AT first glance the idea seems appealing -- providing $27 million in nonmilitary assistance to rebels fighting Angola's government forces, which have heavy Cuban and Soviet assistance. Backers of the proposal say the pro-Western UNITA forces of Jonas Savimbi, now low on resources, appeal for Western assistance. The plan to aid them is gathering support in Congress, and among some members of the Reagan administration. But when the issue is carefully thought through, it loses appeal. No national consensus exists for such aid. No wide-ranging discussion, much less agreement, has been held on what the United States' ultimate aim would be in providing such help, or on how much assistance the US would be prepared eventually to offer. Little has been said of what the American reaction would be if the Soviets or Cubans countered by stepping up their own role.

In recent years UNITA has been backed by South Africa. In the eyes of black Africa, American support would align Washington with Pretoria -- precisely the image the US ought to avoid.

The US State Department is staunchly opposed to providing the aid. It correctly says that Angola's struggle, which has continued during its 10 years of independence, ought to be settled through diplomacy, not arms aid.

International issues are like chess games: No moves should be made without planning several future ones. Congress should not be precipitate: Before acting on the $27 million plan it should scrutinize all the ramifications of aid. If it does, it will likely agree with the State Department and reject aid to Mr. Savimbi.

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