- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

A top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said President Bush shouldn’t be gun-shy about sending troops to keep the peace in Liberia just because “things aren’t going well in Iraq.”

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and member of the Foreign Relations African affairs subcommittee, said the escalation of bloodshed in Liberia during the past two days warrants quick action by the Bush administration.

“The fact that we’re not doing the reconstruction phase in Iraq well doesn’t mean you get gun-shy about other crises around the globe,” Mr. Dodd said. “Liberia clearly calls out for a response, and the fact that [Liberia and the United Nations] are asking us to be there, it seems we ought to pick up on that.”

Liberia’s defense minister said at least 600 persons died in Monday’s warfare between a rebel faction and government troops controlled by President Charles Taylor — much of the fighting near the American Embassy. An independent civilian-aide worker put the civilian death toll closer to 100.

The United States dispatched 41 Marines from helicopters stationed in nearby Sierra Leone Monday to help secure the embassy, which took some rebel fire. Refugees stationed in a compound across the street from the U.S. Embassy, however, were hit hard.

Some Liberian survivors of the firefight laid the bodies of their loved ones in front of the embassy, apparently as a form of protest demanding U.S. intervention. A Liberian rebel leader called for a cease-fire yesterday, but it was not clear whether the order was being followed.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president is “monitoring events closely” but would not commit to a timeline to sending in troops, as he pledged to do once Mr. Taylor leaves the country.

Mr. McClellan said the president was “actively engaged with the United Nations” and surrounding West African nations to negotiate the terms of U.S. participation in an international peacekeeping force.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and presidential candidate, accused Mr. Bush of “turning away” from Liberia, and said it was time to “take action.”

“The Bush administration has offered no plan to help end the increasing violence in spite of the pleas of the people of Liberia and the community of nations for the United States to demonstrate leadership,” Mr. Kerry said in a written statement. “Taking action in Liberia is the right thing to do.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Foreign Relations African affairs subcommittee, said he is “waiting to hear what the president recommends” about Liberia before passing judgment.

“It is a more urgent decision” in the wake of recent violence, the Tennessee Republican said. “But I don’t see how the president can act before the West African force is ready.”

Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat and member of the Africa subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee, said the president’s “rhetoric is not fitting the action” on Liberia.

“The hawks have become doves when it comes to Liberia,” said Mr. Meeks, adding that the rebels have “taken advantage” of Mr. Bush’s “lack of a clear commitment to foster violence.”

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and member of the International Relations Committee, said the president is taking a wise, cautious approach.

“The fact that the Bush administration is being deliberate and not just moving in is a good sign,” said Mr. Flake, who lived in Africa for three years in the early 1990s. “If ever there was a job for the U.N. to take the lead, this is it.”

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