Commentary Magazine


Jesse Jackson; the Blacks & American Foreign Policy

Since the time of Vietnam, when Martin Luther King, Jr. lent his considerable moral prestige to the antiwar cause, the participation of prominent blacks in the debate over American foreign policy has been a source of intermittent and sometimes heated controversy. The political landscape has undergone far-reaching changes, however, since King asserted that racism lay at the root of U.S. involvement in Vietnam in much the same way that racism had produced an unequal society at home. Then, the single act of publicly rejecting the war policies of the Johnson administration earned King a great deal of criticism, even hostility, with some of the criticism emanating from the civil-rights movement itself. Today, by contrast, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, one of King’s lieutenants and currently a candidate for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, has developed a perspective on foreign policy sharply at variance with both the Reagan administration and the declared views of many leading figures of his own party. Yet while Jackson’s positions on international affairs have been duly recorded by the press, they have not been subjected to anything approaching the intense scrutiny which the views of such other Democratic candidates as Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, John Glenn, or even George McGovern have evoked. This is unfortunate, for Jackson is altogether serious about foreign policy.

Jackson’s ideas about foreign policy are often described as embodying a “Third World approach” to international affairs. He has criticized his Democratic presidential rivals for holding a “Europe-centric” attitude while ignoring or minimizing the needs of the underdeveloped countries, and he has condemned Americans in general for harboring feelings of “arrogance and contempt” for the impoverished nations of the Third World. Given his view that the U.S. should undertake a major reorientation in its policies toward the Third World, his positions on many of the most controversial issues of the day provide few surprises. He favors normalization of relations with the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and a cut-off of aid to the government of El Salvador. He calls for the imposition of trade sanctions on South Africa and the elimination of policies which inhibit trade between the U.S. and black Africa. In addition, he advocates massive increases in the amount of foreign aid given African countries, and the elimination of special conditions—such as a country’s support for U.S. positions in the United Nations—which the Reagan administration has attached to our assistance programs. He has also called for the U.S. to continue its membership in UNESCO.

Looked at collectively, these positions are not especially unusual. Nor is there anything outlandish in Jackson’s endorsement of the nuclear freeze and a decrease in defense spending, or even his advocacy of a reduction in U.S. troop deployments in Europe. Indeed, with the exception of his strong sympathies for the PLO, there is little in the various policy prescriptions advanced by Jackson to distinguish him from many, perhaps most, liberal Democrats.

Where Jackson does diverge, however, is in his statements regarding the underlying values of American involvement in world affairs. Thus in a speech this past summer on America’s role during and after World War II, he went so far as to say:

Psychologically, America emerged out of the Second World War arrogant, militarily victorious, with a sense of “We can conquer the world.” It believed that might was right, and not that right was might.

More recently, Jackson has referred to the Reagan administration as a “repressive regime” and asserted, at a meeting of representatives of the Organization of African Unity at the UN, that “Third World nations are being raped and robbed of valuable raw materials” in the service of a coming nuclear holocaust. Jackson, born and raised in Greenville, South Carolina, refers to himself as having grown up as a “Third World resident in the first world,” and of having been “born in occupied territory, having lived for all of my developing years under apartheid.”

Jackson also makes repeated references to America’s “obsession with Communism,” an affliction from which he most certainly does not suffer. He has, for example, described the Berlin Wall as “a monument to a crisis in communications which has caused so much pain to so many people,” a remark which betrays his entire attitude toward East-West relations. While Jackson cannot bring himself to acknowledge the Wall as a concrete symbol of Communist oppression, he does not hesitate to make the most sweeping attacks on the United States as a bastion of militarism and racism. His reaction to the invasion of Grenada is particularly revealing. Americans, he declared, “should feel a sense of outrage and disgrace” over the action, which “must be seen as part of a whole approach to foreign policy . . . characterized by gunboat and big-stick diplomacy, manifest destiny, militant adventurism, and racial insensitivity.” And in a statement that is, to say the least, strange coming from a man who does not hesitate to criticize American “contempt” for the Third World, Jackson accused the Caribbean democracies which supported the landing as having “their hands stretched out, appealing for aid,” and implied that Dominica Prime Minister Eugenia Charles had received a $10-million grant from the U.S. as reward for her support for the action.

Jackson did not originate the proposition that America has evolved into a racist and imperialist world bully, that our postwar “arrogance” was responsible for the cold war, that the use of our military force in the Third World reflects a deep-seated contempt for non-whites, and that the superpower rivalry is really much less urgent today than the necessity of dealing with the inequities between the rich industrialized nations and the impoverished states of the Third World. These notions were embraced, in varying degrees, by many prominent Democrats in the past two decades, including the 1972 presidential nominee. Chastened by the 1980 returns, however, most Democrats have by now disavowed the party’s flirtation with anti-Americanism, whether out of tactical prudence or because of a genuine change of mind. Not so Jesse Jackson. Paradoxically, however, Jackson’s continued espousal of a world view dominated by the image of a militaristic and racially insensitive America has not damaged his public standing.

