BY formally recognizing the former Marxist government of Angola, President Clinton is trying to send Africa the message that his administration is serious about promoting democracy on a continent long burdened with too many tyrants.
He is also undoing a last bit of cold-war business. President Reagan had hailed Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi as a freedom fighter against Soviet influence. By throwing in with Mr. Savimbi's rival, government leader Jose Eduardo dos Santos, Mr. Clinton is belatedly saying that superpower posturing in Angola is over.
Savimbi, in Washington's view, has become nothing but another frustrated strongman trying to shoot his way into power. Savimbi and his National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) have rejected the results of last fall's election, in which Mr. dos Santos and his Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won a 49 percent plurality.
Savimbi has continued to forsake a United States and United Nations peace proposal. His renewed military offensives have claimed 20,000 more lives in a nation ravaged by war for almost two decades.
"The Angolan government, by contrast, has agreed to sign that peace agreement, has sworn in a democratically elected National Assembly and has offered participation by UNITA at all levels of government," said Clinton when announcing his policy change on Wednesday.
Recognition of Angola marks the final chapter in the so-called "Reagan doctrine," under which the US gave clandestine support to three insurgencies fighting Soviet-backed governments around the world: the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghan mujahideen, and UNITA. US supplied weapons helped UNITA fight the government of Dos Santos to a standstill in the late 1980s.
Negotiations resulted in last fall's election, in which Savimbi was defeated and which Western observers judged free and fair.
The results of the poll made US recognition of Dos Santos inevitable, as Clinton officials say promotion of democracy will be one of the guiding principles of their foreign policies. National security adviser Anthony Lake said in March that the administration was even seeking ways of reorienting its foreign aid for Africa to reward nations making the most democratic progress.
Whether recognition will have any effect on the renewed fighting is unclear. Savimbi's offensive caught the government by surprise and he now controls much of the country.