south africans

Reagan's African Rambo

Last July, in the midst of the TWA hijacking crisis, Congress was seized by a fit of Rambo-mania. Across the political spectrum, from liberal Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.) to New Right hero Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), our elected representatives entered a desperate competition to see who could get toughest in supporting a bewildering array of Third World "anti-communist" guerrilla organizations. As part of that frenzy of legislative machismo, the Clark Amendment, which explicitly prohibited U.S. intervention in Angola, was repealed.

In February this new cult of the Cold War guerrilla reached its apex when Angolan Jonas Savimbi, the African Rambo of right-wing dreams, came to Washington. Savimbi, assisted by a high-priced Washington public relations firm, took the capital by storm with a lobbying and media blitz aimed at winning material aid for his war against the Angolan government and a place in American hearts and minds.

By the time Savimbi left town he had won a clear U.S. commitment to enter the war in Angola on the side of his UNITA organization. That commitment was made explicit and underscored by President Reagan in his State of the Union speech.

This won't be America's first venture into the Angolan bush. In 1975, when Angola finally won its independence from Portugal, there was a period of civil war among the three organizations that had fought the Portuguese. At that time the CIA entered the war on behalf of Savimbi's UNITA forces, supplying funding, combat advisers, and mercenaries. But when the covert war in Angola became known, it triggered an outraged response from a public still stinging from the Vietnam debacle. Eventually Congress passed the Clark Amendment, named for then-Senator Richard Clark (D-Iowa), which prohibited the U.S. government from lending any form of assistance to any of the Angolan combatants.

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