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Nor is this the first time that Jackson has advanced highly controversial views about world affairs at minimal cost to his reputation or influence. Indeed, Jackson’s notoriety owes as much to his statements and activities relating to the Middle East crisis as anything else he has done during his career as civil-rights leader and politician. The history of Jackson’s participation in the Middle East debate bears close examination. For while Jackson has successfully projected the image of a man vaguely sympathetic to the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a homeland, his statements reveal a combination of intellectual confusion, gross ignorance of modern Jewish history, a benign attitude toward the terrorist acts of the PLO, and a propensity to ascribe continued U.S. support for Israel to the money and votes of American Jews.

Jackson first became seriously involved in Middle East affairs after the 1979 dismissal of United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young for violating government policy by meeting with the PLO’s representative to the UN. Along with a number of other black leaders, Jackson blamed American Jews for Young’s ouster. In an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Jackson ominously noted that “the Klan didn’t move on Andy,” leaving no doubt as to who the responsible party was. Jackson further warned that the Young affair posed a serious threat to black-Jewish relations, a theme Jackson repeated again and again and again—to the point of contributing to the very outcome he was ostensibly trying to prevent.

In a similar vein, Jackson warned that continued Israeli refusal to deal with the PLO could provoke a wave of anti-Semitism here in the United States. “Israel must not push basic white America into a corner,” he cautioned, “and allow an economic excuse to cause the biggest unleashing of racism and anti-Semitism yet.” His solicitude for the Israelis notwithstanding, Jackson was at the same time doing his share to stir up black resentment by, for example, urging an investigation into charges that Israeli agents had spied on Ambassador Young.

In his efforts to advance the cause of Palestinian rights, Jackson has not limited himself to making speeches or issuing press releases. In 1979 he intervened on behalf of an accused PLO terrorist who was being held in the United States, requesting that the federal attorney in Chicago explore alternatives to extraditing the man to Israel because, Jackson said, it was unlikely that he would receive a fair trial there.1 At about the same time, Jackson led a delegation on a mission to the Middle East, an event which would produce some of the most negative press coverage in his career. While the trip is mainly remembered for Jackson’s embrace of Yasir Arafat and his warm words of praise for the PLO, other less publicized utterances provide a clearer insight into his beliefs, style, and strategy.

For example, when Prime Minister Begin declined to meet with Jackson on the ground that the American had made anti-Semitic remarks, Jackson responded that this represented “a racist decision based on skin color.” He was also quoted by two American Jews traveling with his entourage as having declared himself “sick and tired of hearing about the Holocaust and having America being put in the position of a guilt trip. . . . The Jews do not have a monopoly on suffering.” Jackson subsequently insisted that the statement had been taken out of context. It was during the same trip, however, that Jackson, following a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, observed that: “The suffering [of the Jews during the Holocaust] is atrocious, but really not unique to human history,” and added: “Genocide should not be allowed to happen to anyone, not even the Palestinians.”

To compare the annihilation of European Jewry with the problems confronting the Palestinian refugees goes beyond even the intellectual sloppiness and moral insensitivity which mark many Jackson pronouncements. Furthermore, Jackson has on several occasions drawn the ludicrous (and, for blacks, insulting) parallel between the struggle for Palestinian “rights” and the struggle against segregation waged by the civil-rights movement in the American South. In a 1980 speech to an Arab-American organization in Birmingham, Alabama, Jackson likened the maiming of two Arab mayors, presumably by Jewish terrorists, to the 1963 bombing by white supremacists of a Birmingham church which killed four little black girls. “Let them take a few arms and legs,” he exhorted his audience. “Let them bomb a few cars. But never let them take your mind and spirit.” Given his equation of the Palestinians with American blacks, it seems that the role he would assign the Israelis in the Middle East drama is that of Southern white bigots.

Jackson has also launched something of a personal crusade aimed at encouraging Arab Americans to register, vote, and make their political presence felt in the debate over Middle East policy. At the same time, he has frequently decried the political influence of the Jewish community. Jackson does not hesitate to accuse the government or the Democratic party of mortgaging Middle East policies to Jewish votes and Jewish money. His observation, after the Democratic party had voted to support the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, was that the Democratic position was “perverted by a reaction . . . to the Jewish element within the party.” Never one to pass up an opportunity for the rhetorical flourish, Jackson added that the relationship between Jews and Democrats amounted to “a kind of glorified form of bribery. Financial bankrolling and moral bankruptcy.”

