered in recent days.
The ANC, led of course by Mandela himself, was indeed
regarded as "terrorist" by the Pretoria regime and its
allies in Washington. But the ANC, which fought militarily
and diplomatically for the human rights of South African
citizens, was considered a legitimate representative of the
black majority by civilized governments almost everywhere
else. The resolution Cheney voted against called upon the
Pretoria rulers to enter into negotiations with the ANC.
That position was endorsed by governments around the world,
and has been entirely vindicated by the events that followed.
If the ANC indulged in actions that might be considered
"terrorist," it is at least as true that the entire
apparatus of apartheid relied upon terrorism against
millions of men, women and children. The Sharpsville
massacre and literally hundreds of other atrocities
committed against South African blacks and their neighbors
in other states deserve no other description. That kind of
state terrorism didn't much trouble the Reaganite ideologues
such as Cheney.
Contrary to his sentimentalized recollection of that period,
some people were indeed in favor of keeping Mandela behind
bars and keeping South African blacks in bondage. The roster
of infamy begins with Ronald Reagan, who upon becoming
president in 1981 immediately reversed the Carter
administration's policy of pressuring the Afrikaner minority
toward democracy and human rights. In an early interview
with CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, Reagan called South Africa
a "friendly nation" whose reliable anticommunism and wealth
of strategic minerals justified stronger ties between
Washington and Pretoria.
Overtly and covertly, the Reagan administration moved to
strengthen the apartheid regime. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, then
the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, fought every
attempt to impose sanctions. The late William Casey, as
director of the Central Intelligence Agency, intensified
cooperation with the South African Bureau of State Security
and military intelligence agencies. He went so far as to
secretly visit Pretoria to confer with the racist murderers
who ran those agencies.
Meanwhile, of course, the Republican leadership in Congress,
including Cheney, also opposed every effort to impose
economic sanctions. He voted against sanctions in various
forms at least 10 times between 1983 and 1988. There is no
evidence that Cheney ever spoke up for freedom and human
rights in South Africa -- although in that respect he was
merely a typical Republican politician of his time.
For Cheney, anticommunism excused a multitude of sins,
including his own. Whenever they protected Pretoria from
democratic change, conservatives like him would invoke
Soviet backing for the ANC and the presence of communists
in the ANC leadership. Yet it has long been obvious that the
Republican tilt in favor of white supremacy was influenced
as much by unsavory stateside domestic politics as by
That sad fact was discovered by Henry Kissinger as early as
1976, when he delivered a stirring speech in Zambia calling
for racial justice on the African continent as "an imperative
of our own moral heritage." It was an unusually decent
initiative on the part of the old reprobate, who could
with some understatement be described as no friend of
Kissinger was immediately denounced by House Republican
leader Robert Michel, later Cheney's mentor, because of his
speech's "devastating effect" on Ford's reelection campaign
in Southern primaries. According to Walter Isaacson's
biography of Kissinger, Michel demanded that Ford "muzzle"
his secretary of state. Apparently the "Southern strategy"
adopted by the party of Lincoln meant appeasing racism,
both at home and abroad.
So at a moment when the Republican Party is frantically
rebranding itself as tolerant and inclusive, party leaders
like Cheney ought to take responsibility for prolonging
apartheid. In the spirit of Mandela's South Africa, they
should admit the grievous errors of the past, stop trying
to cover up and perhaps even apologize. There can be no
reconciliation in the absence of truth.
Joe Conason writes about political issues for Salon News
and other publications.
Copyright (c) 2000 Salon.com. All Rights Reserved.
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