Monday, February 25, 2013

Inside Grover Norquist: The Jonas Savimbi Connection

Norquist Groverby Nomad

The name, Grover Norquist, is by now a familiar one to most Americans. He made a name for himself by crusading against taxes. Though he has never been elected to political office, his influence in the Republican party has made him a fixture in every election.
Yet, most people are unaware that the man has a long and colorful history in conservative circles. Most controversial is his support for Angolan leader Jonas Savimbi, rebel fighter who led child soldiers into war and who "killed, abducted, and terrorized civilians with impunity."

Michael Grunwald of Time’s Swampland once called Grover Norquist “an idealistic advocate of bad ideas." His ideals, however, haven't always been confined to thoughts alone. When they have led to action, the results, at least, for one African country death and misery of the innocent for the sake of his principle. 
Most of us are familiar with his bad idea of “Taxpayer Protection Pledge" to oppose all tax increases and under all circumstances. We all know how he has bullied Republicans after they foolishly committed themselves to the poorly-conceived notion.
However there’s another less publicized bad idea hidden in Norquist’s background that has failed to get a lot of attention in the mainstream media. Actually that’s a shame because his famous war against tax cuts represents a small part of the colorful Norquist biography. In this post, we will take a closer look at his Angolan connections. 

What sparked my interest was this remark. Norquist once told an interviewer: 
"During the eighties, l was very active with the Afghan resistance, and in Mozambique and Angola.” 
That intriguing remark, (confirmed by his own mother), is worth a closer look. 


The statement most likely refers to his work as research director for a "grass-roots" conservative 501 (C) (3) and (4) non-profit organization called Citizens for America (CFA). To call it a grass roots organization is a big stretch unless the grass is on the White House lawn. Its own website states that the group was "founded in 1983 at a White House meeting between Lewis Lehrman and Jack Hume, [CEO of Basic American Foods], to promote the Reagan agenda."

Nowadays grassroots organizations are started by corporate heads and investment bankers. A good example is  Lewis Lehrman, a former president of Rite Aid drugstores, a board member of various right wing groups like Project for the New American Century, American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. Later, in the late 1980s he would become the managing director of Morgan Stanley. 
Lehrman also happened to be an unfortunate investor in George W. Bush’s first oil company, Arbusto). 
To understand how Norquist could have found himself on a plane to war-torn Angola we have to take a brief side step.

Enemies of my Enemies
The Reagan Cold War policy was a simple one; Any rebel group fighting the Communist threat in the developing world- freedom fighters was the term the president liked to use- deserved American support. But it required a hard sell in Washington. Congress was understandably dubious about any direct support and repeatedly put roadblocks in the Neo-conservatives way.

Outside of the fact that many saw arming insurgents (as the Reagan administration did in Afghanistan) inside a sovereign nation was a breach in international law, this simplistic approach was both short-sighted and dangerous. For one thing, one problem was that the type of rebel leaders that drew support tended to be hardly any better than the communists they were replacing. In many cases they were worse. Whether you could call them terrorists or not, the only thing going for them was that they were our terrorists. 

One confidential and distinctly unofficial event was held in 1985 in Jamba, Angola, which brought together an international collection of anti-communist rebel leaders. Nicaraguan, Laos, Afghanistan. The meeting, named Democracy International, was staged in the rebel headquarters of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA)  and was hosted by the Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi. From the CFA side, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff - later to be convicted in a lobbying scandal--helped Norquist organize the meeting. Lehrman was also in attendance. Exactly how many CIA operatives were already in Angola at the time is not known.

Paling Around with Norquist
Very early in his career Norquist made a lot of influential friends in the conservative movement. His positions give some us some idea about his reach:
Norquist preferred to work behind the scenes and instead of entering into politics with all of the scrutiny that that entails, Norquist became a powerful lobbyist. In addition to his domestic causes, he also found time to lobby for foreign entities as well. 

The Nation magazine provides more information about Norquist’s activities during those days:
“During the second half of the 1980s, Norquist detoured from his tax work to engage in a series of safaris to far-off battlegrounds in support of anti-Soviet guerrilla armies, visiting war zones from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to southern Africa. Working alongside Col. Oliver North's freelance support network for the Nicaraguan contras and other Reagan Doctrine-allied insurgencies, Norquist promoted U.S. support for groups like Mozambique's RENAMO and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA in Angola, both of which were backed by South Africa's apartheid regime (Norquist represented UNITA as a registered lobbyist in the early 1990s).”
In fact, Norquist reportedly admitted to being the voice of Savimbi by ghost-writing some op-ed articles, promoting the freedom fighting benefits of UNITA. On one occasion, Norquist allegedly donned a UNITA uniform while on a visit to Angolan rebel-held zones.( He stripped down quickly when actual fighting broke out.) 
So much for the patriot.