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In the course of his presidential campaign, Jackson has become embroiled in controversy over whether he holds anti-Israel or anti-Semitic sentiments. Yet while he has apologized for using an abusive epithet in talking about Jews, he has not fundamentally changed his mind about the Middle East. Most telling in this regard is Jackson’s response to a question posed by journalist Lally Weymouth, in an interview published in New York magazine. In the aforementioned Birmingham speech to the Arab-American audience, Jackson had declared: “We have the real obligation to separate Zionism from Judaism. Judaism is a religion. . . . Zionism is a kind of poisonous weed that is choking Judaism” (emphasis added). Reminded by Miss Weymouth of the quote, and given the opportunity to retract, modify, or deny it, Jackson in fact defended his statement:

Let’s deal with that one; let’s deal with it one at a time. Zionism. A lot of controversy about Zionism and Judaism, you know. Zionism is rooted in race; it’s a political philosophy. Judaism is religion and faith; it’s a religion. And there are points on the curve where Zionism and Judaism are in conflict. To the extent to which the prophecy of Judaism is made silent by the policies of Zionism, it is a threat to the glorious flower of Judaism, which is in the Garden along with Christianity and with the Muslim religion. Again, that’s not a personal position that I conjured up; that’s a running debate. But I’m not ignorant of the differences between the two. There are many Jews who are not Zionists. I support the Jews in their struggle for a homeland. There are obviously extremists who’ve gone far beyond a homeland for the Jewish people into the occupation and suppression of other people—and that tension is gnawing away at the soul of that nation. That’s [the cause] of its great internal agony right now.

Despite a certain imprecision of language, these remarks could easily be interpreted as signifying that Zionism is racism. Does Jackson really believe this reprehensible fiction? Does Jackson expect to be taken seriously when he declares that there is a great contradiction between Zionism and Judaism and, furthermore, that many Jews agree with him on this score?

Some would argue that it is not so important what Jackson’s views are, that despite his current popularity, he will ultimately be perceived as a secondary figure, that his significance lies in his symbolic role as spokesman for black Americans, rather than in the specifics of his agenda. Yet if there is one thing we have learned from Jackson’s controversy-filled career, it is the folly of underestimating his abilities or ambition. As has been the case with his earlier endeavors, Jackson has entered the presidential campaign with specific goals in mind. Of paramount importance is to win recognition from the white leadership of the Democratic party as the prinicipal representative of black America. Furthermore, Jackson sees himself as the catalyst of a reconstituted Left within American politics. To this end, one suspects that it is not so much the rank-and-file of Jackson’s vaunted “rainbow coalition” that he is primarily attempting to reach, but rather the more radicalized leadership of the various coalition groups.

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Another reason to treat Jackson’s foreign-policy views seriously has to do with the degree to which they reflect the dominant attitudes among black elected officials and those blacks who think and write about the question of what America’s world role should be.

Here the most compelling evidence was the near-unanimous disapproval of the invasion of Grenada. Within a day or so of the initiation of military action, the Congressional Black Caucus without dissent approved a statement denouncing the intervention, a position which was subsequently reaffirmed after a meeting with Prime Minister Eugenia Charles of Dominica, a strong supporter of the invasion. To Representative Parren Mitchell, Grenada made it seem “like a world gone mad.” Representative Charles Rangel accused President Reagan of having “embarked upon a frightening course of gunboat diplomacy” and argued (against all evidence) that the administration’s policies were “largely responsible” for having pushed former Prime Minister Bishop “into the arms of the Soviets and Cubans.” Representative Edolphus Towns declared that “the internal political problems in Grenada should not have been resolved by foreign intervention. The time of the Monroe Doctrine has long passed.” Representative Mervyn Dymally claimed that Grenada (which was in fact nearly bankrupt) had been “paying its debts and acquiring a reputation as one of the Caribbean’s most efficient regimes.”

But these remarks were relatively restrained when compared with the condemnations voiced by other members of the Black Caucus. Representative Gus Savage declared himself “angry and in agony over our country,” and charged that the invasion was at least in part racially motivated. “Reagan calculated that whites would be less concerned by the use of our bombs against black people,” he said, comparing the action with South Africa’s incursions into the territory of neighboring black African countries. To Representative Ronald Dellums, Grenada represented “nothing less than a crime against humanity executed by people who deserve to be condemned as war criminals.” In a letter to President Reagan, Representative John Conyers asked that “the government of Grenada be returned to its sovereign position prior to the invasion so that the Grenadians can chart their own political future.” He also wrote: “The American public needs to know whether the United States was involved, in any way, in covert military actions . . . including the recent coup against Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.”

