U.S. has many reasons to intervene in Liberia - and must
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    U.S. has many reasons to intervene in Liberia - and must

    THE N&O: What should the U.S. role in Liberia be?
    JULIUS E. NYANG'ORO: Sending troops now is maybe a little bit late. The discussion should have taken place when it was becoming clear that normal life was breaking down, the government could no longer control two-thirds of the country and it was an open secret that President [Charles] Taylor would be indicted by the war criminals board in Sierra Leone. Another factor is the civil war in neighboring Ivory Coast, which erupted in September 2002. To a certain degree, Charles Taylor has been blamed for fueling the conflict by supporting one of the fighting factions. All these elements should have made it clear to Washington and to the international community that there was a need for immediate action.

    THE N&O: Does the U.S. have any special obligation to help Liberia?

    NYANG'ORO: There are several grounds for intervention. The first is moral and historical. Liberia as a nation was put together by returning ex-slaves from the U.S. But over the years, they mistreated the natives whom they encountered in the process of settling Liberia. Naturally, this led to political discontent. Liberia has been in a tailspin politically and militarily since 1980, when Sgt. [Samuel] Doe, himself a "native," overthrew the previous government. He justified his actions by claiming to rectify disadvantages that the natives had suffered. When things begin falling apart in 1980, the United States should have intervened. But that never happened. Incidentally, Sgt. Doe was one of the first visitors to Ronald Reagan's White House. Further, during the Cold War, Liberia was a major listening post for the CIA in West Africa. In this regard, Liberia was a critical participant in the fight against communism. For these reasons alone, the U.S. should play an active role in making sure Liberia doesn't go to the dogs.

    The second ground for intervention is political-strategic. Although there's no current evidence that terrorists harassing the West have come from Liberia, there is ample evidence that most terrorists are operating in countries that have failed states. Liberia is one such failed state, so if we are to get on this bandwagon of fighting global terrorism, we cannot allow Liberia to dovetail into this crazy tailspin of violence and nongovernability.

    Another concern is that Liberia's current government does not seem to respect the sovereignty of neighboring states. It has been used as a staging ground for attacks on countries such as Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.

    The third ground is a broader, West African economic development ground. There's no way you can have normal economic development in the region if a conflict in Liberia is spilling into other countries.

    THE N&O: What makes the risks for U.S. intervention different from Somalia?

    NYANG'ORO: Liberians are begging Americans to come. In Somalia, we went in on one of those "feel good" humanitarian missions without understanding the complexities that led to the collapse of the Somali state. The U.S. had underestimated the dangers it would face. In contrast, in Liberia there are functioning [government] institutions, and the U.S. would be part of a large coalition with countries in Africa playing a leading role. The parameters of safety are quite high. In any case, we've learned from Somalia and had other peacekeeping operations worldwide.

    Speaking from the African perspective, the long list of excuses that Americans are coming up with [for not intervening] is symptomatic of the perception that the U.S. government cares very little about African problems.

    THE N&O: Reacting to one of those concerns, that our military is spread too thin, President Bush says intervening won't overextend it. Why do you think this issue is being raised in this case? Is it because of race?

    NYANG'ORO: Race is always a charged concept, particularly if you're dealing with black people not only in the U.S., but also in Africa. I think the excuses are largely based on the lack of appreciation of the importance of Africa to the United States. Many in the current regime in Washington have very little experience in Africa. You can have two high-profile black people, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, but this does not translate into a clear appreciation of the importance of Africa. Admittedly, Rice and Powell may have done a wonderful job in getting the president to make those historic visits to African countries this month. More needs to be done.

    Secondly, we need to recall that the Bush administration came to power with a bold statement about not wanting to participate in "nation-building." I would argue that what the U.S. is involved in in Iraq and Afghanistan is "nation-building." One may quibble with the premise of intervention, but at the end of the day, what we have is "nation-building." The practical change in policy by the Bush administration on this matter suggests Washington is capable of policy adjustment. This may be a good sign that, as the world urges Washington to become more proactive in dealing with unfolding human catastrophes such as in Liberia, the administration would respond positively.

    Finally, I don't think the number of troops that will be needed in Liberia is an undue burden. We have 146,000 in Iraq. In Liberia, we're talking maybe 2,000 or 3,000. That number is minuscule by any standard. I therefore do not accept the argument that U.S. troops are overstretched for peacekeeping operations in Liberia. Indeed, those lawmakers making such an argument are misreading the importance of the Liberian situation, and by extension the rest of Africa, to the United States.

    I find unpalatable some of the questions that are being asked, such as what is our strategic interest in Liberia -- I heard this from a member of Congress the other day -- and how long are we going to stay? These are questions by people who for one reason or another do not want to get involved in Africa. There is unanimous support globally for this to happen, and that's why I find appalling the foot-dragging on the part of U.S. lawmakers and the U.S. government in sending troops. People are dying on a daily basis -- half the Liberian population is displaced; Monrovia, the capital, is one gigantic refugee camp. What bothers me about the questions about the strategic interests of the U.S. in Africa is, it suggests we can dispense with a people, and that is really bothersome.

    Would I call that a racist comment? Probably not. I would say there is a deep-seated ignorance and the need for some serious education on the part of those making U.S. policy toward Africa.


  2. #2
    The U.S. can not and should not be expected to change the diaper of every country in the world that makes a mess of itself.

    Someone might say, "These poor countries cannot pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." To that I say let them fail! They need to work on economic growth instead of waring within. If they need the U.S. to hold them up, I figure that that could never stand on their own anyway.

    It looks like we are going in, but I think it is a mistake!
    No, we don't have the troops.
    We have run out of money.
    What next? The draft?

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