Nelson Mandela

The Third Lesson of Nelson Mandela

With great foreign intervention comes flawed moral reasoning.


When South African prisoner-turned-president Nelson Mandela died on December 5 at age 95, commentators all over the globe wasted no time extracting two main lessons from the great man's life. One about persevering in the long struggle against injustice, the other about refusing to become embittered in the process.

Anyone fighting tyranny can take inspiration from Mandela's fierce, unwavering opposition to the race-based totalitarianism long practiced by South Africa's Afrikaner minority. As President Barack Obama said, "He achieved more than could be expected of any man." And Mandela's post-jail decision to reconcile with the regime that had persecuted him, rather than seeking vengeance, was one of the most stirring examples of power spurned this side of George Washington. "Nelson Mandela could have chosen to be-had the power to become-an even greater monster than [Robert] Mugabe," the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt wrote just after Mandela's death. "Instead, Mandela chose to become a saint."

Saint will be too strong a word for the many Americans, mostly on the right, who remember less nostalgically Mandela's Cold War-era partnership with terrorism-supporting communists such as the longtime African National Congress (ANC) leader Joe Slovo, his affection for Fidel Castro ("Long live the Cuban Revolution! Long live Comrade Fidel Castro!"), or even his more recent statement, in 2003, that "if there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don't care for human beings."

In the globe-straddling ideological proxy war between the mostly free, capitalist-friendly, U.S.-led West and the mostly captive, communism-expanding, Soviet-led East, many Republicans believed Mandela chose the wrong side, both pragmatically and ideologically. "The release of Mandela," William F. Buckley wrote in 1990, "for all that we can know, may one day be likened to the arrival of Lenin at the Finland station in 1917." Five years earlier Buckley had proclaimed that "where Mandela belongs, in his current frame of mind, is precisely where he is: in jail."

Such sentiments, jarring as they are to our 21st-century ears, suggest a third lesson from Mandela's life: Massive American engagement with the fortunes of other countries, no matter how justified, is inherently corrupting. And not just for the William F. Buckleys of the world.

The American anti-apartheid movement of the mid-1980s, in which protesters demanded divestment and punitive economic sanctions, was arguably the biggest single foreign policy dispute in American politics between the end of the Vietnam War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. At my activist-heavy school, the University of California at Santa Barbara, observers said it was the biggest burst of political ferment since the bank-burning days of the early '70s. When both houses of Congress overrode President Ronald Reagan's veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, it marked the first time in the 20th century that an American president had suffered a formal congressional rebuke on foreign policy.

Although apartheid should have been viewed as a pretty simple, literally black-and-white issue of a majority brutally repressed by a minority, it was impossible in America to avoid seeing it through the lens of the Cold War. Consider a remarkable and controversial speech Reagan gave on the subject in July 1986, in which (among many other things) he called for the release of Mandela and the unbanning of black political parties.

Reagan launched his remarks with an unambiguous condemnation of state-sponsored racism. "The root cause of South Africa's disorder is apartheid, that rigid system of racial segregation wherein black people have been treated as third-class citizens in a nation they helped to build," he said. "America's view of apartheid has been, and remains, clear: Apartheid is morally wrong and politically unacceptable. The United States cannot maintain cordial relations with a government whose power rests upon the denial of rights to a majority of its people, based on race. If South Africa wishes to belong to the family of Western nations, an end to apartheid is a precondition. Americans, I believe, are united in this conviction. Apartheid must be dismantled."

Yet the first applause line of the speech, which came past the 12-minute mark, was this: "But the South African government is under no obligation to negotiate the future of the country with any organization that proclaims a goal of creating a communist state, and uses terrorist tactics and violence to achieve it."

