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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"We have lost one of the most influential, courageous & profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with."
"First his courage and then his forgiveness inspired us all, and challenged us to do better. In the words of the South African poet Peter Horn, he 'dreamed the world another way.'"
"I will never forget my friend Madiba," Clinton <a href="https://twitter.com/billclinton/status/408729108281970688/photo/1/large" target="_blank">tweeted</a>, with this photo of himself and Mandela.
George W. Bush
“Laura and I join the people of South Africa and the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. 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. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathy to President Mandela’s family and to the citizens of the nation he loved.”
“With the passing of Nelson Mandela, the world has lost a leader who advanced the cause of equality and human rights, who overcame a history of oppression in South Africa to expand the reach of freedom worldwide. He led the campaign to defeat apartheid through non-violence, peace, and dialogue. He never allowed resentment to drive him away from the path of reconciliation. He emerged from prison to set free an entire nation; he shed the bonds of slave labor to reshape the fate of his people. “Nelson Mandela once said that ‘courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.’ His life is the affirmation of this statement: a story of courage, a triumph over fear, a whole-hearted faith in the power, promise, and possibility of the human spirit. He inspired the world with his strength and perseverance, with his message of hope and his embrace of freedom. He left us a legacy of love and partnership. “May the life of Nelson Mandela long stand as the ultimate tribute to the triumph of hope. May his story long remind us to always look forward with optimism to the future. May it be a comfort to his family, to his friends and loved ones, to the people of South Africa that so many mourn the loss of this extraordinary man and incredible leader at this sad time.”
“Nelson Mandela was an unrelenting voice for democracy and his ‘long walk to freedom’ showed an enduring faith in God and respect for human dignity. His perseverance in fighting the apartheid system will continue to inspire future generations. Mandela led his countrymen through times of epic change with a quiet moral authority that directed his own path from prisoner to president. He passes this world as a champion of peace and racial harmony. I send condolences to the Mandela family and to the people of South Africa.”
“Elaine and I are deeply saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela, a man whose skillful guidance of South Africa following the end of the Apartheid regime made him one of the great statesmen of our time and a global symbol of reconciliation. ‘Madiba’s’ patience through imprisonment and insistence on unity over vengeance in the delicate period in which he served stand as a permanent reminder to the world of the value of perseverance and the positive influence one good man or woman can have over the course of human affairs. The world mourns this great leader. May his passing lead to a deeper commitment to reconciliation around the world.”
“The world has lost a humble, courageous and generous man. One of democracy’s strongest champions, Nelson Mandela selflessly served South Africa. His vision and lack of vindictiveness was amazing, and brought South Africans through a very difficult transition, which could have gone in a very different, violent direction. Most impressively, he elected to serve a single presidential term, turning over power he assuredly could have kept. When others remained silent, Mandela spoke out against Mugabe’s tyranny in neighboring Zimbabwe. His message of reconciliation must endure.”
“The world has lost a true hero. It is hard to overstate Nelson Mandela's transformative impact on his country and the world. The lesson of his personal determination in the face of decades of imprisonment and oppression, followed by his unwavering grace and forgiveness towards his former captors is one of the great reconciliation stories in human history. “In my work with the South African Council of Churches in the 1980’s, I saw firsthand the terrible cruelty and fundamental injustice of an apartheid system that attempted to determine the destiny of South Africans based on the color of their skin. Nelson Mandela refused to accept the destiny that was handed to him, and instead led a movement to remake South Africa into a flourishing, multiracial democracy. His integrity and personal commitment to the progress of that democracy was exemplified in his willingness to relinquish power after just one term as president of a post-liberation South Africa, which set an important standard for democratic leaders in Africa and around the world. “Long after his presidency, he continued to inspire people seeking freedom and justice around the world. He helped forge renewed bonds between the United States and South Africa, which remains part of his enduring legacy. Today, the American people join with the South Africans in grieving the loss of this extraordinary man, and in remembering the legacy of freedom, justice and equality he leaves behind.”
"President Mandela's death is a loss felt around the world. His journey was an inspiration to men and women worldwide: from his humble beginnings to his political activism and incarceration for nearly three decades on Robben Island to becoming South Africa's first black president. Today, as we mourn his death, I am calling on all Coloradans to honor his work by finding ways to bridge the divisions that often divide our country — and to work for equality."