For Those Playing At Home, This Means Jonas Savimbi Is Four Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon


Recommended reading: Mark Hemingway's entertaining account in the current Weekly Standard of his dinner three years ago with the now-disgraced, then-still-graced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. You should enjoy the article just because it's a funny story, but I liked it for an extra reason: It resolves one lingering mystery of the Great Contra Summit.

Everyone remembers the Nicaraguan contras, who resisted Sandinista tyranny (or at least killed a nun or two) back in the 1980s. But for American anti-Communists seeking a Che of their own, the Nicaraguans were just one of several purportedly freedom-loving armies battling Soviet proxies around the world. Devotees of the Reagan Doctrine endorsed such unlikely heroes as Angola's UNITA (a group fresh from an alliance with the Red Chinese, and guilty of deliberately shooting down a civilian airplane), Laotian and Cambodian nationalists (the Cambodians were effectively fronts for Pol Pot), and Afghanistan's mujahideen (who repaid their patrons' generosity on September 11, 2001). The hard-core ideologues loved Mozambique's RENAMO too, though its human rights record was so bad that even the Reagan administration, a proud sponsor of the other guerrillas, decided it should keep its distance. With Rite Aid's Lewis Lehrman paying their way, Abramoff and Jack Wheeler, the Edgar Snow of the right, organized a summit for the Angolans, Nicaraguans, Laotians, and Afghans, who got together in Jamba, Angola, and pledged their mutual support.

This attracted some coverage in the press (including Reason, which at the time took the Reagan Doctrine more seriously than it deserved), but the one publication that seemed really excited about the summit was The Guardian. Not the British Guardian—I don't know whether they covered it at all. I mean New York's now-defunct Marxist weekly, which greeted the alignment of so many counterrevolutionary villains with the excitement of a Freeper who's found a photo of Cindy Sheehan sharing freedom fries with Jane Fonda, Dan Rather, and Osama bin Laden.

I've always wondered if anything concrete came out of the contra convention. Thanks to Hemingway's article, I now know that it paved the way for the Abramoff-penned Dolph Lundgren vehicle Red Scorpion:

for Abramoff, the pivotal moment in Jamba came when he was approached by someone trying to secure funding for a documentary about [UNITA leader Jonas] Savimbi. Abramoff scoffed. Rambo: First Blood Part II had just been released in theaters three weeks earlier, becoming the first film to open on more than 2,000 screens. "Why would you want to make a documentary? Nobody watches documentaries," he told me. "I said to the guy, 'You should make an action film.'"

One thing led to another, and before you know it Jack was on location with Lundgren, M. Emmet Walsh, and a 95-year-old Bushman actor whose terms "included the condition that the producers find him a wife." That's the Reagan Doctrine: bringing love to Africa, one native thespian at a time.

NEXT: IP at MoJo

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  1. “Dana Rohrabacher Is Four Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon”

    Actually, they’re no more than two degrees apart:

    Dana Rohrabacher is in Gods and Generals with Kevin Conway.

    Kevin Conway is in Mystic River with Kevin Bacon.

    What is my subscription paying for if you’re not going to put in 5 minutes of research at IMDb, Walker?

  2. Holy crap. And I actually watched Gods and Generals, so I should know that.

    I’ll change the title.

  3. Thank you for the attention to detail, Jesse. 🙂 As an aside, I’m amazed that Robert Duval and Kevin Bacon have never done a movie together.

  4. You couldn’t make this up. That is craaazy.

  5. (including Reason, which at the time took the Reagan Doctrine more seriously than it deserved)

    I seem to recall Reason publishing articles by Jack Wheeler in the mid 80s. While they were well written (and even entertaining) I found myself unconvinced that the Khmer Rouge and Savimbi were at heart lovers of “free minds and free markets”.

    I just assumed that Reason was giving as open a hearing as they could.

    Finding out more about Jack Wheeler in the late 90s and early 00s was quite an eye-opener for me.

  6. Wait?

    Is that the same Jack Abramoff?

    That’s two horrible things Jack has done to this country.

  7. Seeing the new headline, I checked and you’re right about four degrees. Did you actually work that out?

    Kevin Bacon is in The Gift with M. Emmet Walsh.