That organization was Mandela's ANC, what Reagan called "the Soviet-armed guerrillas of the African National Congress." The administration could wave away the terrorism of Nicaragua's contras, since they were fighting a Soviet-friendly socialist regime, but because of geopolitics such tactics were apparently intolerable when employed by an even more oppressed underclass. "If [the] rising hostility in southern Africa between Pretoria and the front-line states explodes, the Soviet Union will be the main beneficiary and the critical ocean corridor of South Africa and the strategic minerals of the region would be at risk," Reagan said. "Thus it would be a historic act of folly for the United States and the West, out of anguish and frustration and anger, to write off South Africa."

Campus activists were fond of pointing out such hypocrisy, but they were equally guilty, if not quite as powerful. Those big anti-apartheid protests quickly morphed into broad left-bent critiques of U.S. foreign policy that included encomiums to Fidel Castro just as nauseating as Mandela's above. The same people demanding sanctions against South Africa in one breath condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba in the next. Human rights abuses by Washington-favored regimes took up most of the oxygen, while the widespread, heavily documented totalitarianism of the communist bloc was routinely underplayed. As the Czech dissident Vaclav Havel acidly pointed out, Western European peace activists spent far more time protesting the deployment of U.S. missiles than they did protesting the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

When you subject every local struggle to the with-us-or-against-us vicissitudes of international entanglement, everyone comes out warped. Even the participants. Successive Afrikaner governments quickly learned the value of talking up anti-communism and making sporadic references to free markets, so that official Washington would not be overly motivated to upend the status quo. Mandela and the ANC were happy to call for nationalizing industries and mouth the fraternal pieties of international communism if it meant more support in the struggle to topple their tormentors.

As former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver put it in a 1986 reason interview, Mandela's "attitude was, Communism is better than apartheid. Because apartheid has him in prison and has had him in prison for 20 years. Well, you get a guy in a communist country who has been in prison there for 20 years, and he will tell you, 'I would rather live under apartheid,' because he could leave."

Much of this superpower gaming, and the mental distortions that came with it, ground to a halt with the end of the Cold War. It's no accident that so many proxy civil wars dried up in the early 1990s, or that Nelson Mandela stopped talking so insistently about the state owning the means of production. Although I have no doubt that an uncommon grace and wisdom guided his hand in giving "truth and reconciliation" precedence over righteous retribution, it is also true that the range of options narrowed rapidly once the Berlin Wall fell.

Eyes now relaxed, we can see Mandela more for what he was rather than what some feared he might be. He was a revolutionary-with all the crudeness that word implies-who fought for decades against an unjust, inexcusable regime, then smoothly negotiated its transition into something better, while managing to exercise his well-earned power by essentially giving it up. Hardly a saint, but definitely a hero. May we live in a world where Mandelas are no longer required, a world where our vision is no longer clouded by a teeth-clenched obsession with a twilight international struggle.

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  1. Why are Buckley sentiments jarring? Mandela was an admitted terrorist.

    He did reform himself, then became a viable choose for the apartheid government to turn over power to.

    I see nothing in the article to persuade me that American influence corrupted him.

    1. Mandela became a terrorist because he thought that it was the only response left to him by the terrorism of South Africa’s government. That government destroyed orders of magnitude more lives in the 1950s when they were imposing apartheid than were killed by the ANC in the early 1960s as a response.

      1. A fourth lesson is “have your wife do your dirty work.”

    2. Did you read the article, Drake?

      1. Yes – If I’m interpreting it right, Reagan corrupted Mandela into not nationalizing industries and going full commie.

        1. Not at all, no.

          1. So, is it that we didn’t oppose apartheid soon enough? Pretty weak tea. Would it have made a difference? Would it have done more harm than good?

            In the mid-70’s South Africa was actively fighting Cuban troops in Angola and Namibia. Reagan’s ’86 speech was shocking because the war in Namibia was still pretty hot. It wasn’t until ’88 that we finally signed the Three Powers Accord to get the Cubans out of Southern Africa.

            That set the stage for Namibian (non-apartheid) independence and secured the borders. Which, in turn, allowed the white South African government to work on a peaceful transition away from apartheid with less fear of a communist take over.

