The war in Angola is getting meaner and meaner. On one side is our ally, Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA guerrillas. The immediate target of their fighting is the Marxist government, which is supported by Cuban troops and Soviet advisers. Now both sides have escalated the fight. They have hired Washington public relations firms.
For something like $600,000 Savimbi has armed himself with Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, which not only does public relations, but lobbying and, for all I know, windows as well. In an interview, Savimbi said he was waiting to see how well Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly perform before signing a contract with them, but he claimed -- almost patting his pocket -- that his movement controls 80 percent of Angola's diamond production. The check is all but in the mail.
The Angola government has responded in kind. The Marxist regime has secured the services of Gray and Co., whose chairman, Robert Keith Gray, headed President Reagan's inaugural committee and once worked in the Eisenhower White House. The Angolans are, for the moment, going month to month with Gray, at an initial rate of $20,000 per. Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but it's likely Gray insisted on cash.
We may assume that this fight between Washington's premier Republican PR firms will be bloody and protracted (Roger Stone, a partner in Black, Manafort is known for taking no prisoners) and may come down to desperate restaurant-to-restaurant eating along K Street. We may also assume that, diamonds or no diamonds, should the United Staes resume aid to Savimbi, some of the money will come right to Black, Manafort, et al. And, finally, we may assume that when Washington's most illustrious Republican public relations firm takes a Marxist government as a client something is totally wacko.
That something is U.S. policy in southern Africa. It is so chaotic, so confusing and so illogical that not only can our national interest not be discerned, but it's also possible to break bread on either side of it and claim, as Gray does, that he is in total consonance with it. (He, too, would like to see Cuban and Soviets troops leave Angola.)
President Reagan mentioned Angola in his State of the Union speech -- "You are not alone, freedom fighters." But he did not mention that his freedom fighters were allied with South Africa and had, on occasion, served as Pretoria's bounty hunters in nearby Namibia. The flowery rhetoric failed to mention that Savimbi is viewed elsewhere in Africa as South Africa's stooge. Like details concerning the budget, such information was probably deemed not quite ready for prime time.
Indeed, the administration's reflexive anticommunism has all but obliterated familiar political labels. Liberalism argues that U.S. policy should be independent of corporate interests. In Angola, though, it is the conservative administration that makes that case. It has suggested to Gulf Oil that it get out of Angola. Poor Gulf. Once it was the corporate personification of the conservative Mellon and Pew families; now it must turn to liberals for solace: can't it stay in Angola and make a buck?
No, says the administration with nary a suggestion that it appreciates the irony of its answer. In its anticommunist zeal, it has asked American corporations to do in Angola (get out) precisely the opposite of what it has asked them to do in South Africa (stay in). Constructive Engagement in South Africa becomes Destructive Engagement in Angola -- all the more so since South Africa, with the alleged help of UNITA, has attemped to destroy Gulf's Angola installations.
Much of the world must look at this performance with consternation. Itseems that what really gets the United States angry is not raw, repressive racists, but Marxists -- even those with Gulf credit cards. Especially in black Africa, we are proving that given a choice between racism and Marxism, we will choose racism any day. At the very least, we know more about it.
The fight between two of Washington's better-known public relations firm is an apt metaphor for a policy that's degenerated into confusion. Where the administration proclaims universal rights and wrongs and the moral obligation to underwrite an insurgency, PR men will take you to lunch to argue just the opposite. Like most other Washington issues, the war in Angola has become tax deductible. A freedom fighter's got to eat, doesn't he?