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On Liberia: Intervention For Me, But Not For Thee
W. James Antle III
09 July 2003
To put it bluntly, the strategic case for intervention in Liberia is somewhat less than overwhelming. What national
interest exists in Liberia?
Just when you
thought the United States was a hated imperialist superpower using its might
to achieve global hegemony, calls for yet another American military intervention
abroad are coming from surprising sources.
The United Nations, European diplomats, leaders of developing nations in
Africa and the antiwar left’s darling in the Democratic presidential field,
former Vermont governor Howard Dean, have all called upon the United States
to send troops to Liberia. Their mission would then be to lead a multilateral
peacekeeping force and avert the catastrophic results of continued fighting
between rebels and troops loyal to Liberian President Charles Taylor.
As pressure for U.S. involvement built, President Bush responded by dispatching
military experts to the region to assess the requirements for enforcing the
latest precarious cease-fire.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan proclaimed that there were “lots of expectations
that the U.S. may be prepared to lead this force” and that “all eyes are
on them.” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin advocated U.S.
intervention on the grounds that "France has assumed its responsibilities
in Ivory Coast, the United Kingdom in Sierra Leone and the United States
has a tradition in Liberia.” Dean distinguished his support for entering
Liberia with his strident opposition to the war in Iraq: “The situation in
Liberia is exactly the opposite. There is an imminent threat of serious
human catastrophe and the world community is asking the United States to
exercise its leadership.”
It can be debated whether there was a legitimate national interest in going
to war against Iraq. But the principal argument for such a war was
that deposing Saddam Hussein would enhance American security. Protecting
Americans from terrorists and weapons of mass destruction is a constitutional
responsibility of the federal government. What national interest exists
The arguments don’t get much better than Dean’s. Some point out that
Liberia was founded by freed American slaves, who were settled there by American
anti-slavery societies. Its original constitution was based on ours,
as is its national flag, its capital city Monrovia is named after U.S. President
James Monroe and it was governed for much of its history by the “Americo-Liberians”
descended from former American slaves. Others note that Liberia was
a Cold War ally. (If anything, Liberia might be a case study in how
American intervention can backfire on its intended beneficiaries.)
According to the Washington Post, a European intelligence report found
that President Taylor had harbored al Qaeda after 9/11, but his regime is
on the brink of collapse without U.S. involvement. Finally, some believe
intervening in Liberia would be good public relations in the aftermath of
controversial actions in Iraq that divided the world. President Bush
may well be persuaded by that argument, sending troops to Liberia for reasons
similar to his father’s decision to send troops to Somalia after the first
In short, the strategic case for this humanitarian mission is somewhat less
than overwhelming. This would arguably constitute a greater example
of the U.S. acting as policeman of the world than an Iraq war that was at
least justified on the basis of preemptive self-defense – this is an explicit
case of us going into stop an ugly fight and a nasty dictator. So why
are so many of those who opposed that war clamoring for Americans to get
involved in this one?
It is impossible to escape the conclusion that the United Nations, the European
Union and all those the Hudson Institute’s John Fonte characterizes as “transnational
progressives” don’t object to American power in principle as long as it is
being used for their purposes, as opposed to something like those pesky American
national interests. Transnational progressives are as willing to use
the U.S. military to reshape the world as neoconservatives, but they differ
as to who should be in control of that force. Unlike the latter, transnational
progressives don’t want it to be America. Like hired help, they want
the Americans to come in and do the heavy lifting, but under conditions set
by the so-called “world community” and according to what they are told.
That’s why none of the usual suspects objected to the U.S. sending troops
to Haiti under Bill Clinton in order to “restore democracy.” Relatively
few of them complained when Clinton bombed Serbia and intervened in Kosovo
for humanitarian purposes without formal U.N. sanction. When then UN
Ambassador Madeline Albright asked Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re
always talking about if we can’t use it,” she wasn’t roundly denounced as
a warmonger. Can you imagine if reports emerged that Donald Rumsfeld
said something like that? Such criticism only takes place when the
U.S. acts in accord with its own perceived interests independently of any
Again, people of good will can disagree about whether the Iraq war was in
the U.S. national interest. But when an American president calls for
regime change in a foreign land based on the argument that it will protect
Americans, he is ridiculed as a cowboy and criticized as a threat to world
peace. When regime change will protect someone else or is justified
by humanitarian concerns, and is conducted in conjunction with Europe or
the U.N., it is perfectly fine.
Much of the world views the U.S. no differently than particularly spoiled
adolescents view their parents: A source of money and protection that should
just keep paying and otherwise shut up and butt out. This attitude
is apparent in De Villepin’s recent comments on the U.S. sending troops to
Liberia. When asked about President Bush’s requirement that the strongman
Taylor step down before any forces are committed, France’s foreign minister,
just after calling for the U.S. to handle the situation responded, “In such
conflict resolution, outside dictatorship does not help anybody.” In
other words, don’t assert decision-making authority, just shut up and send
America’s military is likely to be further extended in yet another commitment.
This ought to be a cause of concern, especially in the context of the war
on terror. But that is one of those inconsequential American national
interests, something that apparently should not be considered as long as
we keep providing troops and paying the bills at the U.N.’s request.
Talk about a “humble” foreign policy.
James Antle III is a Senior Editor for EnterStageRight.com
and a primary columnist for IntellectualConservative.com. He is a freelance
writer from Boston, Massachussetts.
W. James Antle III
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