Sail on,0 Lip of State
As diplomats go, Andrew Young doesn’t
Andy Young is lounging back with his feet stretched out on a grubby off-white sectional settee. We are in the family room of his townhouse on a discreet backwater of Washington’s Capitol Hill. His handsome face (it gets a touch of romantic class from the tiny scar on the bridge of his nose) is still gleaming from a tennis game. He seems completely relaxed in a crumpled white sweat shirt and baggy blue slacks. He is at ease, looking forward to a trip into Africa, and there may be some hint of what makes him tick, like a time bomb.
Andrew Jackson Young Jr. may become the most powerful black man in history. Right now, as the United States ambassador to the United Nations, he has more political clout than any other black in America. He could make it all the way, if his gratuitous, arrogant and insulting candor doesn’t bring him down.
The accent is soft, low key and appealing to a northern ear. It is not the Georgia drawl of Jimmy Carter, nor is there any trace of a Mississippi whine. It is sophisticated New Orleans. We go through his life and times and hopes. But Andy Young doesn’t chat, doesn’t hold a conversation, there is no trace of humor; he preaches. Maybe it’s a holdover from his days as a Congregationalist minister. Maybe it’s a result of his single-minded ambition. Everything is so clear cut, so black and white. Right or wrong. Y ou wonder how he makes his decisions, and then he analyzes one of the biggest decisions of his life. “Before I met my wife,” he says, “I visited her house and saw her senior lifesaving certificate on the wall and also a Revised Standard Version of the Bible that had been underlined with marginal notes. And I’d never met a woman who had an active interest in religion and athletics. I think I decided I was going to marry her before I met her, just on the basis of those two things.”
Now it is hard to home in on something like that. It seems unfair. The story should be dismissed as anecdotal, without significance, possibly even apocryphal. But still it nags as being important. For even allowing for emphasis by exaggeration, it was made with enough conviction to indicate a curious empirical streak—being a good swimmer and reading the Bible, admirable though these qualities may be, are dubious at best when presented as qualifications for the perfect bride. Neverthless, no one would take much notice of the line if there was not further evidence of Ambassador Young using the same kind of thought process in international affairs. As it happens, it worked well in choosing a wife— he and Jean have a good marriage—but the signs for its success in striving to grapple with the problem of, say, South Africa are something else. In fact, it could get a lot of people killed. Which brings us to the dangerous side of him.To understand that, one must know his background.
His power base has been more than 20 years in the making. It is solid. He can deliver. By using it aggressively, he has established a unique springboard friendship with the President of the United States. Andy Young is 45. He is the eldest son of a middle-class New Orleans dentist. A child
of both the Depression and the Jazz Age, he was shielded from both. There is some Indian blood in the family, and his light skin and want-not heritage made him a target for his blacker have-not, childhood contemporaries. Given the chance, they used to beat him up. From this he learned his diplomacy—appropriately in the boxing ring. Andrew senior was the teacher. “The South was quite bad when I was growing up. My father was always one to be very calm and reasonable about everything. He’d say, ‘When you get into difficulty, don’t get mad, get smart. Don’t react emotionally, think things through.’ We used to box a lot as kids. When he and 1 were sparring he’d always slap me around a little bit, sort of teasing me and in a way teaching me to control my temper. The harder I swung, the more emotional I got, and the harder he hit me. And pretty soon I began to slow down and think about how I was going to deal with the situation.”
His'father wanted him to be a dentist and “raised hell” when he went in for preaching. But Young was a rebel. He listened not and graduated from Hartford (Connecticut) Theological Seminary to minister in a series of small southern towns. In 1954 he and his wife moved to New York where he landed a job with the National Council of Churches, but it seemed to be leading nowhere and in the spring of 1961 he made the bigjumpoutof full-time religion into civil rights as a staff organizer in Atlanta with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
His boss was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In a matter of months he was King’s top aide. Throughout the riotous Sixties, Young marched through the hot spots for integration and busing and a fair deal at any price. King was always up front, jailed, beaten and battered a score of times. Young was ordered to stay farther back. After any furor instigated by King it was Young’s job to negotiate and work out a deal, letting black kids into white schools or making room at the front of the bus. Three times he was thrown in jail. Four years later, when Dr. King was assassinated, Andy Young realized that it was time for him to move into active politics. In 1970 he ran for Congress in Georgia against a segregationist, and lost badly. Two years later after the district had been reapportioned—it is now 60-40 white to black—he ran again and won, the first black man to be elected from Dixie since 1871. On Capitol Hill Young became a wheeler-dealer, a wily infighter, a natural bargainer. He was the only member of the black caucus to vote for Gerald Ford’s confirmation as vice-president, a debt Ford paid off last year when Atlanta (part of Young’s constituency) received a billion dollars in federal funds.
