On Point: Liberian Chaos

by Austin Bay
July 9, 2003Enter Liberia? For the United States, that's a snap, militarily.

Here's a possible military entrance: Special operations forcesin Liberia conduct a quick survey of landing sites. They attempt to identifypotential resistance, paying particular attention to armed gangs andmilitias.

Reconnaissance jets and unmanned aircraft, like the Predator,watch the jungle as assault ships arrive off the coast. Helicopters andamphibious vehicles shuttle Marines from the ships into the capital,Monrovia. Marine Harrier jumpjets cover the deployment. The Marines have acomplex task. They must be poised for combat and yet simultaneouslydemonstrate to a frightened populace that they intend to secure peace. Thejarheads arrive in bulletproof vests, but they also distribute candy.

Given Liberia's violent anarchy, this entrance might include aU.S. attack on the gangs who serve as Liberian President and Chief GangsterCharles Taylor's first-line muscle. The Pentagon could call this attack a"pre-emptive strike to protect peacekeepers." It would demonstrate Americancapabilities to the armed punks who rape, torture and murder the unarmedand helpless on a daily basis. Suddenly, their merciless cruelty hasconsequences.

This entrance is an intricate ballet no other nation can stagewith such speed and high likelihood of success. It's "hyperpower" ondisplay. American troops can conduct these tricky operations in the world'shard corners because they train constantly and American taxpayers buy theexpensive ships, aircraft, intelligence systems and weapons long-rangeoperations demand.

So America can handle the entrance. The determinative issueswith Liberia are (1) why do we go and (2) how do we leave?

One reason we go is Liberia's American historical connections.The American Colonization Society landed freed U.S. slaves at the presentsite of Monrovia in 1822. In 1847, the settlers established Africa's firstindependent republic. The freed slaves became the ruling class in Liberiaand thoroughly controlled "tribal Liberians" until 1980.

That's when the "current crisis" began, as Master Sgt. SamuelDoe (with the support of his Krahn tribe) overthrew the "Americo-Liberian"regime. Doe put his Krahn compatriots in key positions. In 1989, CharlesTaylor, a former Doe compatriot, rebelled, drawing on the Gio and Manotribes for support. One of Taylor's allies, Prince Johnson, turned onTaylor, starting a three-way fight for power. The Economic Community of WestAfrican States (ECOWAS) sent in peacekeepers, with Nigeria leading theoperation.

In 1990, Johnson killed Doe, recording the murder on videotape.The next seven years featured warlord chaos, frustrated peacekeepers andflopped peace plans. Taylor emerged as the kingpin in an interim governingcouncil. In 1997, Taylor was elected president in an election Jimmy Carterdeclared "fair."

Since then, Taylor's deals with diamond and arms smugglers haveinvolved Liberia in Sierra Leone's misery as well as shenanigans in theIvory Coast. An anti-Taylor rebellion broke out in 2000. In 2002, Taylordeclared a state of emergency. Liberia disintegrated into warring chunks.

The United Nations and United States both believe removingTaylor from power sets the stage for political stabilization. Taylor sayshe'll go, but he might return.

Even if he leaves, Liberia's problems are overwhelming.Corruption and gangsterism exacerbate tribal frictions in what wasessentially a petty West African coastal empire.

The instant upside to intervention is saving thousands ofinnocent lives. That's another reason to intervene.

Liberia, however, is a "fake state" in utter disorder. Fixing itrequires sustained presence. There's the crux of the "exit" issue -- whostays to build?

ECOWAS is 16 poor African nations -- aid recipients, not donors.The best non-governmental relief and development organizations are alreadyovertaxed.

The African, European and American consensus seems to be to useAmerican forces to stop Liberia's killers. The Bush administration needs touse this crisis as an opportunity to pursue a grander political consensus:America will stop the killers, but other nations must supply the builders.

France crabs about American "hyperpower," though hyperpower putsMarines in Monrovia. What Liberia needs is "hammer power" -- long-termdevelopmental support. That's difficult, and it's expensive. Still, it's theonly way to make any entrance worth the effort.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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