Conyers, Dellums and other members of the Black Caucus did not limit themselves to expressions of outrage. Five caucus members—Mitchell, Dymally, Conyers, Julian Dixon, and Mickey Leland—were among seven Democratic Congressmen to sponsor a measure to impeach President Reagan on the grounds that the invasion violated the Constitution. In a separate move, Conyers filed suit to enjoin the American military from operating in Grenada; joining him in the action were seven Black Caucus members. Moreover, Conyers and Savage reportedly bolted in fury from the meeting with Prime Minister Charles; subsequently, speaking from the floor of Congress, Savage referred to Charles as “this puppet of our President” who “represents Aunt Jemima-ism.”

The views expressed by the Black Caucus were by and large echoed by others in the black community. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference claimed that America had “become the villain of the Western Hemisphere.” A statement issued by the National Conference of Black Lawyers called the invasion a “violent and criminal” act which “represents a further step in the effort of the United States to overturn the revolutionary process in Grenada.” Randall Robinson, executive director of TransAfrica, an organization established to influence Congress and the administration on issues relating to Africa and the Caribbean, stressed the racial dimension of the invasion decision. “I can’t imagine that the Reagan administration or any other administration would have invaded a white country,” he said. Robinson, like others, struck the theme that the invasion deprived the Grenadians of the right to determine their political destiny. The intervention, he said, “reflects a disregard for the people of Grenada and their inalienable right to self-determination.”

Similar attitudes were expressed in the black press. Colin Moore, a columnist for the Amsterdam News, New York’s largest black newspaper, wrote that the invasion signified an upsurge in “American imperialism” and, echoing Jesse Jackson and others, characterized the Caribbean nations which had supported the action as “puppets.” The Amsterdam News itself editorialized that “Grenada is a black sovereign nation, one that has every right to choose its own form of government.” The paper predicted that the island “will probably become for the short term one of those countries ruled by an imposed dictator supported and controlled by our CIA.”

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To be sure, not all black elected officials, civil-rights leaders, writers, and academics shared the predominant posture. Norman Hill, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, pointed out that “the black population of the island has welcomed the American and Caribbean troops as liberators, and not invaders,” adding that it is the Grenadians “who are probably more surprised at the cries of outrage of many world leaders.” And Representative William Clay declared that “the so-called Marxist, ruthless, dictatorial government which took control only replaced a Marxist, ruthless, dictatorial government.” Moreover, a number of prominent blacks, while harboring misgivings about the Grenada action, were impressed by the pro-American views of the Grenadians and privately dismayed by the militant tone adopted by Conyers, Dellums, and other critics.

Unfortunately, those with moderate inclinations were, with few exceptions, unwilling to break with the prevailing view of all-out opposition. This is partly because black moderates tend to focus on domestic concerns, partly because of a reluctance to disrupt the appearance of racial unity, and partly, no doubt, because of a disinclination to deal with the inevitable charges of having become puppets of the President. In any event, the result is that with regard to Grenada, and most other foreign-policy controversies as well, it is the most extreme segments of the black political and intellectual elite who set the tone, rhetoric, and policy—and thus who ultimately determine what, insofar as the general public is concerned, the “black position” is on the issues of the day.

Yet even if we concede that the perspective of the black community may have been distorted by the intense criticism of more radical-minded figures, the appearance of absolute opposition remains deeply troubling. While the process of Sovietizing Grenadian society had not proceeded as quickly as the leaders of Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement would have preferred, there was sufficient evidence in the statements of Bishop and other New Jewel leaders to suggest that a single-party state along East European lines was the ultimate goal. Furthermore, testimony about the increasingly repressive nature of the Bishop regime presented by the growing community of Grenadian exiles, many of whom had initially welcomed the Bishop government, should have suggested to American blacks that a more detached attitude toward the New Jewel “experiment” was called for. Given the demonstrated willingness of the surviving New Jewel faction to insure control through violence, the glib demands that Grenadians be allowed to decide their own destiny could easily have amounted to a death sentence for opponents of the regime. The regime had the guns; behind the regime stood the Cubans, among whose functions was to serve as a praetorian guard for whichever pro-Communist group held the reins of power.