Then an intriguing thing happened. Smiling Jimmy Carter, one-term Governor of Georgia, began to emerge last spring as a leading Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States. At first Young was wary of Carter: he saw him as too conservative. Until February of last year, they were no more than political acquaintances. But then the Congressman had to make his choice from the horde of Democratic presidential candidates. “My tendency,” he recalled, “was to go with one of the conventional liberals, like Mo Udall. But I figured it wouldn’t work unless the party could get rid of George Wallace and hold onto the South. I concluded that Jimmy Carter could do that for us by beating Wallace on his own turf.” Young signed on with the Carter campaign for the Florida primary only. Arguing that Florida could prove to the nation that “a new South really does exist,” he blanketed the state, talking to blacks and liberals from Tallahassee to Miami. Carter beat Wallace, knocking the Alabama governor out of presidential politics and establishing himself as the early front-runner. After that, Carter and Young held a series of long policy sessions at the peanut farm in Plains and Young emerged a committed Carterite. From spring through fall, Young campaigned in 17 states, calling on his own special charisma to pull in the black votes. It worked with a vengeance. When the polling stations closed last November 2, Carter had won 91% of the nation’s black vote. It put him over the top in at least five states and arguably won him the election.
Perhaps more than any other single individual Andy Young pushed Jimmy Carter into the White House. Like Gerald Ford before him, Carter now owed a debt to the black congressman. First came praise and closeness from the President-elect. “Andy Young is one of my best friends,” he said. And added: “He is the finest elected official I have ever known.” Second came the job. He appointed Young as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations with cabinet status, a salary of $57,500 a year, plus $42,000 entertainment allowance, and perks galore,including an official residence on the 42nd floor of the Waldorf Towers.
Not everyone, however, was pleased with the payoff. An influential black journalist commented: “There are blacks who are mad at Andy, I mean mad at what he’s doing. Andy is Andy, everybody loves him. But the feeling is that he’s not standing up to Carter.” Julian Bond, a Georgia state senator and Carter’s strongest critic, adds: “In supporting Carter Andy should have gotten more than he did. This was talked about among blacks all along when Andy was going out on a limb for Carter. What was said was—‘What is he getting in return’?—not for himself, but for the black community, in return for that critical support. The answer was that he didn’t get what he gave.”
Nevertheless, it took no time at all for Ambassador Young to establish himself as possibly the most extraordinary diplomat everto represent the United States at the United Nations. His goofs are already part of political folklore. Next to President Carter himself, he is the most vocal, the most controversial and the most listened-to member of the new administration. Ambassador Young steals the spotlight with his style and statements. That they lack substance does not seem to bother him. While President Carter boasts of an open door administration, the wags say that Young practises open-mouth diplomacy.
He embarked on his litany of diplomatic errors in late January by declaring that Cuban troops were a “stabilizing influence” in Angola. Official U.S. policy calls for Castro to remove all of his forces from Africa, so the ambassador’s view came as a shock to Washington where it was hastily “clarified.” The echoes of distress had hardly dampened when Young did it again. This time he suggested that U.S. troops might go to Rhodesia as part of a peacekeeping force. Before Congress had a chance to choke on the notion, the state department said such a plan was “unthinkable.” A couple of days after that Young said, “No one has any confidence in the British to work out a solution in Rhodesia.” Again, this is contrary to Washington policy which places almost total dependence on the British in Rhodesia. The remark was allowed to fade in embarrassed silence.
It had not quite gone away, however, when Brady Tyson, a 49-year-old former Methodist missionary in Latin America, whom Young had sent as his representative to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, read a startling statement to the assembly. In it he expressed, the “profoundest regrets” for the role he said the United States had played in “the subversion of the previous democratically elected government of Chile.” Tyson, it turned out, had no authority whatever to apologize on behalf of the United States and President Carter was forced to step in with a retraction. Tyson had just been taking a leaf from his boss’s book and speaking for himself. The disease was spreading. But Young had escaped vaccination. He broke out again soon after by saying that the British were “a little chicken” on racial issues and further that “they almost invented racism.” Not surprisingly, Ivor Richard, Britain’s Ambassador to the UN called Young with a formal protest. “ Y ou are no longer a congressman or a preacher—here you speak for your government,” said an angry Richard. Within hours Young had written a formal letter of apology. The President had to apologize as well.
Young’s next gaffe came when he was asked if the South African government was “illegitimate.” He replied, “Yeah.” This one really started a row. Young added to it by commenting later, “I hate anything to do with the South African government.” The South Africans were not amused. They demanded clarification. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance called Young to say that he had misrepresented American foreign policy and then issued a formal statement saying Washington in no way regards the South African government as “illegitimate.” A few more days and Andy opened up again. This time he said the Arab hatred of the Jews reminded him of Ku Klux Klan hatred of blacks. Ambassador Ali Humaidan of the United Arab Emirates visited Young. He explained: “All the Arabs differentiate between Zionism and Judaism. We consider Judaism a sacred religion as we do Islam and Christianity. Zionism is the movement to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine.” Twenty Arab UN delegations complained to the state department and Young asked forgiveness, saying that he was new, ignorant and learning.
