President George H.W. Bush greets Somali children applauding him during a visit to an orphanage in famine-ravaged Baidoa on Jan. 1, 1993. (Jerome Delay/AP)

One of the late president George H.W. Bush’s many foreign affairs successes has been overlooked: Mr. Bush played a critical role in ending apartheid in South Africa.

In late 1989, the white South African community elected leaders who grew up in the infamous apartheid system of extreme racial separation and discrimination. The new president, F.W. de Klerk, decided that South Africa could not make progress as an industrial nation without the full economic and political participation of the majority black community. He decided to end apartheid.

Mr. de Klerk’s decision was bitterly opposed in the hardcore white community who believed that foreign sanctions would never be removed in return for ending apartheid. They saw only the loss of their way of life. They sought to block the agreement Mr. de Klerk negotiated with Nelson Mandela for a new political framework and threatened violence.

When news of the political stalemate reached Mr. Bush in mid-1990, he took the initiative. He wrote to Mr. de Klerk and Mandela and promised the severe U.S. sanctions would be lifted. This had an immediate impact in gaining majority white approval for the new constitutional pact. The United States was the first to remove sanctions against South Africa.

Herman J. Cohen, Washington

The writer was assistant secretary of state for African affairs under President George H.W. Bush.

In December 1992, after losing the election, then-President George H.W. Bush ordered U.S. soldiers and Marines to Somalia. The mission of Operation Restore Hope was to ensure the delivery by nongovernmental organizations and international aid agencies of food and medicine to Somalis. This required taking on local Somali warlords and their militias who were blocking shipments, seizing and selling them on the black market, and extorting “protection money” from the NGOs. In Somalia, as in Kuwait, Mr. Bush put together a coalition of nations — Australia, Botswana, Canada, France, Italy, Nigeria and others — that sent troops to assist in this armed humanitarian intervention. Tens of thousands of Somali men, women and children, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, who would have died of starvation or disease owe their lives to Mr. Bush’s decision. It evidenced Mr. Bush’s compassion and humanity and his courage to make the moral choice when he simply could have left the problem to President-elect Bill Clinton. 

Martin R. Ganzglass, Washington

The writer was a special adviser to the U.S. ambassador in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope.