Waving the Stars and Stripes in Liberia

By Paul Connors

Over the course of its history, the United States, like every other powerful nation, has made its share of mistakes. We've witnessed the failure of American might in Vietnam, the demoralization of our armed forces in its aftermath, their rebuilding and then, unbelievably, the near unraveling of those same forces under the incompetent Clinton defense establishment.

With President Bush's visit this week to Africa, two nations have shown up on American radar screens. The first is Liberia, a nation on the west coast of Africa established by the United States for freed former slaves. The second, a former British colony named Zimbabwe, where the maniacal Marxist despot Robert Mugabe and his racist thugs have all but ruined the economy of a country that once boasted the highest rate of agricultural productivity on the continent.

While U.S. news media outlets all but ignore Mugabe's depredations against his own people, these same paragons of “journalistic integrity” continue to carp on the special relationship between the United States and Liberia. This duplicitous reportage is amplified by the hypocrisy of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, the French and German governments and others who want the United States to take the lead in stopping Liberia’s civil war.

In any event, the United States faces a cruel dilemma in regards to Liberia: To ignore the strife and violence risks alienating many of our allies around the world who indeed look upon us as a beacon of freedom. On the other hand, our military is seriously over-stressed from war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the ongoing campaign against terrorism, and some experts say a Liberian intervention would make things much worse.

While it is true that a special relationship has always existed between the United States of America and Liberia, it should be remembered that Liberia, unlike the other nations in Africa, had never been an American colony. Since the beginning of Western decolonization following World War II, the former European imperial powers have granted independence to their former African colonies and protectorates. Many of the new nations have seen nothing but strife since their former colonial administrators returned to London, Paris, Brussels and Lisbon.

The list of wars on the African continent is a litany of the failure of the former colonial powers to prepare their colonial subjects for self-rule despite the fact that some of these countries possessed incredible wealth in natural resources that could have become the motive power for growing and vibrant economies.

Like its neighbors, Liberia has suffered through its own share of internal strife, rebellion, corruption and tribal infighting. Since 1980, political infighting, murder and mayhem have been the order if the day. One coup has followed another and democracy appears to have died.

What is particularly sad is that Liberia has a Constitution modeled after our own and initially, the institutions of government worked well there. But ethnic divisions also existed as descendants of freed slaves sought to maintain power over tribesmen in the interior who had never left Africa.

As the world’s sole superpower, the United States is reviled and despised in many quarters. In the capitals of Europe, where the effete socialist elitists who run the European Union and its member states insult the United States and its elected leader, they shamelessly call on the United States to accept moral responsibility for leading an international force to stop the bloodshed in Monrovia and the areas surrounding the Liberian capital. These are the same European nations that have amassed such a dismal record in their own former sub-Saharan colonies.

France once again showed its true colors when President Jacques Chirac’s foreign ministry called on President Bush to send troops to Liberia (despite the fact that American forces are spread ridiculously thin around the world). This is the same French government that blocked further U.N. action against Iraq last fall, while continuing to send Foreign Legionnaires and Marine (or should I use their former designation “colonial”?) paratroops to the Ivory Coast to protect the government there.

Yes, it is true that Chirac has made some attempts to repair the damaged trans-Atlantic relationship with Washington, it is also true that his arrogant Marxist counterpart, German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder, apparently feels no need to do likewise. And also sad, but equally true, is that German arrogance seems limitless as the Foreign Ministry in Berlin echoes French calls for American troops for Africa.

The French and Germans take perverse pride in pointing out that American forces are now in the minority in such other peacekeeping locations as Bosnia and Kosovo, while conveniently ignoring the fact that they provided no forces to topple Saddam’s regime. When it suits their purposes, the leaders of the Franco-German alliance have no compunctions about demanding American participation in their pet projects.

With President Bush on the African continent, residents of Liberia have echoed the calls for American intervention. While in most countries our enemies burn the American flag, residents of Monrovia wave ours with a reverence not shown it by Hollywood’s leftist loonies and other vocal critics of American foreign policy. The people who have suffered under Liberian President Charles Taylor and before him Master Sgt. Samuel K. Doe seem to know what the rest of the world does not: that the United States (with all its flaws) is the last, best and greatest hope for their salvation.

But today’s debate topic remains: Should President Bush send troops to Liberia? Will he? Those are unanswered questions that can’t be addressed until a different question is answered: Where will Bush get them from?

Almost every active-duty, combat ready Army and Marine battalion is currently committed somewhere on the face of the earth. Bush could still turn to the Pentagon’s roster of National Guard infantry, armor and cavalry battalions that have not been activated, but do we want to entrust such an important and high-profile mission to units that have not been adequately trained for it?

Would we want a reserve or Guard battalion to be the lead force even if there were a multi-national force created to re-establish stability in Liberia? Or will the president call on the Regular Army to provide a battalion – one that likely has already been tasked and over-tasked by numerous deployments.

This is the legacy of abuse and neglect in the Clinton years that the U.S. military must struggle with today. That struggle will continue as long as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in his push for transformation of the military continues to push for more force cuts in both the active and reserve components to generate the necessary money to pay for it.

While President Bush and many Americans could care less of what folks in the Elysee Palace or the Reichstag think, the world nevertheless is watching and waiting to see what our response will be to the Liberians’ plea for our help. President Bush and his advisers are obviously searching even now for what is termed the “least-worst” option: whether to follow Clinton’s path in 1994 and ignore the horrors of another Rwanda, or to offer up again our greatest national resource – our young men and women in uniform – to intervene in a conflict of unspeakable evils and intractable hatreds.

One image is impossible to ignore: In one violence-wracked capital halfway around the world, a nation’s citizens are waving the Stars and Stripes and are praying for our arrival as the only chance they will have for a better and safer future.

Paul Connors is a Senior Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at paulconnors@hotmail.com. © 2003 Paul Connors.