            So, you could argue that U.S. diplomacy in the region set the stage for the end of apartheid government and helped Mandela’s career more than boycotts and speeches ever would have.

            1. Did you even read this article?

              1. Yes – Like 4 times.

                1. I don’t think you really understood Welch’s point, then.

                  1. He certainly didn’t read it four times.

                  2. You are correct.

                    1. Calidissident not Ken.

  2. Yep Apartheid was all America’s fault, not a uniquely South African institution that developed from a combination of racist dutch settlers and British colonialism.

    1. … and trade unionism.

      Seriously. The main drivers behind the establishment of apartheid where white trade unions.

      1. Just like the main driver behind Jim Crow was protection of white workers from competition. Slaves were not all or even mostly unskilled drones picking cotton. They were often highly skilled worker for their day. Plantation were basically self contained. They had carpenters, blacksmiths, cooks, and every other skill necessary to keep the place running. When slavery ended all of those skilled blacks were free to go out and compete with white workers. Ending that competition is what drove Jim Crow more than anything.

        Funny how the economic motivations for these things are always ignored. It is always the racism as if that is the only possible motivation anyone could have.

        1. It wasn’t just economics though, it was primarily driven by ideology.

          Apartheid was an order of magnitude worse than Jim Crow and only began in the late 1940s. In the 50s, imposed the various apartheid acts literally tore communities and families apart and threw formerly middle class people into poverty.

          That was the background that Mandela personally experienced as a lawyer. If something similar happened here, I dare say that many people would turn to extremism in response.

          1. The ideology is appealing because it benefits people economically. Few people are willing to go into poverty for an ideology. But they are plenty happy to follow an ideology that makes them money.

            1. But it didn’t really benefit poor whites economically. One of the reasons that the South lagged the North economically is that Jim Crow was an anti-market economic policy.

              1. Oh yes it did. It shielded them for competition for jobs. Sure, that stunted the economic growth and recovery of the whole region. But that is a second order effect few people understand. All they see is “some nigger can’t come and take my job”.

                1. The same kind of stupidity that keeps people voting for welfare.

        2. That does not sound correct, workers ‘movements’ were traditionally weaker in the South than in the North so it would be exceedingly odd to blame the Jim Crow of the South on them.

          1. It wasn’t workers’ movements. It was voters. Most whites were not wealthy. In fact most were damn poor after the war. So why did they vote in Jim Crow? One big reason was blacks were skilled workers and no one ever likes competition. Jim Crow benefited white workers.

            1. It benefited white workers and white employers, white doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, etc. I agree economic concerns were not unimportant, but I do not buy into pseudo-Marxist explanations for things. Ideas matter too, and racism had broad ranging benefits to many people, social and economic.

              1. That’s what I was trying to say.

                Irish immigrants in the mid 1800s faced a lot of discrimination but that was not codified into law as Jim Crow was in the south. The difference was ideology, racism, that was a legacy of slavery.

                1. Excellent point.

                2. Excellent point.

                3. No one ever invaded the North and enforced equality with the Irish. You are ignoring reconstruction. Reconstruction forced southern whites to treat blacks as equals. When it ended, the whites passed laws that ensured it wouldn’t happen anymore.

                  In short, they never passed laws about the Irish because there was in large part no need to, since there wasn’t an occupying army forcing people to do so.

                  1. So you think slavery and the racism used to justify it had no role?

                  2. VG’s analogy is pretty persuasive, I am not sure you are following it.

                    In the North, where trade unions were most powerful and where there was no federal pressure otherwise it would have been easier to pass Jim Crow style laws for economic protection, both against blacks or the Irish. But it different happen there (not to the same extent anyways). The difference was racism and certain dynamics related to slavery.

