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Weighing risks and rewards in Liberia
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a vociferous opponent of war with Iraq, has called for sending U.S. troops to Liberia.
There is no inconsistency between supporting military action in Africa while opposing it in Iraq, Mr. Dean insisted. President Bush has not proved that Saddam Hussein presented a threat, while the situation in Liberia clearly does, he said.
Things in Liberia are very bad for Liberians. But to argue that chaos in Liberia presents a greater threat to the world generally and to us in particular than did Iraq is to reveal a serious detachment from reality.
Liberia is a West African country about the size of Tennessee with a population of 3.3 million. More than 20 years of civil strife began in 1980, when the democratically elected president was overthrown by Sgt. Samuel Doe.
Civil war began in earnest when Sgt. Charles Taylor, the current president, launched a coup against Doe in 1989.
Mr. Taylor, who has been indicted for war crimes for meddling in the even more vicious civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, is despised by most in Liberia. The rebels are just about as bad.
“Calling the situation in modern Liberia a civil war is giving it too much status,” said the Web site DangerFinder. “The reality is villagers slaughtered by tribal-based militias that mark, like dogs [urinating] on a tree, their territory with the skulls of their victims.”
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Mr. Bush have demanded Mr. Taylor leave the country.
Mr. Annan wants Mr. Bush to send up to 2,000 U.S. troops to head an international peacekeeping force. Mr. Bush is considering the request.
Mr. Dean might not be so enthusiastic about sending troops to Liberia if he had read Ryan Lissa’s article in the July 2000 issue of the New Republic, which documents Mr. Taylor’s connections to al Qaeda. Liberals tend to support U.S. military action only when it is detached from U.S. security interests.
Liberals (by and large) supported military interventions in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq when Bill Clinton was president, but changed their minds about Iraq when Mr. Bush became president.
Much of this is mere partisanship. But many liberals really think that if U.S. soldiers risk their lives in conflicts in which U.S. security is at stake, the military intervention is for that reason illegitimate.
Many Americans, most of them conservatives, oppose putting U.S. troops in harm’s way unless a vital national security interest is threatened. That’s a sound principle. But, as Emerson said: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”
I opposed intervention in Haiti (where we replaced a corrupt, incompetent, pro-American dictator with a corrupt, incompetent, anti-American dictator), supported it in Bosnia, opposed Kosovo (though that has worked out better than I thought it would), and regret that we did not intervene in Rwanda.
By John R. Bolton
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