Roots of Terror


Nick Kristof’s op-ed in Thursday’s NY Times, An Unsettling Complicity, ia a very worthwhile read, for the points he sought to make, and beyond.

Kristof’s point, with which I do not take issue, is that our coziness with corrupt Angolan officials is a moral failure. Kristof:

What unsettles me is the Western role in this corruption. Western oil companies and banks work closely with Angolan officials, enabling the kleptocracy, and the United States and other governments mostly avert their eyes from the corruption, repression and humanitarian catastrophe.

A generation ago, the United States supported a brutal warlord, Jonas Savimbi, in Angola’s civil war. He lost. Now, because of oil interests, we have allied ourselves with the corrupt and autocratic winner, President José Eduardo dos Santos, in a way that also will also be remembered with embarrassment.

This is nothing new. It’s happened in Saudi Arabia, Iran before 1979, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen, to name just a few. It happened throughout Central and South America, where the chickens are now coming home to roost.

Here’s what this policy translates into on the ground:

Marques de Morais has tracked $3 billion accumulated by President dos Santos’s daughter, the $13 million refurbishment of the presidential palace, the Lexus LX 570 luxury S.U.V.’s given to each member of Parliament — all at a time when children aren’t consistently getting five-cent deworming pills.

Kristof concludes:

In other words, we have influence, if we’re willing to use it. And when children are spitting up worms and a country ranks No. 1 in child mortality worldwide, let’s exercise that influence rather than remaining complicit.

Okay, let’s pick up where Kristof leaves off.

What does the Angolan on the street — that is, one whose kid died because he didn’t get those deworming pills —  think of his corrupt government? And what does he think of the good ole U.S. of A? So, he’s fed up with the repression. Life is hopeless, he just lost his kid, and he wants to lash out.

What target would be his first choice? That’s an easy one to answer. It would be Angola’s corrupt leadership. But good luck on that front. Their police protection is impenetrable.

Second choice? Hard to say, but a distinct possibility might be a group of Americans in a nearby country.

And if that should happen, how would we react? We’d of course condemn the despicable act of terror. We’d demand that the bad actor be brought to justice.

And there’s nothing wrong with that reaction. But would we, as a  country, also take a long, hard look in the mirror?

I don’t condone acts of violence, including ones we label as “terrorism.” But are random acts of terror not, as the expression goes, “voices of the unheard”? And do we delude ourselves when we focus only on the obviously innocent American victims of so-called terrorist acts?

Should we not begin to recognize at some level that we reap what we sow?