CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - Former South African President Nelson Mandela assailed President Bush this week for pushing the United States to the brink of war with Iraq, calling him "a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly."
Mandela, South Africa's first Black president, has publicly and repeatedly opposed the prospect of an American-led war against Iraq. He has spent his recent years in retirement trying to bring an end to bloody conflicts in Burundi and the Middle East.
Speaking to the International Women's Forum in Johannesburg on Thursday, Mandela accused Bush of warmongering with the goal of controlling Iraq's oil. He also accused the American president of disregarding the United Nations because its secretary general, Kofi Annan, is Black.
"It is a tragedy what is happening, what Bush is doing in Iraq," said Mandela, 84. "What I am 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.
"Why does the United States behave so arrogantly?" Mandela asked. "Their friend Israel has got weapons of mass destruction, but because it's their ally, they won't ask the U.N. to get rid of it. They just want the oil."
Mandela, who in 1994 shared the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to bring an end to apartheid, South Africa's policy of racial separation, said that Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain were undermining the United Nations by threatening to attack without its consensus.
"Is this because the Secretary-General of the United Nations is now a Black man?" he asked. "They never did that when secretary-generals were white."
South African President Thabo Mbeki and his deputies have also repeatedly questioned American policy in Iraq and the Middle East. Officials here say they believe the Bush administration is unfairly focusing on Iraq, choosing to ignore the wrongdoing and powerful weapons of its allies in Israel, Pakistan and elsewhere.
"It is critically important that the matter of Iraq is resolved peacefully through the United Nations and its Security Council," Mbeki said at a November meeting of Asian leaders in Cambodia. "We trust that sense will prevail so that no country or combination of countries take it upon themselves to embark on unilateral action against Iraq, which should itself cooperate fully with the Security Council to resolve all outstanding matters."
On Friday, the governing African National Congress reiterated its strong opposition to war and called on its supporters to participate in anti-war marches scheduled in February.
On Thursday, Mandela took the criticism to a new level. During his speech, he also criticized the United States for complaining about Iraq's human rights record. Asserting that the American conscience was far from clean, Mandela pointed to the atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
"Because they decided to kill innocent people in Japan, who are still suffering from that, who are they now to pretend that they are the policeman of the world?" Mandela asked. "If there is a country which has committed unspeakable atrocities, it is the United States of America."
Two of South Africa's smaller predominantly black parties, the United Democratic Moement and the Pan Africanist Congress, cheered Mandela's remarks on Friday. The Inkatha Freedom Party, which is the second-largest Black party, expressed reservation, along with the predominantly white Democratic Party.
Tony Leon, the leader of the Democratic Party, urged Mandela to "think again" about his position.
"It is not simply a question of America's bellicosity," Leon said. "It is a question of Iraq's decade-long defiance of United Nations resolutions, which has in large part created this crisis."
San Francisco Chronicle, 1 February 2003