              2. There is nothing psudo Marxist about saying that workers act in their own self interest. And Jim Crow benefited white employers just as much as white workers. Jim Crow ensured that employers didn’t have to compete with black businesses. So they had just as much reason to support it as workers did. What Jim Crow was at heart, was a law that prevented black workers and businesses from competing with whites. A black business could only sell to blacks never to whites. White businesses in contrast could sell to blacks and supply black businesses, they just had to do it out of the back door.

                1. There is nothing psudo Marxist about saying that workers act in their own self interest.

                  No but it is pseudo Marxist to say that everything in history happens because of economics. Ideology is at least as large of a motivator throughout history as economics.

                  1. VG has made my point here better than I could.

                  2. No one says everything. But VG, it is certainly something. And there is usually some kind of economic self interest lurking behind the mass embrace of an ideology. Like I said, few people will embrace poverty as a price of embracing an ideology.

        3. When slavery ended all of those skilled blacks were free to go out and compete with white workers.

          technically true, but impossible in practice. Those workers had no idea what to do with their freedom, how to go about competing with anyone or much notion of what competition is, what value their skills had, etc. People were thrust into a world for which they were wholly unprepared.

          1. technically true, but impossible in practice. Those workers had no idea what to do with their freedom, how to go about competing with anyone or much notion of what competition is, what value their skills had, etc. People were thrust into a world for which they were wholly unprepared.

            That is a complete bullshit myth and a really insulting one at that. If that were true, former slaves in the North would have never been able to cope. They were quite able to cope. And were actually doing quite well right up until reconstruction ended and the government stepped in to ensure they stayed on the bottom.

            If blacks were these poor helpless children liberals have portrayed them as being, there never would have been any need for Jim Crow.

            1. be insulted all you want, it does not make it less true. You had people whose entire lives were contained on the plantation – work, food, housing, etc. The next day, you’re telling them that they are on their own.

              Had coping been a widespread skill, the South would not have lagged economically for as long as it did and saying “Jim Crow” does not answer everything. If it did, blacks would have fled the South en masse. They didn’t.

              I didn’t say blacks were helpless children; I said the change from slavery to freedom was so sudden and so large that it’s like expecting democracy to take hold overnight in a place like Iraq that has no real concept of it.

              1. It is not true Wareage. You are believing bullshit myths. Was there some of that? sure. But they adjusted pretty quickly. If you don’t believe me, then please explain the existence of the thriving black communities that existed all over the South in spite of Jim Crow. Who built those? It sure as hell wasn’t the whites.

                1. john, all you have to do is look to Iraq, Egypt, and the Arab Spring in general for a parallel. You cannot take people from one extreme to the other overnight. It doesn’t work.

                  Did things improve over time for some? Sure. And others moved North or West to escape the mostly societal impact of Jim Crow. But saying that skilled tradesmen who existed on the plantation would move into a market system just like that is fantastical.

                  There was a large swath of the slave population that had no idea what to do with its newfound freedom and the vestiges of that lasted a long time. Some will claim they have never fully gone away.

                  1. We’re not talking about Iraq. We’re talking about the post-Civil War South. You’re the one making the claims, provide some support for your arguments besides assertion and parallels that don’t prove anything.

          2. John was referring to skilled black tradesmen – that have been all but forgotten- who certainly could have made a good living in a post slavery South.

            Beyond that though, one of the intents of Jim Crow also kepping poor blacks on the farm and out of other labor markets.

            1. and there was an exodus of sorts to the North, where better opportunities could be found. Use Iraq as a quasi-example: we expected to be treated as liberators, deluding ourselves into believing that people with no concept of how self-govt works would take to it like ducks to water.

              1. Are you seriously saying most Southern blacks did not like being freed from slavery? Also, the large exodus to the North didn’t really happen till decades later.

    2. And certainly South Africa would have benefited from the US allowing it to turn communist.

      Only bad things have ever resulted from the US efforts abroad. I mean, look thanks to the US, the Communists didn’t take over countries like Chili and South Korea like they did Cuba and Cambodia. I mean look how that worked out.

