Wolves in the Hills, page 4

Despite Crocker's many claims that his policy in Southern Africa was a delicately balanced instrument intended to ensure that "everybody wins," in practice it involved punishing the weak and rewarding the strong. While we pressed the Angolan government to send home the Cubans, and armed its enemies, we were treating the South Africans with tender concern. Under Reagan and Crocker, the US routinely vetoed UN sanctions against South Africa, and lifted some of the sanctions left over from the Carter years. The Reagan Administration fought to prevent Congress from enacting more sanctions, a battle it lost in 1986 when a weakened sanctions bill was passed over Reagan's veto. Crocker complains bitterly that these sanctions created "static and distrust" on his lines of communication, and restricted his ability to negotiate effectively with Pretoria. Presumably he wanted to be free to apply his own sticks and carrots as needed, but in practice there were never any sticks: not when the South African saboteurs attacked Gulf Oil, not when South African commandos killed 42 people in the capital of Lesotho, not when South African police killed 19 mourners in Uitenhage.

Violence like this escalated rapidly under Crocker's policy of constructive engagement. As Joseph Hanlon described in Beggar Your Neighbours, South Africa's first official non-Angolan cross-border attack came ten days after Reagan took office, when South African commandos killed 13 ANC members and a Portuguese technician in a suburb of Maputo, Mozambique. By the end of the year, South Africa had launched attacks on all its neighbors, including an attempted assassination of Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Mugabe and another full-scale invasion of Angola, called Operation Protea. Such attacks often coincided with South African diplomatic initiatives. The security forces, Crocker notes, "broke off the leash in two separate incidents on the very day that I had met [Foreign Minister Pik] Botha in Geneva." Crocker chalks this up to Pretoria's inconsistency or hotheadedness, refusing to acknowledge that it was just another version of the "good cop, bad cop" routine that the US itself had been employing.

Where South Africa was concerned, Crocker's approach was nothing if not restrained. "Our finite influence," he believed, "should be husbanded for occasions when it would make a difference and would be truly needed." But those occasions never seemed to arise. At times, Chester Crocker's view of the world seemed eerily similar to that of the South African Foreign Minister. Each man thought of himself as reasonable and moderate because he faced opposition from those who were even farther to the right. "Jesus, Chet," Pik Botha told Crocker on a visit to Washington, "I thought we had a conservative problem."

If Crocker has little to say about the unpleasant things that happened to South Africa's neighbors during the Reagan years, he has even less to say about what happened to people inside South Africa: the residents of "black spots" who were dumped in barren "homelands" after their homes were bulldozed, the mourners and demonstrators killed by police, the activists jailed on trumped-up treason charges, the detainees beaten to death. Crocker's position is clear: as a proponent of grand regional strategy, he is not concerned with purely domestic matters such as these. As he sees it, it is a "logical necessity for regional peacemaking to precede basic internal political change."

When we look at it in terms of Crocker's stated goals, we see that the Reagan foreign policy in Southern Africa was a great success. Namibia did become independent. The Cubans did leave Angola. And UNITA benefited enormously.

"There were many reasons for hope," Crocker says late in the book, summing up the situation after a meeting with President de Klerk.

Not only was the Berlin Wall coming down and the Marxist enemy starting to break up before Pretoria's eyes. Not only was the African National Congress now effectively shut off from its Front Line sanctuaries and without a serious global patron. Now, the Cubans were going home. When the last of them left in May 1991, there would be no foreign forces in Southern Africa for the first time since the Napoleonic Wars. The balance of conventional military power in Africa was shifting and the South African Defence Force no longer faced any credible threat. By the time of Namibia's independence in March 1990, SADF troops were back within South Africa's borders -- ending a generation of cross-border wars.

The ANC "cut off," South African military power unchallenged ... Crocker's idea of what constitutes a hopeful situation seems indistinguishable from Pretoria's.

All this was accomplished primarily by exerting pressure on the beleaguered government of Angola. But because Crocker would prefer to be remembered as a great diplomat rather than a bully, his account constantly emphasizes the delicacy of the negotiating process, the need to balance one party's interests against another, to establish credibility, to understand the psychologies of the parties, and to make sure that "everyone wins." He ends his book with a kind of manual for negotiators who might wish to follow in his footsteps, including unremarkable advice such as "keep control of the action," "certain things are better left to nature," and "shake the parties up by giving them something fresh to mull over." (Telling the Angolans we were reentering their civil war presumably fell under this last category.)

Crocker's settlement was not the "settlement without losers" that he claims he sought. For the Angolan government, as well as the long-suffering Angolan people, it was a disaster. In May 1991, as the last of the Cuban troops were leaving Angola, Crocker's successor Herman Cohen brokered an agreement between the MPLA and UNITA. A ceasefire took effect, and elections were scheduled for September 1992. The elections took place, and according to the UN and foreign observers were generally free and fair. The MPLA won 58% of the vote, and President dos Santos won a plurality of just under 50%, requiring a run-off vote. UNITA, claiming election fraud, refused to take part. The war was on again. By the spring of 1993, UNITA was said to control, if tenuously, three-quarters of Angola's countryside. In early March, after a two-month battle in which 15,000 people were killed, UNITA captured Huambo, Angola's second largest city. (The event was marked by a three-inch item in the New York Times.) One and a half million Angolans were said to be at risk of starvation.

In a meeting with Crocker in 1987, his Soviet counterpart Anatoliy Adamishin told him, "It's a pleasure to work with an old African wolf like you." If Crocker was reminded of Kito's image of the wolves in the hills, he doesn't say so. But Adamishin was exactly right: Crocker himself was one of the wolves.


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Published in Transition, Issue 60.