Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95, has received near-universal praise for his commitment to social justice and brokering peace. One often overlooked example came in February 2003 when he gave an impassioned speech against a potential war in Iraq.
Speaking to the International Women's Forum in Johannesburg, he not only took on then-President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for their attitudes toward the United Nations, but criticized the United States for dropping atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II.
"Bush is now undermining the United Nations," he said. "He is acting outside of it. Notwithstanding the fact that the United Nations is the idea of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill."
"Both Bush as well as Tony Blair are undermining an idea that was sponsored by their predecessors. They do not care. Is it because this Secretary General of the United Nations is now a black man?" he said, referring to Kofi Annan. "They never did that when secretary generals were white."
"If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world," he said, "it is the United States of America." He then criticized the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"What I'm condemning is that one power with a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust," he said.
"All that he wants is Iraqi oil because Iraq produces 64 percent of oil in the world," Mandela said. "What Bush wants is to get hold of that oil."
Bush's press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer, responded to the speech in 2003 by praising Mandela as a "great leader" and a "great man," but added, "on this the president and Nelson Mandela do not see eye to eye."
Bush and Blair honored Mandela following his death Thursday. "President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example. This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever," said Bush in a statement.
Blair told the BBC that Mandela was "someone who would put people at their ease, he was someone who brought out the best in people, you felt that when you were with him."
One of the architects of the Iraq War, former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in 2000 that he did not regret his vote against the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which called for the release of Mandela and other political prisoners. Cheney, then a Republican congressman from Wyoming, maintained that he thought the African National Congress was a "terrorist organization" at the time.
He later called Mandela a "great man" who had "mellowed" following his release from prison in 1990. Cheney has not apparently released a statement of condolence thus far and an email to his spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
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