Even more disturbing were the shameful attacks leveled at the motives and character of the Caribbean leaders who supported and helped plan the invasion. On this score, the statements of Jesse Jackson and others were distressingly reminiscent of the heyday of Black Power, when moderate civil-rights leaders were routinely castigated as Uncle Toms who had been bought off by the white power structure. Some critics of the intervention refrained from questioning the motives of other Caribbean countries, but did express differences with the assessment that Grenada posed a danger to its neighbors. Yet that such a threat existed is undeniable. Maurice Bishop succeeded in over-throwing the government of Sir Eric Gairy, and Gairy had maintained one of the largest security forces in the region. The New Jewel Movement was holding regular conferences with like-minded radicals from the Caribbean, and Grenada had built up, practically overnight, an army of unprecedented size by Caribbean standards. Add to this the long history of Soviet-Cuban subversion in Latin and Central America, and it becomes obvious why the Caribbean democracies summarily rejected the argument that they had “nothing to fear” from the New Jewel revolution.

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Ironically, the Caribbean leaders so casually dismissed as puppets of the United States did an altogether impressive job of enhancing the image of competent and decisive black political leadership during the early days of the invasion. The three most outspoken supporters of the intervention—Eugenia Charles, the Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga, and Prime Minister Tom Adams of Barbados—effectively put paid to the myth that the only viable Third World alternatives lie between a Pinochet and a Castro. During a discussion with Representative Dellums in the aftermath of the invasion, Adams, according to one report, cautioned the American: “Do not assume that you know better than we what is in our national interest.” Unfortunately, there is little evidence that Adams’s message has reached those in the United States who most need to hear it.

For one thing, many black foreign-policy specialists and activists display a decided preference for revolutionary, “socialist,” and anti-Western regimes in the Third World. For them, a Maurice Bishop is preferable to a Eugenia Charles; in all likelihood a Fidel Castro is preferable to an Edward Seaga. (At least one prominent black political figure, Boston’s Mel King, has stated a preference for Castro over Ronald Reagan because, in his view, Castro cares more about poor people.)

There is an analogous impulse to attribute domestic unemployment and poverty to American defense expenditures and to view our defense policies as the major threat to world peace. Perhaps the most striking example of this reflexive anti-defense posture was the statement by the Congressional Black Caucus condemning the defense policies of President Jimmy Carter. The statement, drafted by Dellums, was released in February 1980, shortly after Carter had announced the package of sanctions the U.S. was imposing on the Soviets because of the invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviet action was, briefly, condemned as “morally wrong and politically stupid.” Even here, however, the Black Caucus placed its emphasis more on the invasion’s damaging political repercussions than on the unrestrained brutality of the Red Army. The intervention in Afghanistan, it said, would lead to “an inevitable swing to the Right in both political parties” and provide “an excuse for interfering in the internal affairs of Pakistan on the pretext of aiding the Afghan rebels.” As for American countermeasures, they were branded as “madness,” “a threat to the constructive search for world peace,” based on “political overreaction and alliance with corrupt dictatorships,” and showing “obsessive concerns with overreactive responses to the real or imagined menace of Soviet expanionism.”

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As critical of American policy as it was, the Black Caucus position paper was mild compared with the treatment of foreign-policy questions at the “March on Washington for Jobs, Peace, and Freedom,” held this past August to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the original march, made notable by Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The original march, it should be recalled, did not contain a foreign-affairs dimension: it focused on two goals—jobs and freedom, and specifically on the necessity of winning passage of civil-rights legislation then before Congress. But while foreign-policy issues were not placed on the agenda of the original march, the question of America as a democratic society was central to the message presented by King and the other speakers. King described his dream as “deeply rooted in the American dream,” where “all men are created equal,” and where “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” America was a flawed society because of the injustice inflicted on its black citizens, but it nonetheless was a society based on the highest of political values—freedom, democracy, equality before the law.

By contrast, the prevailing atmosphere at the 1983 March for Jobs, Peace, and Freedom was one of castigation and chastisement, with the United States as principal target. As the march’s declaration of principles put it, the American dream “is tarnished today as the tides of national self-doubt, aggressiveness, and chauvinism of race, sex, class, and nation are seriously undermining our national unity and sense of human solidarity.” To counter what they saw as a growing national malaise, the march organizers called for the creation of a “Coalition of Conscience,” a “community and a movement brought together by a common dream and human values.”

This coalition, however, was quite different from the broad mass of Americans to whom King addressed his inspirational words twenty years earlier. Included in the official list of sponsors and speakers were a number of organizations and individuals who have devoted years to promoting and defending some of the world’s most repulsive dictatorships, the Soviet Union among them. Nor could these groups and individuals have been disappointed by the treatment of defense and foreign-policy issues in the declaration of principles, which attacked a “military budget which . . . denies our people scores of absolutely essential human resources and service programs.” It also criticized the “militarization of internal conflicts, often abetted and even encouraged by massive U.S. arms exports, in areas of the world such as the Middle East and Central America. . . .” No mention was made of Eastern Europe, Poland, Afghanistan, or even the Soviet Union, except insofar as could be implied by passing reference to “the superpowers.”

