Of all the iniquitous ventures of American imperialism in recent decades, certainly the least defensible at the bar of reason has been U.S. intervention in the civil war in Angola. It turns out that our top intelligence decision arm, the 40 Committee (headed by Henry Kissinger), decided at a secret meeting in January 1975 to accelerate greatly U.S. arms aid to two of the three warring tribal factions in Angola, factions who were battling over the spoils attendant on an imminent Portuguese pull-out from that African colony. After a Soviet response in the spring of aiding the third faction, another secret 40 Committee decision in July greatly escalated U.S. military aid, now estimated as totalling $50 million, funnelled to the two factions by the CIA. When the massive American aid gained victories for "our" two factions, the Soviets responded with a massive airlift of its own in the fall, and thousands of warring Cuban and South African troops added to the grave danger of a global war arising from a hitherto unknown land. It also looks as if the CIA has been training mercenaries to fight in the Angolan conflict. Fortunately, the U.S. Congress, acting on leaks from troubled American officials, has passed measures banning any further covert aid to Angola, and perhaps this will end the Angolan menace to world peace—despite President Ford's continued pleas for further military aid to "our friends", and his standard interventionist blather about the "deep tragedy" of the Congressional vote for "all countries whose security depends on the United States".
Who are "our friends"—the FNLA and UNITA—whom we must risk a global war to save in Angola? What sort of "free world" representatives are these? The FNLA exists only in northern Angola, and there really only with the Bakongo tribe, the same tribe which controls neighboring Zaire. The FNLA and its leader, Holden Roberto, launched the earliest guerrilla war against the Portuguese in the early 1960's. Right-wing journals in this country were filled for years with attacks against Roberto and his men for mass rapes against Portuguese women in northern Angola. Those charges were correct, and the mass rapes and banditry of Roberto's troops undoubtedly continue, but now they are hushed up, since Roberto has now acquired his sudden status as "a leader of the free world." Since the Portuguese departure, the U.S. has put its chips on Roberto, who has long been on a CIA retainer, as has been his brother-in-law, General Mobutu, the military dictator of Zaire, whom the U.S. had backed as dictator of Zaire as against the Marxist Lumumba and against the pro-free enterprise Katanga secession movement headed by Moise Tshombe.
"Our friends" in southern Angola consist of UNITA, headed by a colorful character named Dr. Jonas Savimbi, who broke off from FNLA in the early 1960's for being too pro-American. The purely paper-thin FNLA presence in the South consisted of Daniel Chipenda, who had been a leader of the "Communist" MPLA faction until 1974. (Having launched an attack on his UNITA allies in December, 1975, Savimbi has succeeded in driving Chipenda and his pseudo FNLA out of Angola altogether.) Savimbi's movement is also largely tribal, being based on the Ovimbundu tribe in the south.
That leaves the bad "Commies," the MPLA, based in the capital city of Luanda and a small strip in the center, headed by Dr. Agostinho Neto. Being urban based, the MPLA has relatively more educated (and hence more Marxist) intellectuals, but the crucial point is that, ideologically, there is not a dime's worth of difference between any of the three factions. They are all statist bandits, and their only real differences are tribal. For the United States to get involved in this war of tribes and factions, much less to risk a world war and to dress the whole affair up in the usual anti-Communist bogeyman rhetoric, can only be considered grotesque at best. As for Dr. Savimbi—his "free world" status may be gauged by his expressed ultimate political aim: to join a coalition government under the evil Neto. As Savimbi put it, with refreshing candor, "Neto is 60 and thinks he should be president. Let him be president. I am 40 and can wait."
The major point is that there are really no "countries" in all of Africa, in any genuine sense. The "countries" were purely administrative creatures of Western imperialism—British, French, Spanish, Belgian and Portuguese—and they incorporated, as well as cut through, the true national entities in Africa, the particular tribes. Western imperialism dictated to these tribes in newly expanded capital cities, which performed a state-building and despotic function, and when leaving, the Western countries simply turned the state apparatus over to a Western-trained urban elite, ready to assume rule on their own. It was virtual civil war at home that prevented Portugal from doing the same in Angola—hence the conflict among the three warring factions. If outside hands are kept off, all of these "countries" would rapidly disintegrate into their natural tribal units. But to keep hands off, the U.S. would have to abandon its post-World War II foreign policy of propping up "stable" existing centralized states throughout the globe. Certainly, there is no rational excuse whatever for American intervention in the African continent.
Murray Rothbard is professor of economics at the Polytechnic Institute of New York. Dr. Rothbard's viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with the viewpoints of Tibor Machan and David Brudnoy.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Viewpoint: The Angola Caper".