Leading conservatives and foreign-policy analysts, including those who served in the Reagan administration, oppose proposals by some in the Bush administration for sending U.S. troops to Liberia as part of a peacekeeping mission.
“I believe we are already overextended abroad,” said Faith Ryan Whittlesey, a former aide in the Reagan White House who also served twice as ambassador to Switzerland. “We already have 370,000 troops in over 100 countries in the world.”
President Bush, while visiting South Africa on Wednesday, said the United States would not overextend its military forces in Liberia. But he also has said America would enforce a cease-fire between the government and rebel forces. Anti-interventionists fear that pledge will ineluctably lead to military intervention — and a bloody quagmire for U.S. troops.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, thinks it “premature” to send troops into Liberia before a strong case is made that such action “is necessary to protect America’s vital interests.” He said that the case has not been made.
Diametrically opposed to pro-intervention Republicans, conservatives like Mrs. Whittlesey generally argue that America’s security interests are in no way threatened by the bloody anarchy in Liberia.
“I’ve been in favor of doing something in Liberia for years — but I don’t think it should be with American troops,” said Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “What gets me is why all these people are so enthusiastic about sending U.S. forces to Liberia where they are likely to get shot up, but are not in favor of supporting, diplomatically and financially, democratic forces in Iran.”
Some who favored war against Iraq oppose a major U.S. military presence in Liberia, using a national-security criterion.
“If we go into Liberia now, we’ll have not only a fighting mission, but a regime-changing mission, just as in Iraq with Saddam Hussein, because in Liberia [President] Charles Taylor is the problem,” said Jack Spencer, senior national-security analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
“Then you have to ask yourself: When is it legitimate for one country to go into another to change its regime?” Mr. Spencer said. “I would submit only one time that it’s legitimate is when one country poses a significant national-security threat to another.”
Liberia, Mrs. Whittlesey said, does not fit that criterion. She said she does not see “how Liberia in any way threatens United States’ security interests.”
“We should be very careful in defining which of these deployments meets strict standards of the national interest,” Mrs. Whittlesey said. “I would be in favor of a narrow definition of the national interest.”
Mr. Cornyn also is concerned about the “extent to which America’s commitments around the globe are stretching our military too thin.”
Those who support U.S. intervention in Liberia, however, argue that the United States, as the sole surviving superpower, has an obligation to bring order to chaotic foreign nations, liberate people from oppressive rulers and build democratic institutions. Some further argue that Washington has a special obligation, since Liberia was founded as a nation by freed American slaves.
Some on the right accept the idea of sending U.S. peacekeepers to help maintain order at some point, but not the approach of Mr. Bush, who has demanded that the Liberian president step down as a condition for U.S. involvement in efforts to end the internecine warfare in the African nation.
For example, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, directly challenged Mr. Bush’s authority to tell the “duly elected president of another country, ‘You’ve got to step down.’”
Some question Mr. Robertson’s interest in Liberia. The cable-TV evangelist reportedly has millions of dollars invested in gold mining in the West African nation.
One former Reagan administration official said most American conservatives are against U.S. involvement in Liberia.
“We haven’t taken a poll, but I feel very confident that the majority of conservatives are opposed,” said Donald J. Devine, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union. He said intervention in Liberia “looks more like Somalia and Haiti than Afghanistan.”
Mr. Robertson went further. “So we’re undermining a Christian, Baptist president to bring in Muslim rebels to take over the country,” he said on his TV show.
“We do have a responsibility … to help Liberia, not by committing troops, but to come up with a peace of some sorts,” Mr. Spencer said. Using U.S. troops as peacekeepers, he said, “ignores the fact that Americans make bad peacekeepers.”