Stay the Hell Out of Liberia!

Just in time for President Bush's trip to Africa comes word that we may get directly involved in the political crisis within the nation of Liberia. This is a land that has been blighted by 14 years of war and terror. Now the international community has turned to us and asked that we do something to about it.

President Bush did not hide his opinions of the situation. He said, 'One expectation is that Mr. Taylor's got to leave. That message is clear. I can't make it any more clear.' I, of course, have nothing good to say about yet another corrupt, rapacious African dictator like Charles Taylor, but the word 'another' says it all. He's been indicted by a war crimes court for his actions in Sierra Leone ; however, the standards by which he was convicted could also apply to many other African rulers. He is by no means a unique case.

Bush's words, unfortunately, are not where the matter ends. We are considering sending American soldiers there as a way to prop up the cease fire in their civil war. Specifically, 'Officials said they are considering sending 500 to 2,000 American troops, a number that will be determined after a decision is made about the force's precise mission.' I realize that this is not a tremendous number of soldiers, but if any of them start coming back in body bags (I think we all know some will), it will be far too many for most Americans, considering what we've been through in the last few months.

The battle over whether Saddam's Iraq possessed WMDs rages back and forth within Congress and the pundit class, but there cannot be even the slightest pretense on the part of our government that the Liberians pose a threat to our people in any shape or form. This would be strictly a humanitarian venture and will not in the least advance our interests. Therefore, I firmly believe that Liberian action will have little sustainable support either from the left or from the right.

We've all heard about the 'slippery slope' in the last few weeks due to recent Supreme Court decisions, but it really applies to this issue. I firmly believe that setting a new precedent for American policing is very dangerous. Perhaps we can help the people of Liberia , but how do we say no to the next basket case country? Answer: we can't. There are hundreds of geopolitical conflagrations on this planet and, should we send men to Liberia, I see no mechanism in place to prevent this administration from getting involved in all of the other crises.

Regarding Liberia, officials hold that we'd only need to be there a few months to ensure peace. Yet, such a notion is belied by the country's 14 years of strife and African history in general. Paris will always be Paris and Africa will always be Africa. It is a continent marked by decades of political instability. If we commit our military there today, it may stay overseas for the rest of the millennium. I see no reason why we should start a permanent African fire brigade. If the situation in Liberia stabilizes, do we then send the boys to Zimbabwe ? How about Sudan or the Congo ?

I believe President Bush will be making a serious foreign policy blunder with Liberia. Specifically, he said 'We're concerned when we see suffering ' people are suffering there. The political instability is such that people are panicking.' By this criteria, we could police half the world. The fact that the normal, average person in an African kleptocracy suffers terribly is undeniable, and I have tremendous sympathy for them, but, by this standard, a plethora of nations will 'leave the light on for us.' Our troops will be more omnipresent than McDonalds on the seven continents.

The article I cited above also noted: 'The military, administration officials said, remains haunted by the attempt to bring peace to Somalia, an effort that led to the deaths of 18 American troops in 1993.' To this writer and citizen, recalling past mistakes is a sound way to ensure successful decision making in the future. Our military establishment has every right to be haunted by Mogadishu. The public cannot be happy about all the deaths we've had in Iraq since May 1st and video clips of our men being dismembered and dragged through the streets of Monrovia will increase our feelings of remorse.

The bottom line here is that we already have nearly a quarter of a million soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan at the present time, and the last thing we need is to put any more American lives in jeopardy by sending them to a place specializing in early death, landmines and machine gun fire. I urge President Bush not to commit any more United States forces to Africa. The 60 plus bodies coming home from Iraq are enough for one summer.

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Bernard Chapin's picture
Columns on STR: 33

Bernard Chapin is a writer from Chicago.