In 1986 Mr Reagan welcomed Savimbi to the White House and talked of Unita winning “a victory that electrifies the world and brings great sympathy and assistance from other nations to those struggling for freedom”.

I remember back in the 80s and early 90s my friends and I would joke about getting US military assistance to back us up in our petty arguments with each other. Military assistance seemed to be readily available to anyone who claimed to be anti-communist. Reagan and Bush Senior didn’t care about your goals or behavior if you said you were anti-communist. But our joking was also a cover for our shock at the suffering and destruction US military assistance created.

In 1988 Ronald Reagan said:

In a region as underdeveloped as Africa, which has relatively little access to private sources of capital, our ability to achieve our objectives depends in very significant measure on effective economic and security assistance programs. Too often security assistance is portrayed as a tradeoff against support for development. In Africa, this distinction is particularly ill-founded. Our security assistance programs promote a stable political and economic environment that permits the exercise of individual choice and the development of human talent. Without that environment, sustained development is not possible.
. . .
U.S. military training programs are an invaluable instrument for promoting professionalism and respect for human rights. The exposure to Western values that comes from such programs may foster a respect for the United States and democratic institutions among individuals who play a key role in determining the level of freedom and stability in African countries. Many of these programs also contribute to economic security.

Just how well did that turn out? Can we point to a single country in Africa that benefitted from Reagan’s military assistance? Is there a single country in Africa that Reagan “assisted”, either overtly or covertly, whose people are more successful and better off now than they were then? Has respect for human rights improved? In fact the opposite of his words has proven true, and security (military) assistance has been a huge tradeoff for development. And development, and respect for human rights, have suffered or died all over as a result.

Before Bush Junior the US had moral authority in the world, despite the actions of some US governments. Bush Junior has thrown that all away.

Compare Reagan’s words to the words of Theresa Whelan the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs announcing the creation of the Africa Command:

A U.S. Africa Command would work at “preventing problems from becoming crises and crises from becoming catastrophes,” Whelan said. “Instead of the United States being reactive, … we want to be more proactive in promoting security, to build African capacity to build their own environments and not be subject to the instability that has toppled governments and caused so much pain on the continent.”

Her words sound very much like Reagan’s. They may be very well intentioned, but the approach is wrong. The result will be far different from what the words describe, just as Reagan’s results were far different than the sunny vision he described, witness the work of “Dr.” Savimbi in Angola.

When Jimmy Carter was elected president, he announced that support for fundamental human rights would be the foundation of US foreign policy. The US shone as an example for all the world as a country who takes seriously the rights of human beings everywhere. But this genuine commitment to human rights was lost when Reagan was elected. And commitment to human rights has been missing in every Republican government since. People talk about human rights, but only to cover their less benign intentions and behavior.

Carter sought to spread democracy through diplomacy, while the neoconservatives now seem to embrace aggressive and unilateral intervention in foreign affairs.'”
(Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean, ISBN 0-670-03774-5, p.100)

And that is the chief problem with Africom, it was created by people who have an aggressive authoritarian view of the world, and who do not believe in equality. No matter how good and well intentioned US soldiers are, Africom is military assistance. With Africom, what we get is military policy, not diplomacy. Without genuine diplomacy, it is not possible to foster stability or development.