by Austin Bay
July 9, 2003Enter Liberia? For the United States, that's a snap, militarily.
Here's a possible military entrance: Special operations forces
in Liberia conduct a quick survey of landing sites. They attempt to identify
potential resistance, paying particular attention to armed gangs and
Reconnaissance jets and unmanned aircraft, like the Predator,
watch the jungle as assault ships arrive off the coast. Helicopters and
amphibious vehicles shuttle Marines from the ships into the capital,
Monrovia. Marine Harrier jumpjets cover the deployment. The Marines have a
complex task. They must be poised for combat and yet simultaneously
demonstrate to a frightened populace that they intend to secure peace. The
jarheads arrive in bulletproof vests, but they also distribute candy.
Given Liberia's violent anarchy, this entrance might include a
U.S. attack on the gangs who serve as Liberian President and Chief Gangster
Charles Taylor's first-line muscle. The Pentagon could call this attack a
"pre-emptive strike to protect peacekeepers." It would demonstrate American
capabilities to the armed punks who rape, torture and murder the unarmed
and helpless on a daily basis. Suddenly, their merciless cruelty has
This entrance is an intricate ballet no other nation can stage
with such speed and high likelihood of success. It's "hyperpower" on
display. American troops can conduct these tricky operations in the world's
hard corners because they train constantly and American taxpayers buy the
expensive ships, aircraft, intelligence systems and weapons long-range
So America can handle the entrance. The determinative issues
with 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 present
site of Monrovia in 1822. In 1847, the settlers established Africa's first
independent republic. The freed slaves became the ruling class in Liberia
and thoroughly controlled "tribal Liberians" until 1980.
That's when the "current crisis" began, as Master Sgt. Samuel
Doe (with the support of his Krahn tribe) overthrew the "Americo-Liberian"
regime. Doe put his Krahn compatriots in key positions. In 1989, Charles
Taylor, a former Doe compatriot, rebelled, drawing on the Gio and Mano
tribes for support. One of Taylor's allies, Prince Johnson, turned on
Taylor, starting a three-way fight for power. The Economic Community of West
African States (ECOWAS) sent in peacekeepers, with Nigeria leading the
In 1990, Johnson killed Doe, recording the murder on videotape.
The next seven years featured warlord chaos, frustrated peacekeepers and
flopped peace plans. Taylor emerged as the kingpin in an interim governing
council. In 1997, Taylor was elected president in an election Jimmy Carter
Since then, Taylor's deals with diamond and arms smugglers have
involved Liberia in Sierra Leone's misery as well as shenanigans in the
Ivory Coast. An anti-Taylor rebellion broke out in 2000. In 2002, Taylor
declared a state of emergency. Liberia disintegrated into warring chunks.
The United Nations and United States both believe removing
Taylor from power sets the stage for political stabilization. Taylor says
he'll go, but he might return.
Even if he leaves, Liberia's problems are overwhelming.
Corruption and gangsterism exacerbate tribal frictions in what was
essentially a petty West African coastal empire.
The instant upside to intervention is saving thousands of
innocent lives. That's another reason to intervene.
Liberia, however, is a "fake state" in utter disorder. Fixing it
requires sustained presence. There's the crux of the "exit" issue -- who
stays to build?
ECOWAS is 16 poor African nations -- aid recipients, not donors.
The best non-governmental relief and development organizations are already
The African, European and American consensus seems to be to use
American forces to stop Liberia's killers. The Bush administration needs to
use 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 puts
Marines in Monrovia. What Liberia needs is "hammer power" -- long-term
developmental support. That's difficult, and it's expensive. Still, it's the
only way to make any entrance worth the effort.