The U.S. should not intervene in Liberia
August 13th, 2004
U.S. Marines are waiting off the Liberian coast to take part in the international peacekeeping effort in the war-torn country. President Bush has said that the Liberian President must step down in order for US troops to take part in any peacekeeping mission, that requirement was fulfilled within the last week.
I was critical of the Clinton Administration's use of military force for peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, none of which represented a national security interest for the United states. The fact that President Bush is a Republican does not make this Clintonian policy any less unwise.
Yes, Liberians cheered West African peacekeepers when they arrived. It is important to remember that U.S. forces were cheered not only when they arrived in Iraq a few months ago but when they arrived in Somalia to help end a famine.
In Iraq, American troops were cheered when our invasion toppled the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. But the euphoria over the elimination of Hussein did not last. Even now American troops continue to die as Iraqi guerrilla fighters chip away at the occupying force. This is not surprising, as any invading force would be met with hostility, no matter how bad the old regime was. But since we toppled Iraq's government, we have an obligation to help them build a new one.
In Somalia, we sent troops to end a famine caused by Somali warlords, certainly a noble motive. But a year later, Somali savages were dragging the naked bodies of murdered American soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu, while Somali children played on a downed American helicopter.
Is this the "thanks" that America gets for sending its young men to put their lives in danger for purely humanitarian reasons?
Does President Bush have an exit strategery if he sends U.S. troops into Liberia? Why should we put American lives at risk in Liberia, when American troops are already stretched thin in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a potential military conflict with North Korea is looming? American troops are already committed in Afghanistan and Iraq, so do we need another open-ended nation-building commitment? No, we do not. The war in Afghanistan was justified because the Taliban was harboring Osama bin Laden and his cohorts, and the war in Iraq was justified due to Saddam Hussein's connections with Al Qaeda as well has his efforts to establish a weapons of mass destruction program.
The roots of Liberia's civil war stretch back more than 20 years. Liberia endured a civil war from 1989 to 1996, and the recent fighting is four years old. If Bush sends peacekeepers into Liberia, how long will they be there? How do we define "victory" in this peacekeeping operation? Finally, how do we know that fighting will not resume once American peacekeepers leave? Simple. We don't.
There is no national security interest in Liberia. Military force should be a last resort to deal with a problem, used only when necessary to defend our national security interests. Is Bush willing to tell American mothers that their sons are going to die defending not their homeland, but to soothe the moral conscience of Americans who want to "do something" about the conflict in Liberia?
The United States is hated all over the world. Some of this hatred is due to the ideals of freedom we advocate, some is due to jealousy over our wealth and power. But some of the hate directed at the United States is justifiably caused by the fact that we insert ourselves into many areas that are none of our business. If President Bush sends "peacekeepers" to Liberia, they will eventually be seen as interlopers and will be resented, and probably violently resisted, by Liberians.
Should the United States ignore the mess in Liberia? Of course, we should not. Humanitarian aid (ideally from private individuals and foundations, not government) and assistance to a regional peacekeeping force is justifiable. (After all, Liberia's neighbors have an interest in preventing the chaos there from spreading further.) As the richest nation in the world, we should help when we can and Liberia is experiencing a humanitarian crisis. But military force should not be committed.
President Bush should not follow in the footsteps of disgraced ex-President Clinton.