Tshombe: A Bit Better Alive Than Dead

When ex-convict kidnapped former Congolese premier Moise Tshombe and took him to Algeria, current Congolese President Joseph Mobutu told the United Nations that Tshombe had been plotting a military takeover with the help of Spainards, Portuguese, and South Africans. Apparently white South Africa was willing to help Tshombe against Mobutu, who is playing the role of nationalist leader. Most evidence indicates that Tshombe (who was living in Spain) was in fact, involved in 8 plot: there would be destruction of the Congolese economy by sabotage, a coup in eastern Congo by white mercenaries, the creation of a new Congo state, and the return of Tshombe.

The kidnapping left the white mercenaries with a plot, but no Tshombe. They therefore rushed into action immediately, much sooner than they had planned. In early July, the foreign mercenaries with the help of local pro-Tshombe forces, revolted against Mobutu's regime. In a week of fighting, the mercenaries accomplished little. Their mutiny and killing of Congolese soldiers provoked two weeks of anti-white hysteria that resulted in the deaths of many mercenaries and about 30 white civilians. The Congolese troops, with the aid of three United States Air Force transport aircraft, suppressed the mercenaries in the east and forced them to begin withdrawal from the country. Finally, Mobutu has obtained his wish that Algeria send Tshombe to the Congo, where he is under sentence of death.

President Johnson's decision to send the aircraft to the Congo, taken without the express approval of Congress, brought surprising reaction on Capitol Hill. Critics included Democrats and Republicans, Vietnam hawks and doves, and mostly Southerners and Midwesterners. It is understandable that Senator Fulbright (D-Ark.), a leading Vietnam critic, should say that the Congo commitment reflected a U.S. intention to meet aggression everywhere. He asked the Administration to show "some restraint in this kind of intervention" lest the U.S. invite Russia and Communist China to step up their in volvement in Africa.

But it is baffling to understand why such supporters of the Vietnam war as Senators Russell (D-Ga.), Thurmond (R-S.C.), Stennis (D-Miss.), and Byrd (D-Va.) were so outraged by the intervention. Maybe it is because they are southern whites, and Mobutu represents black African nationalism. Russell deplored entering "in local wars where we have no moral commitment to intervene." He is upset by the use of three U.S. planes there and at the same time calmly approves the expenditure of billions in Vietnam. It is amazing logic.

These Senators would be more constructive in the Congo situation if they would exert pressure on the State Department to help block any possible execution of Tshombe. His kidnapping, detention in Algeria, and proposed extradition to the Congo has been high-handed. An execution for political reasons would be even worse. No matter how destructive Tshombe has been, the United States should use its influence to convince Mobutu to try Tshombe under Congolese law.