Bush and Mandela

Hell freezes over and George W. Bush actually makes a legitimate point (at least theoretically) that is unfairly criticized in Blue Blogistan.

The Beloved Leader has gotten some criticism for alleged remarking that Nelson Mandela is dead. He didn’t say that, and I think that those who criticize him for it are both wrong substantively and also not grasping what is truly frightening about this administration.

Here’s what he said:

Part of the reason why there is not this instant democracy in Iraq is because people are still recovering from Saddam Hussein’s brutal rule. I thought an interesting comment was made when somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, where’s Mandela? Well, Mandela is dead, because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas. He was a brutal tyrant that divided people up and split families, and people are recovering from this. So there’s a psychological recovery that is taking place. And it’s hard work for them. And I understand it’s hard work for them. Having said that, I’m not going the give them a pass when it comes to the central government’s reconciliation efforts.

To which John Amato asks, “Um, WTF??? Not only is Nelson Mandela very much alive, but he’s also been very vocally critical of the Bush Adminstration.”

Now the Mandela Foundation has gotten into the game, wryly reminding the President that Mandela is very much alive.

But that misses the point. Bush didn’t really say or mean to say that Mandela was dead, and that’s very clear from the context. He meant to say that the Iraqi equivalents of Mandela–i.e. the kinds of political leaders who could reconcile Iraq’s ethnic groups–were dead because these types of figures were executed by Saddam Hussein.

In and of itself, that’s not inherently unreasonable. But as a practical matter, it shows once again the delusional character of this President and this administration.

1) To compare the situation in Iraq to day with the situation in South Africa before emancipation is ridiculous. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of Iraqi politics. The African National Congress had a decades-long policy of peaceful resistance, which it only abandoned after the Sharpeville massacres of 1960, and even then, it never hit civilian targets–only military ones. (That’s why also, incidentally, it is ridiculous to compare the ANC to Fatah or Hamas). In South Africa, you had a large, generally peaceful, majority against a small minority. In Iraq, you have a civil war between groups that have fought each other quite literally for centuries.

2) This administration wouldn’t recognize an Iraqi Mandela if he came up and spit at them. When he was in Congress, Dick Cheney repeatedly called Mandela a terrorist and a Communist, and supported the apartheid regime. Conservatives never accepted the ANC as a legitimate force, insisting against overwhelming evidence that it was a catspaw for Moscow.

In my view, this just goes to show that the best critique of Bush isn’t that he’s stupid. It’s that he is intellectually lazy and has no concept of reality. His point made perfect sense–in the alternative universe that he inhabits. That’s what scares me.

Update Childish right-blogger Tim Blair goes nya-nya-nya-nya-nyaaaaaaaa!; Mark Kleiman responds.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

One thought on “Bush and Mandela”

  1. Bush: "Mandela is dead" metaphor for Iraq

    George Bush is the latest to borrow the iconic name of Nelson Mandela for the Administration's rationalization as to what went wrong in Iraq. The first was Ryan Crocker's testimony in Congress about the surge, September 10, "This is the…

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