UNTIL A COUPLE of weeks ago, George Bush had been in hasty retreat from his internationalist ways. With Patrick J. Buchanan bellowing all over New Hampshire for "America First" and the democrats selling "George Bush: The Anywhere But America Tour" T-shirts, the new f-word had become "foreign affairs."
But then last month a voice from the past, belonging to Richard M. Nixon, fired off a damaging memo attacking the president for letting election-year posturing stand in the way of pursuing America's interests and ideals. (And Nixon, of all people should know.)
Nixon said that if Western politicians--read: President Bush--failed to act decisively to help Boris N. Yeltsin weather Russia's economic and political typhoon, the refrain (or witch hunt?) of 1990s politics would be "Who lost Russia."
Nixon's warning to Bush had the same effect as margaret Theater's "George, this is no time to go wobbly" comment from the early stages of the Persian Gulf crisis: it motivated the president to act presidential.
Earlier this month, with great fanfare and broad pundit support, he announced that the United States, along with some of its Western allies, had agreed to a $24 billion aid package for the former Soviet Union. This is great news for Russia, and also for America, which has shown itself not to be as shallow and self-absorbed as Buchanan wants it to be.
President Bush has shown courage and decisiveness in going ahead with the aid plan, and the pundits are proclaiming that his self-imposed exile from the international scene may finally be over. But as he demonstrated at the end of the Gulf War, Bush is always prone to wobbliness.
And if he now returns to his normal stance of "prudence without purpose" as Bill Clinton calls, it, he will have missed perhaps the last chance to help the other great democratic transformation of the 1990s succeed. If only Nixon would come out again from his political grave to frame this question: "who lost South Africa"?
ON MARCH 17, in a national referendum with an 85 percent voter turnout, South African whites voted overwhelmingly (69 percent for, 31 against) to end the system of apartheid. This was no political gimmick on the part of the governing National Party, nor was it a merely grudging acceptance of reality.
The vote was an enthusiastic embrace of the future, and it showed a real commitment to a revolution in society that goes far beyond anything Bill "Fundamental Charge" Clinton or Jerry "Take Your Government Back" Brown has proposed for our country.
So eager were they to cast their "JA" votes that thousands of whites lined up outside polling places even before they opened at 7 a.m. One woman who was experiencing labor pains insisted on being driven to the polls before going to the hospital.
Not only whites, but a majority in all racial groups voted for a unified, multiracial South African democracy. The Indian and mixed-blood populations have long supported integration with whites, and many observers believe that if given the chance, they would vote for President F.W. de Klerk and the National Party.
And while some Blacks want to "throw the white bastards out," there are sings of moderation in their aims as well.
A survey in the middle of 1991 found that 52 percent of Blacks were "very satisfied" with the present government, and another 30 percent were "satisfied" (those numbers are probably higher today.)
And even the once-firebreathing African National Congress (ANC) has moderated its goal of pursuing state socialism to one of creating a multiparty democracy and "mixed economy" with a healthy private sector.
So there is hope for South Africa's future. Except for a handful of right-and left-wing extremists, most South Africans want to live and work together in the new South Africa.