Friday, December 08, 2006

When conflict diamonds were cool

The decorum of Wise Washington will require that the death of Jeane Kirkpatrick be appropriately mourned. As a counterweight, let us instead recall one infamous rhetorical episode from her career, nicely recounted by an article in one of those issues of the New Republic where their good side showed up. The context -- in what was both a current and leading indicator of the reactionary right's overseas activities -- was their infatuation with Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, a civil war entrepreneur if ever there was one:

But, by mouthing the right words, Savimbi cemented the [conservative] movement's undying loyalty. The relationship culminated at a 1986 black-tie dinner for the Conservative Political Action Committee. Kirkpatrick delivered a passionate introduction for Savimbi: a "linguist, philosopher, poet, politician, warrior, ... one of the few authentic heroes of our time." As she worked herself toward the climactic moment when she would call Savimbi forward to receive an award for his dedicated anticommunism, she intoned, "Real assistance means real weapons! ... Real helicopters, ... real ground-to-air missiles." It was then that Savimbi, a burly man who conformed perfectly to Hollywood's image of the guerrilla leader, ambled to the lectern. The room broke into a chant, "U-NI-TA, U-NI-TA." At this euphoric moment, Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, told a reporter, "If Jonas Savimbi were an American citizen, he would be the presidential candidate of the conservative movement in 1988."

Angola survived this lunacy, although at dreadful cost to its citizens. Sensible US foreign policy did not.

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