    M. Emmet Walsh is in Red Scorpion written by Jack Abramoff.

    Jack Abramoff meets unnamed UNITA supporter at Jamba conference.

    Unnamed UNITA supporter presumably knows Jonas Savimbi.

  8. The libertarian Cato institute seemed to have the right idea about Reagan’s “Freedom Fighters” back in the halcyon days of 1986.

  9. The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend Doctrine goes back farther than Ronald Reagan. …and in spite of all ugliness, there may have been something to it. …certainly it might have been applied more selectively. …maybe it woud have been better as the Enemy of my Enemy and I Used to Hang Out in the Same Clubs Doctrine.

    …and in spite of the ugliness, I think I prefered it to the recent It’s Us Against the World, the Casual Acquaintances of my Enemy are my Enemy as Well as the Constitution Doctrine.

  10. Afghanistan’s mujahideen (who repaid their patrons’ generosity on September 11, 2001)

    I hate to quibble, but it was my understanding that the remnants of the Mujahedeen were the so-called “Northern Alliance” guys, and that the players in the Taliban had had no part in the resistance to the Soviets. The Taliban guys were supposedly camped out in Madrassas chasing co-eds at the time.

    Now bin Laden was hanging out with the Mujahedeen guys, but I thought that the meme of CIA-made-bin-Laden had been largely debunked.

    Don’t take this as an endorsement of that aspect of the Reagan doctrine. But it did beat the War on Everything.

  11. SR: I was routing it through Lundgren instead of Walsh (which adds a step) and assuming that Abramoff and Savimbi knew each other (which subtracts one). So maybe it should be three degrees.

    Lunchstealer: I didn’t say they made him, just that he benefited from their largess. Though for the record, you can make a pretty good case that the consequences of that largess were significant.

  12. Xmas is right. Shouldn’t Abramoff been disgraced a long time ago for prolonging Dolph Lundgren’s career?

  13. The “Reagan Doctrine” was developed by Jack Wheeler and Dana Rohrabacher, as a conscious imitation of the New Left & Communist ideas of a “world revolution.”

    Like the Trotskyists, who had no forces of their own, the Wheeler/Rohrabacher “right-wing libertarians” had to make do with whatever they could find – the Contras, Savimbi’s UNITA, etc.

    Savimbi’s UNITA had Maoist origins, but did not split with China in order to get Reagan Doctrine aid – China was opposed to Soviet Imperialism at the time and backed UNITA and the Afghan Mujahideen as well as forcing the Khmer anti-Communists into an alliance with the Khmer Rouge.

    Reason Magazine was the premier publicity outlet for Jack Wheeler’s articles, which mentioned Chinese support for UNITA as a positive, and elided over the alliance of the Free Khmer forces with Khmer Rouge.

    I know more, but enough for now.

  14. I initially read the one part as “the Edgar Winter of the right”.

  15. This is the strangest blog entry I’ve read in some time.

  16. Okay, I’ll bite.

    …How so, joe?

  17. Kevin,

    I must break you.

  18. This makes me want to look up an old college, whose boyfriend was president of the Young Conservatives of Texas and some level of muckety – muck with the College Republicans. Frank had to have known Michael Scanlon and Ralph Reed from the CR’s. (This was the early ’80’s, when all Jack’s boys were big in that group.) The thing is, Frank won a trip from the apartheid government of South Africa to visit Pretoria and have his picture taken with lots of government officials. Having your picture taken with apartheid government officers was pretty much political suicide even in Texas in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and Frank was nothing if not ambitious. This was about the same time. I wonder if Frank, Heaven help us, was at that meeting? (He was, by the way, the biggest stuffed shirt I’ve ever met in my life, and I’m a litigator.) Until now, I thought my biggest political connection was having turned Paul Begala down for a date when I was a sophomore at UT.

  19. Arrrrgh. “old college buddy” Preview, always preview, even if it makes the server squirrels really annoyed.

  20. To Walker, nothing the United States does, or did, is worth anything but his sneering rage. I despise anti-Americans.

  21. Glad you could show up, Jack.

  22. Perhaps because this is in the news Fred Reed covered this in his column today.

    Fred seems to have seen a whole lot more of the world than I. This seems to have made him the kind of cynic that makes me look like Mary Sunshine.

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