President Reagan won a major foreign policy victory Wednesday when the Democratic-controlled House removed from a funding bill a requirement for congressional review of any covert military aid for rebels fighting the Marxist government in Angola.
Democrats from Southern states joined with Republicans in the 229-186 vote to endorse Administration plans to bolster the guerrilla forces of Jonas Savimbi, who is closely linked to the white-minority government of South Africa.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), leader of the futile effort to force Reagan to get congressional approval before aiding Savimbi, said that many lawmakers feared a backlash from voters if they opposed the President.
"It's very tough as you approach an election to take on the argument you're not fighting communism," Hamilton said after the vote. " . . . It takes a lot of explaining."
But Administration officials hailed the vote as an endorsement of their policies. "We regard it as a reaffirmation of the President's right to carry out foreign policy," said a statement issued by the White House.
The stage for Wednesday's confrontation was set last year when Congress voted to repeal a nine-year-old ban on aid to Angolan guerrillas. Last January, the Administration formally notified lawmakers of its plans to begin shipping aid to Savimbi's guerrilla organization, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), through the CIA.
Details of Reagan's program are considered classified, but congressional sources have indicated that the agency could tap up to $15 million in reserve funds for Savimbi's UNITA.
Hamilton's committee subsequently attached to another intelligence-funding bill language that would have required congressional review of any Angolan rebel aid. Wednesday's vote in the full House struck that provision from the bill. The chamber then went on to approve the full intelligence bill on a voice vote.
The Reagan victory came despite efforts by Hamilton and others to capitalize on growing frustration in Congress with the South African government, which is believed to have funneled more than $1 billion in aid over the last five years to Savimbi's army.
Helping Savimbi would "put the U.S. clearly in a military alliance with the apartheid regime of South Africa" and infuriate governments throughout black Africa, said Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs panel that oversees relations with African nations.
But supporters noted that 35,000 Cuban troops are stationed in Angola to help the Marxist government and argued that efforts to prevent aid from flowing to the guerrilla movement would dishearten anti-Communist movements everywhere.
"What does it say to Afghan rebels or Kampuchean (Cambodian) rebels?" asked Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.). "Are we going to say to the world, 'If you're going to fight for freedom, we're going to debate it on the floor of the U.S. House.?' "
MP, Los Angeles Times