The special slant given the sections on foreign affairs was not the result of haphazard phrasing by a drafting committee. The seriousness with which the event’s sponsors regarded their formulations was demonstrated by the response to a series of moderate changes in the declaration of principles proposed by the AFL-CIO. A suggestion that a phrase condemning terrorism be inserted was rejected on the familiar ground that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Similarly, a proposal to include an explicit condemnation of dictatorships of the Left and Right was rebuffed—because, an aide to Coretta Scott King explained, there is no such thing as a left-wing dictatorship. Nor was a request to add a phrase criticizing the violation of human rights in Poland taken up by the drafting committee. Finally, a suggestion to delete or modify language implicitly critical of Israel was rejected on the ground that Jesse Jackson felt strongly that this language should be retained.2 (Further evidence of the determination of the march’s sponsors to make clear their critical attitude toward U.S. support for Israel was the otherwise puzzling inclusion of former Senator James Abourezk, a strong PLO advocate, as a march convener.)

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Then there is the case of TransAfrica. Established in 1977, TransAfrica’s major function, as noted above, is to provide information about and organize lobbying campaigns on behalf of the black nations of Africa and the Caribbean. The figure most prominently associated with the organization is its director, Randall Robinson, and it is a tribute to his energetic leadership that TransAfrica has gained recognition as the leading voice for “black” foreign-policy positions.

Much of TransAfrica’s activity is devoted to persuading American policy-makers to adopt a tougher stance toward the apartheid regime in South Africa; not surprisingly, the organization has been sharply critical of the “constructive engagement” position embraced by the Reagan administration.

But it is on issues other than South Africa where the ideological presuppositions of TransAfrica are manifested most vividly. One theme which recurs in the organization’s publications and position papers is the disruptive, destabilizing impact of American military involvement in the Third World. On the other hand, Soviet and Cuban interference is viewed with a mixture of tolerance and approval. Thus a 1982 position paper took a critical attitude toward American support for Somalia in that country’s struggles with Ethiopia, while ignoring the central role which the presence of Cuban troops has played in transforming the Horn of Africa into a geostrategic battleground. The same paper described Cuba has having achieved “an impressive record in health-care delivery, housing construction, and public education.” Nothing was said about Cuba’s systematic violation of human rights, the absence of press freedom, the persecution of artists and writers, the treatment of political prisoners, or, most relevant to TransAfrica’s concerns, the export of Cuban soldiers and the Cuban political system to the Third World. In fact, except for its justifiable anger over the repression of South African blacks, the issues of human rights and democracy do not figure in TransAfrica’s determination of what is and what is not worth supporting in the Third World. The intrusion of the issue of democracy would, of course, complicate TransAfrica’s assessment of some of its preferred regimes—Castro’s Cuba and Bishop’s Grenada front and center.

TransAfrica also presents a seriously distorted picture of the role played by Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA forces in the Angolan civil war. Indeed, according to TransAfrica’s version, no civil war exists in that country. Rather, we are told that the conflict there pits the Marxist Luanda regime and its Cuban allies on the one hand against the South Africans on the other. In this view, Savimbi’s troops were militarily defeated in 1975, “discredited” by their association with the Pretoria regime, and have not been a factor ever since. No one, and certainly not Savimbi, denies that UNITA has received assistance from South Africa. Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged that UNITA, largely through its own efforts, has gained control over large sections of Angola and has demonstrated impressive abilities as a guerrilla fighting force. What explains TransAfrica’s refusal to concede UNITA’s viability as an insurgent force with popular support in at least some areas of the country? The probable answer is that to acknowledge the existence of a popular resistance force would weaken Luanda’s claim to legitimacy, and possibly even set off demands for negotiations, coalition governments, or the various other schemes for power-sharing that have been advanced regarding the conflict in El Salvador.

TransAfrica has also come down firmly in favor of American recognition of the PLO. This position, not unusual in itself, is nonetheless notable for the scathing criticism of Israel and the American Jewish community which accompanies it. In a statement issued shortly after Ambassador Young’s 1979 dismissal, TransAfrica qualified its criticism of PLO terrorism by noting that such acts do not make the PLO “inherently terroristic, any more than the former acts of Israel’s leader [Begin] while in the Irgun, or the fact that the state of Israel has also resorted to terrorism in the name of state and national security makes the Israelis an inherently terroristic people.” While TransAfrica placed itself on record as favoring Israel’s right to exist, it found it necessary to include a phrase deploring “the circumstances under which it came into being” as “unfortunate.” Furthermore, the statement supported “the Palestinian right of return and the restoration of the state promised in UN Resolutions 184 and 191.” By citing these two resolutions, particularly resolution 184, which established the original partitioned state, TransAfrica went well beyond the usual calls for a Palestinian homeland on the West Bank. Some, in fact, would interpret this position as a de-facto call for Israel’s dismemberment.

