Courtesy Reuters

Something strange is occurring in the U.S.-South African relationship. At a time when our two societies need each other more than before, it is becoming unclear which one is more effective in exploiting divisions in the other. After nearly 20 years in which successive Republican and Democratic administrations have established some modest guidelines for U.S. policy, it has become fashionable to question whether the United States even has a policy toward South Africa. The fragile centrist consensus that so urgently needs to be strengthened among Americans instead founders in a fog of stereotypes and polarized perceptions about the country. On their side, South Africans are so enmeshed in their own internal ferment and so disenchanted with the recent American performance (globally as well as in southern Africa) that they view the United States increasingly as an object for manipulation, an ineffectual and reactive power.

With Zimbabwe's independence and

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  • Chester A. Crocker is Director of African Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University and Associate Professor of International Relations at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. Among his recent publications is South Africa into the 1980s, coedited with Richard E. Bissell.
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