      1. Yes communism would have been a worse choice for South Africa in 1960. As it would have been for Germany in 1932.

        That doesn’t mean that the National Party in SA was anything other than a brutal, evil dictatorship.

        1. Or that appartheid was in any way America’s fault.

        2. For sure. It just means that there were no good options and the US choose the least bad available. Once the Berlin Wall fell, the US stopped supporting it and it went away.

          There was a time when the US actually made rational choices and understood the world is never going to be perfect and sometimes you have to take the lesser of two evils. Now we pretend that there is always a perfect option if we just look hard enough.

          1. I actually think that US influence helped to keep Mandela alive. It would have been easy for him to have had an ‘accident’ or ‘heart attack’ while in prison. There’s also the possibility that the Nationalists in SA would have made an alliance with the Soviet block if the US had been virulently anti-apartheid.

            1. The South Africans had killed a lot of other people before. There is no doubt that Western influence restrained them from just killing him.

        3. Regarding Germany, are you talking (very) short-term or long-term?

      2. Chili? Con carne or con frijoles?

        1. The commies hated spicy food. It was bourgeoisie decadence to them.

    3. What isn’t America’s fault ?

      I can’t think of a thing that isn’t blamed on us, right or wrong.

  3. Nice article, Matt. But I’m still waiting for your reflections on Lou Reed’s passing.

    1. Lou Reed is dead?!?!

      1. Lou Reed was still alive this year?


    Al Quada now controls more territory than ever in the Middle East. You would think that since we are out of Iraq and are leaving Afghanistan that would be going down as Al Quada has less and less reason to exist.

    1. Yes, those who supported our massive intervention in Iraq to re-make the Middle East as a place hostile to terrorism certainly have much egg on their faces.

      1. When we were intevening, Al Quada didn’t control much of anything. We left and now they control a lot and seem to be getting more. That really shouldn’t be happening. We are not in Iraq. There is no reason for anyone in Iraq to support Al Qauaa. The only reason the movement ever existed was because of the Us presence in first Saudi and now Iraq. Sure, we are still in Afghanistan and there should be Al Quada freedom fighters fighting the occupation there. But not in Iraq. We went home. That means that Al Quada should have left too. This report can’t be true. The only reason Al Quada exists is because of US interventionism. So it should get smaller when we leave not bigger.

        1. Whenever I see the word “only” in one of your posts I can be fairly certain you’re flogging a straw man.

        2. “We left and now they control a lot and seem to be getting more.”

          This is silly, they are not supposed to forget overnight. There was little Al Qaeda presence. Then we mounted a massive intervention which disrupted things in many countries in the area. During that disruption and following it we now have an ever-growing Al Qaeda problem. Too see this as anything other than confirmation for what non-interventionists have been saying all along is strained, at best.

          1. This is silly, they are not supposed to forget overnight.

            Really? You mean they might be their own actors and have their reasons for doing things? I don’t believe you.

            Beyond that, just exactly when will they forget? And what will help that along? Should we issue some kind of national apology? Maybe send them some money?

            Perhaps apologizing and sending every member of Al Quada some kind of restitution might help. I think maybe a few thousand dollars to every member would probably do a lot to suppress membership don’t you?

            1. John, here is how causation usually works: there is no effect, then there is a cause, then the effect. You concede yourself there was little Al Qaeda presence at first. Then we did a major intervention. Now there is a large presence.

              What happens when you intervene is that many people get killed or have their lives disrupted. Not all, but some, of these people now will somewhat logically blame the intervenor for putting it all into motion. The things that you will be blamed for will include things like dead family members, destroyed businesses, or dislocation, things whose effects are of course still being felt and so the animosity is not going to wane overnight when the US decides to pack up and go home.

        3. . The only reason Al Quada exists is because of US interventionism. So it should get smaller when we leave not bigger.

          I’m assuming that this is a parody of libertarians that claim every bad actor in the world is only responding to US actions.