Two more elements of the document are worth noting. At one point, TransAfrica observes with approval that many Arab and African states have reached the conclusion that “Israel and South Africa represent examples of a similar phenomenon, ‘settler colonialism,’ or arrogant, aggressive, racialism.” Finally, an outright accusation of dual loyalty is brought against American Jews:

We are styled “the black lobby for Africa,” and sometimes compared with “the Israeli lobby” by people who wonder if we can “do for Africa what the Jews have done for Israel.” We do not seek to do what they have done. We do not seek to hold American policy or action to ransom in the interest of this or that policy or ambition of any foreign country.

It should be stressed that, at least where Israel is concerned, TransAfrica’s strident opposition does not represent the sentiments of the majority of black political and civil-rights leadership. An analysis of the voting records of the Congressional Black Caucus on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East since 1975 shows a degree of support for Israel roughly comparable to most liberal Democrats. Black Congressmen like Charles Rangel, Augustus Hawkins, Cardiss Collins, and William Clay have supported measures designed to strengthen Israel 90 percent of the time or more. The two major exceptions are Dellums and Conyers, with the latter having compiled one of the most anti-Israel records in Congress. Conyers also speaks out frequently on behalf of the PLO. This past August, for example, he sent a letter of greetings to the PLO and Yasir Arafat urging them to keep up their “struggle for peace.”

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The parallel between the support for Israel among black Congressmen and their white liberal colleagues holds true (on the other side) for other foreign and defense issues as well. Indeed, for both groups, it is impossible to separate the harshly critical attitude toward American global policies from the general collapse of liberal anti-Communism as the prevailing ideology of the Democratic party. The positions adopted by the Black Caucus may be more provocatively phrased than similar statements issued by Americans for Democratic Action, but the underlying assumptions are similar. The same can be said of the opposition of blacks to American interventionism in the Third World. The instinctive reaction of white liberal Congressmen to the rescue mission in Grenada was one of opposition; it was only after the overwhelming majority of Americans expressed support for the intervention that most Democrats underwent a reluctant shift.

Yet even by the standards of today’s liberalism, the Black Caucus exhibits an unusually pronounced tendency to oppose both measures designed to strengthen the defense capabilities of America and its allies and policies designed to counter the influence of Communism. To cite several examples: in 1978 the Democratically-controlled House rejected by an overwhelming 301—88 margin a proposal to reduce U.S. troop levels overseas and to cut the level of active duty forces overall by 50,000 men; the entire Black Caucus voted for this measure. During the same term of Congress, a majority of black Congressmen voted to reduce American military aid to South Korea, a measure which was defeated, again overwhelmingly. Finally, last year, Democrats by 150—105 favored a measure to authorize funds for Radio Marti, the government-sponsored broadcast service established to provide information to Cubans; among the bill’s supporters were such critics of American foreign policy as Barney Frank, Morris Udall, Michael Barnes, Don Bonker, and Barbara Mikulski. Yet only two of the 21 members of the Black Caucus—Cardiss Collins and Alan Wheat—voted favorably.

As is true of any Congressman, members of the Black Caucus are influenced in their votes by constituency pressures. However, with a few exceptions, black Congressmen represent districts where not simply a majority, but an overwhelming majority, of the voters are black. In these districts, comprised often of impoverished inner-city areas, foreign policy takes second place to the debate over economic issues and social-welfare programs. Those for whom the issue of America’s world role is a matter of high priority often hold far-Left views or are attracted to black nationalist philosophies. Although it is impossible to estimate with any precision the degree of influence exerted by such groups, they do represent a more substantial factor in local black politics than would ordinarily be the case in predominantly white districts.

_____________

 

A striking example of such influence can be found in Jesse Jackson’s entourage. During the debate over the establishment of a national holiday to commemorate Martin Luther King’s birthday, Senator Jesse Helms made pointed accusations about King’s associates. At the heart of the controversy was the charge that the late Stanley Levison, one of King’s closest and most trusted advisers, was a secret Communist agent. The FBI strongly believed this to be the case; it was, in fact, because of concern about Levison’s influence over the leading figure in the civil-rights movement that the bureau initiated its surveillance of King. King himself was clearly not a Communist; indeed he denounced Communism as an atheist dogma. But there is substantial evidence—gathered in David Garrow’s The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.3 —to suggest that the FBI’s suspicions about Levison were warranted.

