A surprisingly valid subject--on which Mahoney has much new information, from which he draws significant conclusions about...


JFK: Ordeal in Africa

A surprisingly valid subject--on which Mahoney has much new information, from which he draws significant conclusions about Kennedy statesmanship. Now a Phoenix attorney and part-time academic, Mahoney is the son of JFK's ambassador to Ghana. This is what he shows: as a senator in the 1950s, Kennedy urged American support of Afro-Asian nationalism (in Algiers, in Vietnam), and criticized the automatic linkage of nationalism with international communism. His position, however, was ""fatalistic""--self-determination was inevitable--rather than moralistic (it was the right thing). So he had to ""find his way,"" as Mahoney puts it, between the two Democratic camps: ""drawn by temperament to Eastern hardliners like Acheson and McGeorge Bundy, but intellectually more at home with liberals such as Bowles and Stevenson."" As a candidate, he played up his Third-World support to cover up his dismal civil rights record: ""a minor classic in political exploitation of foreign policy."" Once elected, would he live up to his promise? The major testing ground was the Congo--where the deposed radical Lumumba was precariously imprisoned, four factions were in conflict, mineral-rich Katanga had seceded under Tshombe, the UN had a mandate to restore order, and the CIA was out to murder Lumumba (while the US embassy was sympathetic to Tshombe and the Belgian mining interests behind him). In developing this background, Mahoney shows how Lumumba's request for ""Une blanche blonde"" during his last, aid-seeking Washington trip fed the going preoccupation with the rape of white women; how erroneous press reports that Kennedy intended to liberate Lumumba heightened pressure on his enemies and the CIA; and much unpublicized else. Within days, Kennedy had word of Lumumba's death; he had already dodged the Lumumba issue and determined on a new policy--of supporting Hammarskjold/UN efforts to subdue all the combatants and, shortly, setting up a coalition government ""as a buffer against communist subversion."" The erratic but ultimately successful course of this policy--buffeted by strains between Kennedy and Stevenson, between the European colonialists and Hammarskjold, between State Department activists and disengagers--constitutes the heart of the book. ""Typically, Kennedy did not tip his hand on Congo policy until faced with the consequences of inaction."" But, Mahoney will conclude--after briefer but revealing examinations of Kennedy policy in Ghana (new light on the CIA) and Portuguese Angola--that ""as a decision-maker, [Kennedy] seemed to be ruled by his sense of 'limitations'; as a diplomat, he seemed ready to take full advantage of the 'powers' of his presidency."" And he, alone among US presidents, found ""a common ground between African ideals and American self-interest."" Amidst the Kennedy-anniversary hoopla, this is a standout: magnificently researched, impeccably argued, fluently written.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983

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