A year after the Democracy International meeting, in 1986, Savimbi was invited to the White House. The meeting was, as we have seen, superfluous since by that time, lobbyists like Norquist and right wing organizations, like The Heritage Foundation, had paved the way beforehand. After the one-on-one, Reagan spoke of UNITA in glowing terms, saying that the group was winning “ victory that electrifies the world." 

Interestingly, despite the questions about Savimbi, Wikipedia has one positive quote- which appears in several wiki entries on Angola, Savimbi and CIA activities there. That enthusiastic quote comes from a missionary, Dr. Peter Hammond, who lived there at the time. And what a time it was. Angola had become another one of the many Cold War battlefields, with imported Cuban troops on one side (sent by Castro without Soviet permission) and Western-backed rebel insurgents on the other (with the full support of Washington.).
"There were over 50,000 Cuban troops in the country. The communists had attacked and destroyed many churches. MiG-23s and Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships were terrorising villagers in Angola. I documented numerous atrocities, including the strafing of villages, schools and churches. In 1986, I remember hearing Ronald Reagan's speech – carried on the BBC Africa service – by short wave radio: "We are going to send Stinger missiles to the UNITA Freedom Fighters in Angola!" ...Without any doubt, Ronald Reagan's policies saved many tens of thousands of lives in Angola."
A little further research reveals something more about this quote. Hammond’s credentials as a missionary have repeatedly been called into question since, according to some sources, he "was granted an honorary doctorate in missiology,” also known as “Mailorder Missionaries.”

As this link demonstrates, Dr. Hammond is certainly not the simple missionary that Wikipedia quote suggests. If his website is any indication, Hammond inhabits a world in which missionaries can become fighters. 
Apologies, I digress.

Norquist, UNITA and Child Soldiers
Let’s turn back to back to Norquist and his relationship with UNITA. That Democracy International meeting was not the only jaunt Norquist made to Africa. In fact, Norquist made repeated trips to rebel controlled territory in Angola in the 1980s. 
A little backtracking is necessary here. 

UNITA and the USA had an on-off affair throughout the 1970s and 80s. In 1975, President Ford had warmed up to UNITA. Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State, supported the intervention into Angola by South African troops in support of UNITA.. President Carter on the other hand cut off ties with Savimbi and during that time, the US State Department considered UNITA a terrorist organization. As we have said, Reagan renewed the American relationship. 

There was plenty of red flags about UNITA- all of which American conservatives ignored.. It was described by one human rights organization as:
“a rebel group led by Jonas Savimbi, [that] killed, abducted, and terrorized civilians with impunity.”
Another organization, the United States Institute for Peace, said of the former Marxist turned freedom fighter: 
“Savimbi is indeed responsible for a litany of crimes against humanity.”
In his previous incarnation, the guerilla leader had been schooled in classic Maoist approaches to warfare before rejecting all things Communist. Human Rights campaigners charged that UNITA used child soldiers during the Angolan Civil War. This was the same time that Norquist was a registered lobbyist for the organization. 

Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Josh Horwitz, writing for the Huffington Post describes Norquist’s early activities like this:
During the 1980s, he supported anti-Communist movements even when "Freedom Fighters" were perpetrating human rights abuses against the very countrymen they were "liberating." Two of the organizations Norquist backed were UNITA and RENAMO. RENAMO has been accused of killing over one million civilians in Mozambique. UNITA employed child soldiers throughout the Angolan Civil War, including during the time that Norquist was a registered lobbyist for the organization.
But Norquist didn’t limit his lobbying coverage just to Angola and Mozambique. 
Norquist also lobbied for the interests of a number of African dictators in the United States, including Omar Bongo of Gabon, Pascal Lissouba of the Republic of Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko of (then) Zaire, and France-Albert René of Seychelles.
Norquist also worked with Hamas and Hezbollah. (Talk about paling around with terrorists)
Norquist's firm also represented a Hamas and Hezbollah supporter now serving a 23-year prison sentence for his role in a terrorist plot. Norquist was candid about the anti-democratic character of these tyrants, even describing René as "a guy who preferred not to have elections for a number of years."
Clearly Norquist doesn’t put a lot of faith in the beauty of democracy. After all, for a man who has never held any elected office, Norquist certainly wholeheartedly enjoys the trappings of power. The entire Republican party seems afraid to cross him.

