Andrew Young: Why and Why Not


WHEN PRESIDENT CARTER appointed then Representative Andrew J. Young (D-Ga.) as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in December, many observers applauded the appointment--for the wrong reasons. On the domestic front, it was felt that a black of Young's intelligence, personal assurance and civil rights credentials filling a high-profile, cabinet-level post would boost American interest in and identification with the New Administration's initiatives, particularly in foreign affairs. Internationally, they hoped, Young would serve as a symbolic bridge between the Carter administration and the Third World, particularly Africa.

And few neglected Carter's public acknowledgement that Young was the only person to whom he owed a political debt for his election. Supporters of national liberation movements in southern Africa hoped that a shrewd Young would cash in those IOUs to become a major voice in the formulation of Carter's foreign policy--and, more specifically, that he would help forge a firm U.S. commitment to black nationalist rule in both Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and South Africa.

Yet it seems doubtful that Young will fulfill all of these hopes, at least on the basis of the arguments summarized so far. Regarding the possible bond of inspiration that might form between the new ambassador and other black Americans, Alvin M. Poussaint, a black associate professor of psychiatry at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, makes an insightful point in an op-ed piece in last Sunday's New York Times. Poussaint argues that there is often as large an identification gap between members of the American black bourgeoisie, blacks (like Young) who have "made it," and the mass of poorer blacks, as there is between these poor blacks and most white politicians, professionals and businessmen.

Even those blacks who know, respect and stand by Young, furthermore, have proved less than inspired by his new position. Young's friend and fellow civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, appearing on Public Television's McNeil/Lehrer report the night after Young's nomination, said Young was too principled and conscientious to deserve the "sell-out" position Jackson saw lying in store for him--that of a front man without a serious voice in policy planning who would be used because of his color to sell the Third World a foreign policy largely unchanged from those of the past two administrations.

BLACK AFRICANS have tended to show the same wariness, suspecting that Young's presence in the U.N. will be mostly symbolic, and perhaps only a palliative. And even if Young's contribution proves to be more than superficial, his color may paradoxically work against him, much as the Jewish origins of former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger '50 only further enraged an Israeli public disenchanted with his Middle East policy. During Young's recent trip to Africa, the Kenyan Daily Nation argued that Young is "sadly mistaken in believing that his colour can possibly be his chief credential for making an African tour successful. That is worse than naive idealism--it is a tragic delusion in this age of complex power relations."


The Daily Nation is right; the color of Young's skin is no reason to believe he can necessarily have a worthwhile effect on the Carter administration's policy towards southern Africa. A much better reason, however, lies in the commitment to nonviolent social change Young gained as one of the leaders of the black civil rights movement in the South. As a result of this experience, Young sees both the philosophical and the practical importance of developing non-violent solutions to the Zimbabwean and South African conflicts, before bloody warfare breaks out.

Philosophically, Young compares the southern African situation with that in the Middle East, stressing that the real "enemy is chaos"--the chaos that would result from escalated violence between black nationalists and the white regimes in Salisbury and Pretoria. But practically, he understands the strong forces pushing the area toward a bloodbath. He knows that many of the militant black nationalists in Zimbabwe and their supporters in the surrounding front-line states are convinced that violence is the only way to overthrow colonialism and avoid big business manipulation. Indeed, the intransigence of leaders like Ian Smith in Zimbabwe and John Vorster in South Africa have lent their argument increasing credence. Young himself says he is well aware of Smith's current inhuman and self-serving strategy: draw the Soviets and Cubans into battle on behalf of the Zimbabwean nationalists in the hope that this will provoke anti-communist sentiments in the U.S. and force the Carter administration to support the Smith regime.

Young's response to these insights has been commendable: he has avoided self-righteousness and focused on what he considers tangible pressures for change that the U.S. can bring to bear. He believes strongly that the Carter administration can convince international business firms tied to the South African and Rhodesian governments that it is in their long-term interest to follow the inevitable tide toward black majority rule in southern Africa. When they see the light, they will begin to offer black nationalists capital to develop their countries' resources and provide markets for their exports. An extreme Young suggestion in this vein is that South African blacks be brought to the United States for management training, a plan that the current Pretoria regime undoubtedly would rule illegal. "But nothing is illegal," Young has said in response to this objection, "if 100 businessmen decide to do it, and that's true anywhere in the world."

YOUNG'S LINE of reasoning seems logical enough, and the possibility that his vision might become partially realized appears clear from recent dealings between Augistino Neto's militant nationalist regime in Angola and the Shell Oil Company. But at the same time it overlooks the long, unfortunate history of multinationals policy in Third World colonial countries. To take Young's extreme proposal: large businesses have never trained natives to be top-level managers. Their strategy as a whole has been not to set up complete and independent operations in individual Third World countries but to engage whole populations in mass production of only parts of those operations, leaving these countries in quasi-colonial dependence on multi-national business networks. It is unlikely that these companies will abandon these long-standing business techniques long enough to grasp Young's subtle argument about inevitable social trends and long-term benefits. And thus nationalist attempts to forge independent paths of development remain preferable, even if more difficult.

It is also arguable whether Young will actually have much say in making U.S. policy decisions concerning southern Africa. Although much has been made of their mutual respect, no signs have appeared that Carter plans to include Young in his inner policymaking circle (beyond a special office and secretary Young has in the State Department building in Washington). Yet, even if he is denied the influence he now says he expects to have, Young possesses another trait, also honed during his years in the civil rights movement, that may prove to be significant.

He speaks frankly, making his opinions and principles clear without mincing words. (This characteristic, of course, is in part a political tool; his candor allows him to retain his reputation for integrity and independence both with his colleagues and his constituents.) An obvious example was his reaction to Carter's "ethnic purity" gaffe during the primary campaign; while defending Carter's good intentions, Young flatly said the statement was "loaded with Hitlerian connotations" and was "a disaster for the campaign." At the very least then, one can still find Young encouraging because he stands in a position, even if only a symbolic one, to make, if need be, an important symbolic gesture of protest by speaking out or resigning. If the Carter administration does less than he feels necessary to support human rights abroad and black nationalist rule in southern Africa, Young will hopefully still have the integrity to blow the whistle.

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