As the Bush administration lobbies the temporary members of the U.N. Security Council, there have been more than a few incongruous calls from Washington to capitals around the globe. It's easy enough to imagine the wince-making discussions between the president and almost any foreign head of state, especially if George W. Bush tries to explain his theories about America's divine mission to fight evil on earth. (My hopeful friend Gene Lyons believes that's all hypocritical jabber, intended solely for the ears of the "lowing herd" at home.)
Today's New York Times reports that Vice President Dick Cheney rang José Eduardo dos Santos, the president of Angola and leader of the party still known as MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola), to discuss the upcoming vote on another resolution regarding Iraq. Elizabeth Bumiller's story irritatingly describes Angola as having once been a "pariah" among Americans because of its "closeness to Cuba." No further context.
Actually, to many Americans politicians like Cheney were the pariahs -- for their coddling of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and their support for the Angolan gangster Jonas Savimbi, a rebel adored by the American right who was plausibly accused of cannibalism, among other atrocities.
Cheney seems like a very odd choice to cajole Angola, which suffered hundreds of thousands of needless deaths at the hands of the late Savimbi. Armed by the CIA at the behest of ultraconservatives like the vice president, who used to blasphemously compare him to George Washington, Savimbi rampaged for decades across the Angolan countryside. But then Cheney always showed exceptionally poor judgment, tinged by racism, on matters pertaining to Africa. While serving in Congress, Cheney voted against a resolution urging the South African government to free Nelson Mandela from Robben Island prison. In fact, he was a big-time supporter of the apartheid regime, whose military spent years hunting down dos Santos and his MPLA comrades.
So asking Cheney to contact any leader in southern Africa seems like a needless insult. No doubt the Angolan president, who wishes the Bush administration would pay more attention to Africa, is a mature and forgiving statesman. Still, the State Department must be hoping that nobody in Angola typed the vice president's name into a Lexis search engine.
I get lots of letters, including many touching messages this week from French citizens, French students residing in the U.S., and French-Americans. Also many pleasing letters from people who wrote to the Iraqi mission and the Iraqi embassy over the past several days, only to find that the mailboxes there were already jammed.
I get plenty of intelligent dissent as well. And I also receive a fair number of letters from the disgruntled, neurotic and mentally disturbed readers who mail obscenities and threats from a safe distance. For instance, this arrived recently from someone named Marc, an apparent fan of the North Korean and Iraqi dictators, who objected to my calling them crazy:
"Neither one of them are [sic] crazy, and they're both a lot brighter and have been around a lot longer than George W. Bush.
"Mr. Conason, you're credibility is about gone in my opinion. I won't be reading your column anymore, I'm going to discourage others from reading it, and I'm contacting the editorial staff at Salon to pressure for the termination of your contract."
Saddam and Kim are also lobbying to have me fired.
Then there was the more typical Freeper-style letter from Douglas Moyers:
"What you do you know anyway, butt burglar? Liberal wanker! Go move to France, f---boy!"
Makes you stop and think, doesn't it?
[1:25 p.m. PST, Feb. 26, 2003]