Arnold Steinberg writes:
With the death of Nelson Mandela, the mythology continues that, under Ronald Reagan, the 1980s was the lost decade in dealing with South Africa. It’s the same old line — Reagan was insensitive to AIDS because he wasn’t gay. He was insensitive to racism because he wasn’t black. And he was not involved in policy, because he wasn’t very deep. All of that is just not true.
During the recent Bush Administration, I served on the board of the National Defense University (NDU) and came to know two of my colleagues — Chester Crocker and Edward Perkins. Chet, an academician who served on the National Security Council under Nixon, is an amiable and gracious gentleman and a scholar. A man of enormous good will, Chet served as Ronald Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs for the entire eight years. He was unjustly pilloried by Christopher Hitchens and others for crafting the allegedly “soft” U.S. policy of “constructive engagement” toward apartheid South Africa. In fact, the policy was strategic and allowed for Reagan’s philosophy, per his U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, of seeking change within authoritarian regimes as opposed to isolating totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union, which required full confrontation. And, at that time during the Cold War, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress was a Marxist, if not pro-Communist, organization, so prudence was required.
In 1986, Chet recommended to Secretary of State George Shultz the appointment of Ed Perkins to be U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. Secretary Shultz did not know Ed, but both were former Marines, and Ed, then U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, admired Shultz’s integrity and deliberative, scholarly approach. In his book Mr. Ambassador, Ed suggests that Pat Buchanan was successful in limiting the sanctions that resulted in President Reagan’s executive order that year. Pat, a Eurocentric, had quite another mindset on Africa and the Mideast. It would not be the first or the last time Pat was on the wrong side of an issue.
In his book, Ed says, quite simply, that neither George Shultz nor Ronald Reagan have been given credit for their determination to change apartheid in South Africa. Shultz told Ed, “No one has the right to ask you or any other black person to go down there.” Some thought the Afrikaners might try to assassinate a black ambassador. And “black leaders” here, he was told, would attack Ed as a sell-out to a “racist” president, and they did belittle the appointment.
Whole thing here.