- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2003

The expected deployment today of about 1,500 West African peacekeepers to Liberia is tactically and symbolically significant for the continent, for Liberia and for the United States. Regional leaders are proving that they can address troubles in their neighborhood. Their willingness to do so sends a succinct message to other strongmen on the continent. For too long, Liberians have been caught in the crossfire of warring factions.

For the United States, the West African deployment proves that America need not be the cop on every block. This newspaper has been sending this message, while much of the world seems convinced there is a need for U.S. military intervention. There simply has been no clear or stated national interest that could justify why Americans should be put in harm’s way. Indeed, U.S. military intervention might undermine the clout of regional African players and undercut opportunities for psychologically important victories for African policy-makers and keepers of the peace.

West African nations were called on to take the lead in quelling the turmoil in Liberia, and they appear ready to meet the challenge. The leaders of the region deserve applause — especially those in Nigeria, who have have offered refuge to Liberian President Charles Taylor. Their leadership will do more to bolster African stability in the long run than a U.S. military deployment could. As we have maintained, the United States should not put boots on the ground in Liberia, since the White House has not stated a national security interest for doing so.

The United States should continue to help financially. It should continue to provide sea- and airlifts for peacekeepers to strategic African destinations in order to facilitate their entry to Liberia. Also, America and Africans should heed some past lessons, since peacekeeping missions of the past led by West Africans have been partly successful. In Liberia, a deployment led by Nigeria prevented Mr. Taylor, who has been indicted for war crimes, from seizing control of Monrovia in 1990, and paved the way for elections in 1997.

Since Nigeria will probably deploy at least some U.S.-trained peacekeepers, it is hoped that human rights abuses committed by peacekeepers in Africa in the past will be avoided. For the past two decades, some West African peacekeepers have gone on rampages after they didn’t get paid. “We spent well over $12 billion, when we were in Liberia and Sierra Leone for well over 12 years,” said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo recently. “The world did not acknowledge that, not even in terms of giving us debt relief for the contribution we made.” The international community must make sure that experience isn’t repeated.

The United States has already contributed $10 million to the current Liberian mission. Also, the Bush administration has asked the United Nations to take over peacekeeping in October, so Nigeria shouldn’t be left with the burden for too long. Equally important is the fact that West African leaders are clearly aware of what’s at stake with this peacekeeping mission, and are demonstrating resolve and leadership.

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