The Reckoning of Norquist's Bad Ideas
The Reagan doctrine, which Norquist and the other Neo-conservatives so strongly supported, was a very mixed success-even in the short term. Despite all of Norquist’s lobbying and hands-on interference, Savimbi’s UNITA, like the Contras in Nicaragua, like the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, were all about manipulating the American foreign policy for the sake of power. 
For some impartial outsiders, America's willingness to break the UN Charter, along with its extreme naivety when it came to insurgent leaders, brought it down to the same level as the Soviet Union.  In some ways, American prestige has never completely recovered.

According to his obituary in Los Angeles Times, Savimbi was quite willing to work with Angola’s former colonial masters, the Portuguese to eliminate any rival rebel movement.,
By 1977, the story of Savimbi's betrayal of the Angolan independence movement was public knowledge in Western Europe. In 1979, the mainstream Lisbon weekly Expresso concluded: "The fact that Savimbi collaborated with the Portuguese colonial authorities has been so amply proven that no one can question it in good faith."
Later the same held true when it came to utilizing the help of Pretoria. Then came Washington’s turn. 
He was a warlord whose overriding principle was absolute power, and if this required an agreement with Portuguese colonial authorities first, and then a dalliance with apartheid, so be it.
Power, weapons and international recognition were the things which, through intense lobbying of Washington politicians, Grover Norquist supplied in full. 

In the early 1990s, after the Cold War had ended, Savimbi lost his importance in conservative circles. The Angolan government held free elections and Savimbi lost. This demonstration of democracy in action didn’t discourage the rebel leader. He continued fighting up until his assassination by the Angolan military in 2002 

We all know what the good book says about those that live by the sword, so his fate was no great surprise. However, the Bible says nothing about what happens to the people who furnish them the swords. Or in this case, the stingers missiles. 

Following Savimbi’s assassination, editor Jeremy Harding in a piece written for the London Review of Books, back in 2002 wrote:
Jonas Savimbi stole just about everything and he should not be pitied. ... In the attempt, which lasted roughly thirty years, he robbed Angolan peasants of just about everything and several well-known politicians of their plausibility. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Reagan Administration’s henchperson at the UN, described him as ‘one of the authentic heroes of our time’, and Reagan himself is reported to have likened him to Abraham Lincoln. Even as he ceased to serve the purposes of Washington and Pretoria at the end of the Cold War, he continued to persuade Western right-wing lobbyists and anti-Communist crusaders to part with their money: ‘hearts, minds and purses’ was the Savimbi strategy on this front and it paid off handsomely.
That reference to right-wing lobbyisst definitely included Norquist whose job it was to separate the politically-minded conservative fools from their money. another note: the fact that Reagan compared Savimbi to Lincoln- besides being a calumny to history- has CFA's Lehrman's fingerprints all over it. Lehrman has had a life-long passion for the 16th president and later would write and lecture about Abraham Lincoln's legacy in American history.

The Ironic Twist
Today, Jonas Savimbi, the guerrilla famous for his Angolan child army, is ironically a familiar face with American children who probably have have no idea who he might be. 
Rendered as a grenade-launching comic book character, the warlord’s likeness appears in a popular computer game, Call of Duty-Black Ops II a first person shooter game. The plotline of the game is interesting to read; it uses a mash-up of a Neo-con false-narrative history as background material. Norquist could have written it himself.

The US army took a look at these types of simulation games and liked what they saw. With its high degree of realism, officials considered them to be wonderful training for soldiers in the battlefield.

On the other hand, the NRA has cited the marketing of these games- rather than guns- to be the true cause of these massacres. There’s some (but not much) support to that idea. Adam Lanza, the armed attacker of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, reportedly spent hours playing the game in his basement.

The irony doesn’t stop there. When the National Rifle Association (NRA) leader LaPierre suggested that the real problem with school attacks was there simply wasn’t enough armed protection at the facilities. Norquist’s response to the suggestion was:
“This is an idea that seems fairly reasonable.”
He also added: 
“The gun-control advocates, for a long time, have jumped on every tragedy and tried to exploit it in unhelpful ways.,I think the NRA did well to hold off for awhile in responding. We ought to calm down and not take tragedies like this, crimes like this, and use them for political purposes.
As we have seen in his Angolan connections, Norquist is an authority on exploiting tragedies for political purposes. 

Of course, his stand on the proposal shouldn’t surprise anybody. Grover Norquist, after all, sits upon the board of directors of the NRA. 

So I suppose the question is whether to expect another of Grover Norquist's bad ideas. That is, whether he is actually finished arming child soldiers for an insurgent army yet.
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