Sorry Excuse

Politics and policy.
April 4 1998 3:30 AM

Sorry Excuse

Rules for national apologies.

(Continued from Page 1)

What a country should not apologize for is a basically sound foreign policy. And Clinton unfortunately did that as well--though it drew less attention than his other comments. In his Uganda speech, before the part about slavery, Clinton said:

Advertisement

In our own time, during the Cold War, when we were so concerned about being in competition with the Soviet Union, very often we dealt with countries in Africa and in other parts of the world based more on how they stood in the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union than how they stood in the struggle for their own people's aspirations to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilities.

The president speaks here as if the battle against communism were an overheated World Cup match, rather than itself a struggle for democracy and human rights. Even when Realpolitik led the United States to side with dictators and oppressors, it was in the service of maximizing democracy and human rights in the world at large—a goal we in fact achieved. Every Cold War decision to put U.S. interests ahead of "people's aspirations" in individual countries may not be defensible, but the general policy is one we needn't apologize for. And by the way, the Cold War did not always define American policy in Africa. Well before the fall of communism, Congress passed comprehensive sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. We did this even though the white South African government was a staunch U.S. ally in the Cold War, while Nelson Mandela's African National Congress had extensive Communist and Soviet ties.

As it happens, that subject came up during Clinton's stop in South Africa, when Mandela publicly refused to apologize for the ANC's Realpolitik alliances. It is debatable whether friendships with Libya and Cuba actually serve South Africa's interests today. But Mandela is right not to apologize for having accepted help from various malefactors, including the Soviet Union, during the liberation struggle—when actual support from the United States came very late. Like the U.S. in the Cold War, the ANC made reasonable choices under circumstances in which moral purity wasn't an option.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

Are the Attacks in Canada a Sign of ISIS on the Rise in the West?

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Is It Offensive When Kids Use Bad Words for Good Causes?

Fascinating Maps Based on Reddit, Craigslist, and OkCupid Data

Culturebox

The Real Secret of Serial

What reporter Sarah Koenig actually believes.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 23 2014 3:55 PM Panda Sluggers Democrats are in trouble. Time to bash China.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 23 2014 2:36 PM Take a Rare Peek Inside the Massive Data Centers That Power Google
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM What Happens When You Serve McDonald’s to Food Snobs and Tell Them It’s Organic
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 4:36 PM Vampire Porn Mindgeek is a cautionary tale of consolidating production and distribution in a single, monopolistic owner.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.