It has been without a doubt a record performance. In one 12-week period, the ambassador made six major diplomatic blunders—seven if you count him as responsible for the Chile apology, and many do. Some of those along Embassy Row in Washington say that Andrew Young is to diplomacy what Idi Amin is to democracy. Some diplomats argue that he is ruthlessly using the forum to keep his name in the news.
There is probably not another man alive who could have gotten away with it. A new, proud President like Jimmy Carter would have stood for it from no one else. Everyone in Washington, apart from the White House where it matters, is saying that Andrew Young has to go. He is a disaster. He has no understanding that, as an ambassador, he speaks for the United States and can’t spout off his private opinions. His credibility is perilously low. The most difficult case in point is South Africa. Young sees it in terms of the old South. Apartheid is much the same to him as the segregation within Dixie. And he encourages “peaceful protest.” He gives young blacks there the impression that he—and thus, they think, America—is behind them if they follow the old Martin Luther King methods of marches and sit-ins.
Which recalls that empirical streak Young demonstrated with his story of the swimming certificate, the Bible, and his marriage proposal. This time it definitely doesn’t add up. Sit-ins and marches in Pretoria are much different from those in Selma. When violence erupts in South Africa, blacks are killed at a remarkable rate. It was perhaps with this in mind that the President decided, soon after the “illegitimate” goof, to name Vice-President Walter Mondale as the man officially in charge of formulation of an African policy. The hope is that Young will now keep reluctantly quiet on the subject. Indeed the move, although this has been denied, can be interpreted as Carter’s first attempt to subdue if not to silence his ambassador.
Over the years, the job of U.S. Ambassador to the UN has changed. Traditionally a task of high diplomacy and earnest statesmanship, it has become a stepping stone to elective political office. Of course that is not quite the way Young sees it. Back in his family room with the big color television showing The Six Million Dollar Man in the background, he was feeling philosophical. “I see my role somehow as a bridge between the most powerful nation in the world and the smaller nations.”
But isn’t all the controversy which surrounds you counterproductive, I ask. “Not at all,” he snaps. And adds: “I have found it extremely helpful. I can’t be a traditional diplomat, reading speeches sent from Washington. The very fact that I have continued to be the same type of person that I was maintains my credibility politically. Because I am very blunt and straightforward with my colleagues at the UN, I find that I can maintain the respect of Israelis and Arabs alike, and in spite of all I’ve maintained fairly good relations with the black African states and the South Africans and Europeans.”
He can’t be serious about good relations with the Arabs and South Africans. “I’m not saying things that are untrue. When you talk about things as they are, actually are, people who know the truth say well, maybe we will be able to expect from the United States the kind of leadership we used to get.”
Well, maybe. But has there been any word from Washington to cool it? “I think the state department in the lower levels gets very uncomfortable with the style, and yet they admire it... but they’re very ... I don’t know . . . they are disturbed by it. When things happen initially, because things just aren’t done that way, and it’s not that they say I shouldn’t do it or that I’m wrong, they just get . . . they panic. And usually it takes care of itself in a day or so. The President has done nothing but encourage me, almost too much.”
So far Canada seems to have escaped his attention ... “Ambassador [William] Bartonand the Canadian delegation have been extremely helpful and we’ve worked very closely together. We find that we agree probably more between the United States and Canada than, say, many of the other Western nations. Canada has a very critical role in UN politics because they are a nation with all of the values and abilities technologically of the so-called superpowers. And yet, because they are not an extremely rich or threatening military presence, they can function—I mean people kind of listen to them when they might be threatened by us. Canada took a very enlightened position on Cuba and Vietnam and in a way Canada has done all of the things that the United States should have been doing.”
Because of his special relationship with the President, Ambassador Young is free to do or say just about anything he wants. But the association could turn brittle. When Carter talks of Young being one of his “best friends” you cannot interpret the remark literally. The imagery would be all wrong. They are in no way old pals.
I asked Young how he sees his own future. He replied: “I never think beyond the job that I’m doing. When I was with the civil rights I never thought about running for Congress. When I was in Congress I never thought of a job like this. I really don’t think about anything else. There’s really nothing else that I’m interested in.”
Well, what about the White House? He raised the pitch of his voice to say: “I wouldn’t trade the White House for this, certainly I wouldn’t trade the Vice-Presidency for this. I’m still trying out my ideas and I can try them out at the UN without very much being at stake."
At least he admits that he is in training for something else, trying out his ideas. The most likely scenario for his future is that after a respectable period, perhaps a year, the President will have a cabinet reshuffle. Young will be “promoted” out of his UN job into a top cabinet post where he will be more easily contained.
And then, in the long run, if he learns to hold his tongue? The smart money sees Jimmy Carter in power until 1985 when Walter Mondale will be in a strong position to take over. Andy Young will be needed again but his price will be much higher and the country will be ready for its first black vice-president. After that, it’s up to Andy.