One of Levison’s contributions was to recommend the hiring of Jack O’Dell as an assistant to King, which King subsequently did. According to Garrow, O’Dell had an association with the Communist party from the late 1940’s until at least the late 1950’s, a relationship which, Garrow notes, O’Dell himself has never denied. The FBI, furthermore, believed that O’Dell had been elected to the party’s national committee in December 1959, under a pseudonym. Although he never occupied a leadership position within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, O’Dell was considered one of the organization’s most competent staff members.

The reason that O’Dell’s past affiliations and present views are of some importance is that for some time (although we would scarcely know this from press coverage of the Jackson campaign) he has served as Jesse Jackson’s chief foreign-policy adviser. As director of the international department of Operation PUSH, O’Dell has accompanied Jackson on many of his international trips, including several to the Middle East.

Since launching his presidential campaign, Jackson has on at least one occasion been asked about O’Dell’s political affiliations, and has responded that O’Dell is not now a Communist. But the question of whether O’Dell is technically a party member is essentially irrelevant. On an organizational level, O’Dell has associated himself with several pro-Soviet institutions, serving on the editorial board of Freedomways, a political journal which consistently adopts a pro-Soviet position, and as a member of the World Peace Council, a transparent Soviet-front organization (O’Dell served as American delegate to the Peace Council in 1977). Furthermore, we know something of O’Dell’s current attitudes from articles he has written for Freedomways; typical is a 1980 piece in which O’Dell claimed, inter alia, that the decisions to proceed with construction of the MX missile and B-l bomber “have nothing to do with the defense of the United States” but have “everything to do with the federal government’s guaranteeing favorable profit margins . . . to corporate giants.” In a similar vein, he claimed that “‘the-Russians-are-coming’ paranoia . . . has proven to be a very profitable enterprise for the biggest conglomerates in the war industries.” And finally:

An aspect of the world community’s perception of Afro-Americans is the increasingly held view that while South Africa, with its ruthless apartheid system, represents the fullest expression of a racist state, the government and society which are the most consistent upholders of the racist doctrine of white supremacy in the world at large are these United States.

It goes without saying that O’Dell says nothing to challenge this alleged “perception.”

_____________

 

In raising the question of O’Dell’s relationship with Jesse Jackson, it should be stressed that there is no suggestion that Communists have subverted the civil-rights movement or dominate the thinking of black political leadership. It is true that among the CP leadership today, the secretary of the central committee, the national chairman, the head of the youth wing, and the organization’s most prominent public figure, Angela Davis (recently nominated as the party’s vice-presidential candidate), are all black; it is also the case that prominent blacks regularly speak to or serve as members of various front groups, such as the World Peace Council or Labor Research Associates, which in 1982 honored the Black Caucus at its annual dinner. Nevertheless, the Communists have been notably unsuccessful in their attempts to gain the allegiance of the younger generation of black politicians, the more radical of whom seem to find nationalist or Pan-Africanist ideologies far more appealing.

Indeed, the continued disapproval of the Soviet Union by black political leaders is a source of distress to some radicals. The issue was addressed with uncharacteristic bluntness by John F. Davis, a former editor of the Amsterdam News, shortly after the invasion of Grenada. Davis found it “amazing that the Congressional Black Caucus apparently does not recognize this invasion as an opportunity to organize and educate people to some of the Third World realities.” The major reality, as Davis saw it, was that “All the liberation movements [in this hemisphere] have been and continue to be supported by the Soviet Union” and that “the threat to peace in the world today emanates from Washington and from the efforts of the American government to exploit the world’s resources.”

If nothing else, Davis’s observations have the merit of candor. He realizes that the struggle for a more just sociopolitical order in the Third World cannot be separated from the broader competition between the United States with its democratic values and the Soviet Union with its totalitarian ones. It is tragic that neither Jesse Jackson nor many of the black political leaders for whom he speaks seem to recognize that democratic liberties are as essential to the nation-building process as economic development, and that those in the Third World who find inspiration in the Soviet “model” are not liberators but rather betrayers of the societies they seek to change. Given the near certainty that blacks will become an increasingly influential force in American political life, this attitude represents a serious obstacle to the refashioning of a national consensus around a policy aimed at the spread of democracy and the restraint of Soviet expansionism.

_____________

 


Footnotes

1 The accused terrorist, Ziad Abu Eain, was, however, extradited to Israel and convicted of the bombing, which had killed two people and injured 36 others in the city of Tiberias.

2 The failure of negotiations prompted the AFL-CIO, which endorsed the march itself, to withhold support from the declaration of principles.

3 See the review by Eric M. Breindel, COMMENTARY, January 1982.—Ed.

About the Author

Arch Puddington is director of research at Freedom House and the author, most recently, of Lane Kirkland: Champion of American Labor.




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