12 June 2013

Mandela, the West, Cold War Africa and Geopolitics

Undoubtedly Nelson Mandela will soon be departing this life and there will be considerable commentary reflecting on his life. In fact teams of reporters have been more or less camped out in South Africa for the past several years, expecting his death at anytime. This will be a massive story and internationally may even surpass the coverage of Margaret Thatcher's recent death.

On that ironic note here are two links to British newspapers dealing with Mandela and how he was perceived during the 1980's by the British and certainly the American governments. The Guardian article also delves into some of the deep and shadowy politics of Cold War Africa.

While the United States formally but begrudgingly embraced the condemnation of Apartheid South Africa, there are numerous evidences indicating that both Nixon and certainly Reagan were keen to aid the regime. Was this due to some kind of ideological affinity? No, it was tied in with American geopolitical policy and the desire to be allied with forces who would oppose any growth of Communism...or alliance with the Soviet Union.

Third World nations were often placed in an impossible bind. They were almost forced to ally with one of the major powers. If you didn't and tried to go it alone (non-aligned) you were taking a considerable risk. Frankly most Third World nations had pretty weak central governments and likely as not there would be portions of the country where the central government exercised little control. This was further exacerbated by the fact that many of these countries were post-Colonial constructs and the lines on the map did not reflect demographic or even geographic reality. These unregulated hinterlands were prime territory for the breeding of dissident guerilla movements. And you can be sure someone for some reason would support them. And if they didn't exist they would be invented. The Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War often faced the wrath of both Superpowers and some of these countries suffered as battlegrounds of espionage and intrigue.

And so in the 1970's and 80's we find this strange alliance of South Africa, the United States and even Israel allying to project power and oppose Cuban and Soviet power in Southern Africa. The Cubans had shocked the world by intervening in Angola. They were filled with revolutionary fervour and undoubtedly saw the Angolan situation as a way to fight American interests. Angola was bordered on the north and south by American allies (South Africa/Namibia and Zaire) and Angola's colonial government had long been backed by the United States as well. There was a lot of bad blood and the potential for a massive conflict.

At the Jamboree in Jamba in 1985 we find a host of American businessmen, characters like Jack Abramoff, Oliver North and many other guerilla leaders from Southeast Asia, Central America and Afghanistan gathered together to strategize and promote the former Maoist turned American ally Jonas Savimbi of UNITA and his anti-Marxist cause in the Angolan Civil War. South Africa would play a key role in supporting Savimbi's UNITA and the fight against the Soviet backed MPLA.

Savimbi was a darling of American conservatives. He was invited to Washington and became closely tied with the largely 'Christian' Heritage Foundation and others like Pat Robertson and Grover Norquist. He was also backed by DeBeers the massive diamond conglomerate. This was a nasty chapter filled with dark doings that seem to be straight off the pages of a spy-thriller or a Hollywood production. I won't go into all of it here. It's about blood diamonds, child soldiers and other evils. It gets too complicated and also brings in countries like Zaire (today once again known as Congo)....the repercussions are still playing out today. Colonialism is said to have ended and the Africans need to move on...and yet those who say such things demonstrate either an ignorance of Africa during the Cold War or do not wish to acknowledge America's role in destabilizing the continent. For the many Christian figures involved in this story like Pat Robertson and Howard Phillips, this is a tale of disgraceful evil.

I have to believe some of these people at least in the White House knew who Savimbi was and yet didn't care. He was a tool and if they had to lie a bit to promote him and raise support, it was something they were willing to do.

But Christian leaders? Since when is 'the end justifies the means' an acceptable ethic?

I will say it again. Sacralism generates its own ethic. It is a betrayal of Biblical Christianity.

While Barbara Kingsolver's book 'The Poisonwood Bible' deals more specifically with the Congo and is undoubtedly anti-Christian, it nevertheless sheds some light on the problems in Africa and...I'm sorry to say it...the dark side of Christianity at work in these settings. While there are dangers with mission work being inadvertently a form of cultural imperialism, all too often it has been wedded to actual imperialism. And even if the missionaries themselves try to remain divorced from the politics, the fact that they come in the wake of imperial manipulations discredits them and in fact can harm the ability to be a Gospel witness.

While Kingsolver would undoubtedly resist the Biblical Gospel which is offensive enough, how unfortunate that so many who hate Christianity in fact hate Sacralism and have in many cases never encountered the actual Gospel.

Again, rather than call on American power to promote and defend the Church, the best thing the Church can do is completely divorce itself from American political interests. I would go further and denounce American Imperialism, but at the very least an abandonment of patriotism and a reliance on American power must be encouraged.

The Anglo-American-Israeli alliance (sometimes for different reasons and motivations) was during this period heavily dependent on the South African regime and the enemy of the Apartheid regime was yes... Nelson Mandela.

He was labeled a Marxist and terrorist and even today many Afrikaners though resigned to the course of history, struggle to admire Mandela. To them he's still a terrorist.

History is written by the victors and much of what passes for history is in reality regime propaganda.

Now, was Mandela right? Morally? Of course we cannot condemn his opposition to the Apartheid regime. Does that mean we endorse his violence or his Marxism? Of course not.

But again it's easy to condemn when we're not there dealing with the realities. And if Mandela is not a Christian...then what more can we expect?

Like Martin Luther King jr. and many others, it is hard 'not' to admire them, but as Christians we must be careful. In one sense we can certainly appreciate Providence at work and yet that doesn't mean 'all' these men did or stood for was right.

Even non-violence can be used to project power. Not all non-violence is truly pacifistic.

And yet there's a lesson in all this. Truly one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist. While we cannot endorse violence, we need to keep the realities of life in a fallen world before us and not be fooled by the labels used by those in power.

Had Mandela died in prison and the Apartheid regime continued...then how would he be remembered?

Had Washington died in battle and the Revolution failed, wouldn't it be the '76 just as Bonnie Prince Charlie was the failed rebel in the '45?

Realpolitik (pragmatic v. ideological politics) can sometimes be nothing more than a cloak for amoral actions and aggression. You can shrug your shoulders and say the world is broken. We have to live with it. This was the Nixon-Kissinger policy toward South Africa.

In that case Realpolitik can be a force for evil.

In another sense, it can serve as a model for a balance of power, perhaps the best we can hope for in a fallen world. No regime is wholly good, that's the nature of power. What is paramount is security and peace. Not every evil regime can be stopped but this sense does not allow for endless manipulation and amoral aggression.

As Biblical Christians we acknowledge a battle of good v. evil, but in terms of geopolitics we must always understand that when fallen men wield power, there's simply evil. Sometimes it's evil v. greater evil, but we must not confuse the lesser evil with the good.

Sacralism won't allow for this approach. It's an abuse of the term but today's political analysts refer to political Idealism as Manichaean. By this they don't mean to suggest political leaders have embraced a form of medieval Gnostic Zoroastrianism. Rather, they're alluding to Zoroastrianism's cosmology which cast the world in terms of good v. evil.

Political Sacralism would be a more accurate term. Under this flawed understanding all political questions are cast in terms of good v. evil and your side is always 'the good'.

Political Idealism can in some ways be the most dangerous. It doesn't allow for compromise or negotiation. In fact it can at times make a bad situation worse. Political Disinvestment or economic sanctions can create other crises and drive the nation you're trying to punish into the arms of an enemy, or it can destabilize a country and in the end create a worse monster.

There are no good solutions to these problems, but I'm struck by the amoral and thus hypocritical and immoral language and action on the part of leaders like Reagan and Thatcher. They spoke of high ideals and yet pragmatically were willing to play dirty and ally with evil in order to accomplish their goals. Savimbi the blood diamond funded guerilla who used child soldiers was as Reagan put it, a freedom fighter while Mandela was a terrorist.

Idealistic politics in the end are fictitious. The only way a nation can truly remain Idealistic is if they're willing to be Isolationist....which at times is frankly impossible.

Sometimes in order to resist outside forces means internal change...in which case you're not really isolated. For example if you're under threat of a more massive industrial power and you wish to resist their domination and the change it will bring to your culture, then you must to some extent industrialize and change the structure of your society in order to create a military resistance. You've maintained autonomy and yet you've been affected.  Or you must look to another power for help, in which you case you've swapped one form of domination for another.  Very few countries have been able to pull this off and those that have (like Vietnam) have paid a horrific price. And in the end, nearly forty years later they've abandoned the ideology they supposedly fought for, though they have maintained their national integrity.

There are no good answers and yet how many people are brimming with moral rectitude when listening to Reagan or Bush's rhetoric?

They're willingly living in a dream.

All I'm saying is...don't be fooled. Power is power and truth is about the last concern for those who wield it.

1 comment:

Protoprotestant said...

I wrote a related piece that I posted at the other site: