Wolves in the Hills, page 3

The real ingenuity of Crocker's book comes in the way it presents the US government's big-stick approach in Angola as a policy of moderate, balanced internationalism, aimed at "national reconciliation." As Noam Chomsky notes in Deterring Democracy, "Every active player in world affairs professes to seek only peace and to prefer negotiations to violence and coercion -- even Hitler; but when the veil is lifted, we commonly see that diplomacy is understood as a disguise for the rule of force."

Chester Crocker must surely have realized that forcing the Angolans to send home the Cuban force -- what he derisively terms their "security blanket" -- was not going to end Angola's Thirty Years' War. Civil wars usually end with one side's defeat, not with a stalemate and a coalition government. By weakening the MPLA government, the US policy virtually guaranteed more bloodshed. Once the Cubans were gone, what was to prevent South Africa and the US from continuing to pump up Savimbi with continued aid? Nothing at all. The South Africans made a "gentleman's agreement" to stop aiding Savimbi, but soon broke it. The US never promised, and through 1991 it continued to provide Savimbi with military aid, to the tune of $50 million a year. Congress allocated an additional $30 million for fiscal 1992, "to assist UNITA in transforming itself into a political party."

The resistance of the Angolans to Crocker's plans for them elicits some of his most abusive and condescending language. Their objections are described as "dithering," "opaque indecisiveness," or "chickening out." Ridiculing Angolan fears that Cuban withdrawal would make Angola more vulnerable even after Namibia's independence, Crocker says, "It was as if they viewed South Africans as possessing some miraculous white magic that enabled their SADF to defy the laws of logic and geography." Yet he admits that the Cubans represented the region's only conceivable military rival to South Africa.

In 1986, frustrated over Angola's reluctance to send the Cubans home, the US invited Jonas Savimbi to Washington and stepped up its military and other aid to UNITA. Angola's President José Eduardo dos Santos asked the reasonable question whether these measures "should be considered a form of pressure or a declaration of war." Crocker was unsympathetic: the Angolans had been asking for it by their refusal to yield on the Cuban issue. Adding insult to injury, he remarks, "The Angolans never seemed to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

Manuel Alexandre Rodrigues, known as "Kito," was the Angolan negotiator Crocker respected most, and Crocker was struck by something Kito told him early in their acquaintance. "Drawing on analogy from Angolan lore, Kito noted that houses are built in the valley while wolves howl from the hilltops. If the howling stops, does that mean that the wolves have come down to attack or that they have disappeared over to the next valley?" Some time later, Kito returned to his image, saying that in Angola, "there are many kinds of wolves, and there is a wolf on every hill." Crocker took this as a sign of "how frightened dos Santos and his team were by the world they lived in. Kito's telling metaphor about wolves on the mountain rings in my ears to this day." But Crocker did not acknowledge the important part he himself played in making Angola such a frightening place.

Why was the US so hostile to the Angolans? Certainly there were valid grounds to criticize them -- government corruption, heavy-handed economic policies, and so on. The MPLA had been accused of wartime brutalities, including summary executions of its captured opponents, but so had UNITA and (especially) the FNLA. On balance, the MPLA's human rights abuses were far outweighed by UNITA's, which included the indiscriminate laying of mines, urban bombing campaigns, and the murder of Savimbi's rivals within UNITA itself. In UNITA territory in March 1982, according to Amnesty International, "three women were declared witches and burnt to death with members of their families before watching crowds." In September 1983, twelve people were burned, reportedly including a man accused of plotting against Savimbi's life, his wife, his three children, and his 12-year-old niece. None of this appears in Crocker's account, although he does remark that Savimbi was "a man who would stop at nothing to advance his goals."

Was the MPLA government a threat to US business interests? No, that wasn't it. Although the US stubbornly refused to recognize Angola (it still hasn't), we were the main customer for Angolan oil. In fact, Crocker notes, Angola was our second biggest trading partner in Africa. Our support for UNITA thus put us in a peculiar position. At the very time in 1985 that UNITA was attempting to sabotage a Gulf Oil installation in Angola's Cabinda enclave, the Reagan Administration was lobbying to lift the Clark Amendment so we could send more guns and supplies to UNITA. Who, meanwhile, was protecting US oil interests in Angola? Cuban troops, at the request of the Marxist Angolan government. (It didn't clear up matters much when the saboteurs turned out to be South Africans merely acting on behalf of their friends in UNITA.)

Why, then, did the US devote so much effort to weakening the Angolan government and aiding its enemies? The cowboy image invoked by the title High Noon in Southern Africa suggests the answer. By standing up to the guys in the black hats, we would regain "our ideological manhood," which we had lost by our defeat in Vietnam and our failure to gain ground for UNITA in 1975. By kicking the Cubans out of Angola we would be opposing the adventurism of a "Leninist police state" and "highly militarized regional power" -- Cuba, that is -- as well as of the Soviet Union, which was presumed to be manipulating Cuba as part of a sinister plot to establish an African empire. We would reassert our role as the world's policeman. (It comes as a bit of a letdown toward the end of the book when, after much ominous rhetoric about Soviet intentions, Crocker finally meets the Soviets and finds them rather lackadaisical. "In general," he says, "Moscow deferred to its allies and, on occasion, hid behind their ample skirts.... On the really tough calls, they often preferred to duck rather than to lead." In fact, Crocker faults the Soviets for being too hands-off! "By respecting the MPLA's sensitivities on the civil war and political reconciliation," he complains, "the Soviets may actually have helped to prolong the agony.")

Next page

Previous page

1 2 3 4