As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All The Lovely Lobbyists

John McCain's firing of two lobbyists who worked for the military junta in Burma opened a window into his many other associates who have dealings with some of the worst dictators and bad actors on the planet. Charlie Black is a one-man wrecking crew all by himself, consorting with Blackwater, Chiquita (who has admitted to paying terrorists in Colombia), Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Ferdinand Marcos, Mohammed Said Barre of Somalia, and maybe the worst, Jonas Savimbi of Angola.

Those of you who were too young to be paying attention during the 1980s might not remember Jonas Savimbi and his organization, UNITA. Briefly: there had been armed resistance to Portuguese rule for years, but when Angola became independent of Portugal in 1975, a full-bore civil war broke out. It lasted, with a few short breaks, from 1975 until Savimbi's death in 2002. It started as a scramble for power after independence, heightened by the Cold War. (Apparently, declassified documents show that we intervened before the USSR and Cuba. I didn't know that.) Savimbi, who started out as a Maoist and a Portuguese agent, became one of our guys (he was also heavily supported by the apartheid government of South Africa); his main rival, the actual government of Angola, was supported by the USSR and Cuba.

During the 1980s, this turned into a full-bore Cold War proxy fight. This did not have to happen. We could have let Angola be. Its government was dreadful, but Savimbi was no rose either; even if you think that we should intervene in other countries, when a country seems to have a choice between two awful options, there's no real point in choosing sides, and certainly no point in plunging a country into civil war to get your side to win. This would not have prevented civil war -- Savimbi was supported by South Africa, which had a policy of trying to bog down the states near its borders in civil wars -- but it would have meant not actively contributing to the destruction of a country for no good reason. Alternatively, we could have chosen to support Savimbi, who was even more dreadful, in a civil war.

We chose to support Savimbi, with predictable results:

"The tap that Kissinger had turned on, and Carter had turned off, was opened again in 1981, when Ronald Reagan approved a covert aid package for Unita. South African Special Forces were good at what they did. Unita’s performance was already much improved by comparison with its half-hearted exertions against the Portuguese. Even so, Washington’s financial and diplomatic backing was an immense boost. The country, which was now a Cold War cockpit, remained undefeatable, but it could be comprehensively ruined, and this is what happened. The figures for war-related deaths, and child deaths in particular, leapt dramatically in the 1980s. Towns and villages were deserted or shelled to extinction. The countryside was a living death. There were landmines and limbless people everywhere (there still are). Young men were press-ganged into the burgeoning rabble of the Angolan Army, where the discipline of the elite units could not hope to reach. Unita kidnapped and abducted its fighters or picked up the homeless, traumatised survivors of Government offensives. Some of them were so-called ‘child soldiers’ – ‘premature adults’ is a better description. Provincial capitals became slum havens for hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Savimbi’s struggle, subsumed though it was in a large-scale offensive driven by South Africa and paid for in the United States, had come home to Angola."

Charlie Black was UNITA's lobbyist - and he's continued to lobby for his clients from aboard the Straight Talk Express. This is just a taste - you should read the whole thing at hilzoy's.

Campaign Money Watch has jumped on these unsavory associations and is demanding McCain to fire the lobbyists, which of course would be his entire campaign staff, so it's not going to happen. So they're focusing on Black, Tom Loeffler and Peter Madigan, who have worked for some of the most repressive regimes. Progressive Media USA has more.

Eventually, I'm sure that the traditional media will get around to covering this. Right. Maybe sometime around the first press conference after the inaugural.

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