- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

Despite a U.S. desire to stop President Charles Taylor that goes back to 1990, any U.S. military intervention in Liberia is unlikely to be huge, analysts say.

They cite the common perception among Bush administration officials that the West African nation lacks any strategic significance for the United States and fears of a repeat of the 1993 Somalia debacle as reasons for the hesitant approach. From a national-security standpoint, it is not worth the effort, the analysts say, noting that U.S. policy imposes strict conditions for participating in peacekeeping missions.

“It appears unlikely that meaningful intervention is in the cards,” said a spokesman for Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.

The shaky truce in Liberia, meanwhile, threatens to spin out of control while the creation of a West African force and a decision by the Bush administration on the role it would play are bogged down in deliberations.

The main rebel force on Wednesday lunged toward Klay Road Junction, north of Monrovia, which, if seized, could open the way for takeover of the Liberian capital.

Those in favor of American intervention cite the historical basis of U.S. obligations to Liberia, a country formed more than 150 years ago by freed American slaves.

Henry Cohen, former chief of the State Department’s Africa Bureau, was a little more optimistic that a minimal peacekeeping force would join a 3,000-member mission being readied by Liberia’s neighbors.

“I think they’ll do something, but it’s likely to be minimal,” Mr. Cohen said.

President Bush told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan this week that the U.S. role “would be limited in size and limited in tenure.” U.S. officials also say that a draft resolution is in the works that would define the scope of international intervention.

Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea repeated this week that the government is holding its fire while it awaits response from the international community.

He was referring to the United States as well as the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has been trying to end the four-year civil war.

“We are all at the negotiating table. I think ECOWAS should use their influence to call LURD and Model to stop their attacks,” he said. LURD is the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy; Model is the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, a secondary insurgent movement.

So inhibiting is the example of Somalia that spokesmen for two U.S. administrations have cited the disaster as the reason for standing on the sidelines in Rwanda in 1994, when about 800,000 people perished in a genocide.

In 1992, a U.S. military force was injected into Somalia to provide security for humanitarian agencies delivering food supplies to famine-stricken citizens of the country.

Eighteen American soldiers were killed in an ambush, forcing President Clinton to order a retreat.

The incident led to Presidential Decision Directive 25, which required policy-makers to answer 11 tough questions for Congress before undertaking any peacekeeping mission and an additional seven questions if U.S. troops were involved. The questions dealt with duration of mission, rules of engagement and exit strategy.

A wily politician and seasoned fighter for power, Mr. Taylor has welcomed the introduction of a U.S. peacekeeping force as a way of calling America’s poker hand.

He has offered to leave for temporary exile in Nigeria, but only after U.S. peacekeepers arrive. The United States wants Mr. Taylor out of the way before any intervention in initiated.

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