          1. Exactly. I do not think that at all, but I do think that our actions often help Al Qaeda garner recruits and support where there would be less without.

        4. John, you are being silly. Can you really not conceive that an organization founded for a particular purpose might find a new purpose when the circumstances change? Groups that manage to acquire some power aren’t just going to disband when their original purpose is gone. Did the Chinese Communist party dissolve itself when they decided to basically give up on communism? Of course not, they did everything they had to to hold onto power.

      2. we tried to inflict democracy and representative govt on a part of the world with no idea how to operate such a system. Look at how Eastern Europe struggled to find its footing after the Soviets’ collapse. Massive societal shifts are not easy, particularly when they involve principles that are simply not part of the prevailing culture.

    2. It can now turn its attention back to Sunni vs. Shite religious barbarism.

      1. Since AQ is essentially a Sunni group and the Iraqi Government is dominated by Shiites, that’s already happening.

  5. “Much of this superpower gaming, and the mental distortions that came with it, ground to a halt with the end of the Cold War. It’s no accident that so many proxy civil wars dried up in the early 1990s, or that Nelson Mandela stopped talking so insistently about the state owning the means of production.”

    It was easy to stop being a revolutionary communist after the Soviet Union collapsed and to be rich became “glorious” in China.

    There is no substitute for victory, and our resistance to the expansion of communism through proxies was instrumental in communism’s fall.

    Who would Mandela have been if communism hadn’t collapsed the way it did?

    We can’t say we’ll never know; we can only say we’re glad we never saw that happen.

    1. Matt sort of ignores the fact that those proxy wars broke out because the Soviets started them. I guess Matt thinks that the Soviets supported Mandela because the US supported South Africa not the other way around. It was the Soviets who took advantage of the end of colonialism by poisoning every anti-colonial movement with communism.

      1. Did they take advantage of the ‘end of colonialism’ or colonialism itself (which was of course a massive foreign intervention)?

        1. That statement doesn’t even make any rational sense. They took over indigenous movements and turned them into communist movements and Soviet proxies where they hadn’t been before. Take away the Soviet Union and the US has no interest in who runs South Africa.

          1. And you do not see those indigenous movements as anti-colonial? In other words the Russians were able to get the footholds they did because of the stupid, oppressive interventionist colonialism of Western powers that quite naturally inspired resistance and independence movements, which the Soviets then offered assistance to.

            1. Anti-colonial and nationalist doesn’t mean Communist you half wit. In fact, one of the things that Soviet Apologists like Matt often claim is that these movements didn’t have to be communist that people like Ho Chi Minh were not originally communist. And that is a fair point in so far as Soviet money and support is what made them communists and turned their civil wars into proxies for the cold war.

              1. It does not mean anti-colonial and I am not saying that. I mean that what you have is a massive and oppressive intervention by Western forces (colonialism). This naturally fosters indigenous anti-colonial movements, which will quite naturally take help from wherever it is offered. The Russians, not being a major colonial player, often offered these movements help. Once again, it was the original interventions that messed up everything.

            2. The US was anit-colonial up until the late 1960s. So there was no reason for the anti-colonial movements to embrace anti-Americanism or turn to communism.

              In fact, I’d argue, that their doing so was residual colonialism. Where in the leaders of the indigenous movements were educated by their colonial masters and absorbed alien (for them) avant-garde ideas.

              Pol Pot is the best example of this phenomena.

              1. Pol Pot and pretty much every other crackpot communist liberation leader is an example of such.

              2. “The US was anit-colonial up until the late 1960s.”

                We were quite closely allied with colonial powers like France and England, and we often overreacted in our anti-Communism treating some nascent anti-colonial movements as communists when they were not.

                1. US foreign policy through the early stages of the Cold War was explicitly anti-colonial and pro self determination. Ultimately those views were replaced by a preference for stasis – because of fear that any change would advance communism. But that transformation was not complete until the late 70s or ever the primary view until the late 60s.

                  Remember that the US militarily threatened our allies France and Britain during the Suez crisis in 1957.

                  1. I think it’s pretty revisionist to suggest that the tendency of anti-colonial movements to embrace communism had nothing to do with the fact that these movements saw that as a rejection of a political and economic system that they associated with their colonial imperialist oppressors. The sentiment was not necessarily anti-US specifically, but there definitely was a lot of anti-Western sentiment (as would be expected). I don’t think Bo was blaming the US specifically for the sentiment that existed in the colonies that allowed the USSR to spread communism.

                2. Many of those movements were quite happy to project themselves as whatever would garner more support.

                  “You’re willing to give me how much guns and ammunition?

                  Well, alright comrade!

                  The machinery of capitalism is oiled with the blood of the proletariat!”

                  Besides, we had bad experiences when communist sympathizing governments were taken down–after they were elected. It’s more complicated that way, and there are all sort of lingering consequences…

                  See Allende and Mosaddegh for examples.

      2. Those proxy wars broke out because it was in our interests–in many cases–to fight them. See my post below, but the abbreviated version is that ICBMs made disengagement impossible.

        And the Soviet’s were expanding! That’s the way communism had to work–in business parlance, its markets sure as hell weren’t about to start growing, so they had to start making “acquisitions”.

        What we engaged in, through proxies, was a function of that, and as Vietnam taught us, fighting through proxies is a much better alternative to direct conflict. The Russians foolishly took that bait themselves in Afghanistan,–what a mistake!

        We made mistakes with proxies, too, especially in Central America where our proxies were especially reprehensible. But our engagement with Chile, Egypt, Israel, South Africa (in Angola), Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., etc. while a response to Soviet expansionism, was optional to some extent.

        We could have just let the Soviets do whatever they wanted in the naive belief that countries are only aggressive toward us because we threaten them. That is a poor argument, and it needs to be purged from our libertarian mindset–Ron Paul or no Ron Paul.

        The only reason the Japanese, Nazis, and Soviets didn’t invade the United States and subjugate us all is because they couldn’t. States like Iran may have some historical grievances against us, but taking that and saying that they wouldn’t present a threat if we weren’t so threatening ourselves is the essence of appeasement.

      3. However they got there, South Africa had to deal with 50,000 Cuban troops in Angola in the 70’s and 80’s.

    2. I agree with all of this, though the devil lies in some of those proxy-war details.

      1. We made some terrible mistakes, and what we did in Central America was especially bad.

        Not every proxy war we engaged in was to our benefit, and there are many we should have stayed out of.

        That being said, so many people seem to think that communism was bound to fall the way it did–mostly they seem to want to say this out of contempt for Ronald Reagan.

        Some of those conflicts were instrumental in defeating the Soviet Union. Say what you want about what arming the mujaheddin and how that brought us the Taliban and Al Qaeda; whatever else it did, it also helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union without an ICBM ever being fired.

        I’m reluctant to engage as well, but we should never forget that there is also a risk in not engaging. Proxy wars are better than direct conflicts like Vietnam, but if we had done nothing, the Soviets and the Chinese could still be a big threat to our liberties today.

        Just because they have to starve or purge their people, periodically, doesn’t mean communism couldn’t have gone forward indefinitely. Just ask Kim Jong-un. And they could have put that purging off with expansion, too.

  6. “Much of this superpower gaming, and the mental distortions that came with it, ground to a halt with the end of the Cold War.”

    One other important thing that should be noted here: ICBMs made isolationism impossible during the Cold War, and failing to meet Soviet expansionism throughout the world–even in places like Angola–likewise, would have been monumentally irresponsible.

    This is one reason why it is so important that Iran, with their nuclear and ICBM programs, not be allowed to enrich their own uranium. If we don’t want to be involved in a bunch of proxy wars in the Middle East for the rest of our lives, then making sure Iran doesn’t enrich their own uranium now is the way to prevent that from happening.

