Our own Jim Geraghty tweeted:
Bashar Assad has, in fact, mourned Mandela’s death but couldn’t get away, what with all the shooting and gassing. But that got me thinking about Hafez, Bashar’s blood-drenched old man, and I found this in the archives:
October 18, 1999
Mandela makes brief visit to Jordan between Syria, Israel
AMMAN, Oct 18 (AFP)
Former South African President Nelson Mandela made a brief stop-over here Monday on his way from Syria to Israel and had talks with officials on the Middle East peace process, diplomats and officials said. . . .
Mandela has been on a regional tour that started last week in Tehran for talks with Iranian government officials and took him to Damascus on Sunday where he met Syrian President Hafez al-Assad.
“I accomplished an old dream by coming to Damascus,” Mandela told reporters Sunday in the Syrian capital.
He also expressed his “happiness and honour” at finally linking up with “a president as famous as Assad.”
Mandela and Assad discussed international issues, regional affairs and bilateral relations. Syria and South Africa set up diplomatic ties in 1994.
And also this:
October 17, 1999
Syria’s Assad and Mandela hold talks.
DAMASCUS, Oct 17 (Reuters) – South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela held talks on Sunday with Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad on how to break a deadlock in Syrian-Israeli peace talks, officials and diplomats said.
Mandela, visiting the region as a messenger of peace, also discussed with the Syrian president some regional and international issues in addition to ties between Syria and South Africa, they said.
Syrian presidential spokesman Joubran Kourieh said that Assad praised Mandela’s struggle and support for the Arab causes while Mandela had expressed appreciation at Syria’s policies and the regional and international role played by Assad.
Yes, world leaders have to deal with all kinds of nasty people running nasty regimes — plenty of American officials met with Assad, too. And Mandela was clearly the right person at the right time for his country. But spare me the hagiography.