    Because once Iran has an ICBM (2015-2020) and a nuclear capability, our ability to remain disengaged from the Middle East will become impossible. And if you think we’re in deep now, just wait. I don’t even want to see what American foreign policy looks like when Iran has the nuclear missile capability we denied Cuba, for good reason, during the Cold War.

    1. “Because once Iran has an ICBM (2015-2020) and a nuclear capability, our ability to remain disengaged from the Middle East will become impossible.”

      Why would it be more fostering of interventionism than the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons? Interestingly our most burdensome tie there is a remant from interventionism before their acquiring those.

      1. “Why would it be more fostering of interventionism than the fact that North Korea has nuclear weapons?”

        They don’t have an ICBM yet, and when they do, we’re in a different ball game.

        Thank Nixon for our trade relationship with China–at least we have some leverage.

        For the record, the North Koreans and the Iranians working together on their ICBM programs went public in November.…..wolf-pact/

        It should also be noted that the Iranians have already launched their own satellites.

    2. I’m sorry, you’ve got it all wrong. Iran is not working on a nuclear weapon, only a peaceful nuclear energy program. Further, Iran is a peaceful nation and it’s only those warmongering Jews that are forcing Iran to take defensive measures.

      At least that’s what Sheldon Richman has told me – over and over again on this site.

      1. I’m sympathetic to a certain predicament…

        As Bush taught us in the run-up to the Iraq War, what people support doing is often a function of what they believe.

        Six months after 9/11, almost 70% of the American people believed that Saddam Hussein was personally complicit in 9/11.…..iraq_x.htm

        No wonder they supported the Iraq War!

        Well, I think a lot of journalists who were around for that have something like PTSD over Bush’s “noble lies” in the run up to the war, and so they think that if they feed the American people different facts, then the American people will act differently this time.

        They start with the conclusion they want (No war with Iran), and then they treat the facts in a way that will lead to their conclusion.

        I don’t want to go to war with Iran either, but the good news is that we don’t have to! The sanctions worked in driving the Iranians to the bargaining table. They’re there because they’ve burned through all of the foreign reserves–and if they don’t get access to foreign financing quick? Their economy is going into free fall…

        We have them right where we want them. All we have to do is insist that they don’t enrich their own uranium. Get it from the Soviets!

        We don’t have to go to war, but if we let them enrich their own uranium, we may have to. They might attack us! The Iranians certainly have no reluctance to engage their neighbors.

    3. OK let’s stipulate Iran gets nuclear tipped ICBMs. What do you think they will do with them and how successful will they be?

      1. At the very best, I think we should look at what they’re doing to their neighbors as indicative of what they would do to us–if they had a nuclear threat to deter our retaliation.

        You’ve seen what Iran, by way of Hezbollah, does in Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, right? Heck, even the government of Iraq is under their sway–the security forces of the Iraqi government (that we support) are fighting against the rebels (that we support) in Syria, now.

        So, at best, I think they would use it as a deterrent to American retaliation and then launching conventional assaults against us and our interests, and, also, as they continue to fight what amounts to something of a transnational ethnic conflict in the wider Levant.

        At worst, of course, the religious kooks take out Miami or London and dare us to do something about it. Even if they don’t ever launch, who wants to fight the Cold War all over again?

        I also think it’s important to remember that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, then the Saudis are definitely going to go after one of their own. It will launch a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

  7. “launching conventional assaults against us and our interests”,

    Fair enough. You mean like attacking U.S. embassies or the overseas facilties of U.S. companies or what?

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  9. This is one reason why it is so important that Iran, with their nuclear and ICBM programs, not be allowed to enrich their own uranium. If we don’t want to be involved in a bunch of proxy wars in the Middle East for the rest of our lives, then making sure Iran doesn’t enrich their own uranium now is the way to prevent that from happening.

  10. unwavering opposition to

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