Monday, July 14, 2003

Many congressional Democrats who have opposed the war in Iraq support sending troops to Liberia, especially because it would be at the request of the United Nations.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, has been among the most strident foes of President Bush’s Iraq policy. He voted against the use of force, accused the president of “going it alone” and lamented that the war had isolated the United States from its European allies.

However, Mr. Levin has warmed to the idea of sending troops to Liberia.

“If this is a U.N.-authorized mission, then we surely should consider participating in it,” Mr. Levin said. “But it would be wise … for there to be a vote in Congress before that is done.”

All but three members of the Congressional Black Caucus have opposed the war in Iraq, yet the group is urging the Bush administration to send troops to Liberia as soon as possible.

“We are not recommending sending our troops to fight a war,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Black Caucus, said at a Capitol Hill news conference last week. “Our troops will be part of a force that will be serving in a peacekeeping and stabilizing capacity.”

In March, Mr. Cummings and the Black Caucus opposed the war in Iraq, saying there was no “clearly demonstrated and imminent threat of attack on the United States.”

Jack Spencer, senior policy analyst for defense and national security at the Heritage Foundation, said the Black Caucus was being hypocritical.

“Anyone who argued against going to Iraq and for going into Liberia is morally bankrupt,” Mr. Spencer said. “The Iraqis were in the same miserable conditions that the Liberians are in now. For the Congressional Black Caucus to begin arguing for the best way to help these Liberians is to throw a bunch of peacekeepers in there is foolish.”

A House Democratic aide said the Black Caucus was not inconsistent by supporting troop deployment to Liberia and opposing the Iraq war.

“They are two completely different situations,” the aide said yesterday. “The people in Liberia … are almost begging for the U.S. to come in and help. The international community is asking us to be part of an international peacekeeping force. This would not be a pre-emptive strike, like in Iraq, by any means.”

J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that Iraq and Liberia were “dramatically different situations.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that the Congressional Black Caucus would want to see an example of American resolve in Africa,” said Mr. Morrison, adding that the Iraq war was “an involuntary war of regime change.”

In Liberia, the United States would help rid the country of President Charles Taylor, an “indicted war criminal,” at the behest of the United Nations, Mr. Morrison said.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, also opposed the war in Iraq, but saw the crisis in Liberia as a moment for U.S. leadership.

“I think the president is moving in the right direction,” said Mr. Durbin, hopeful that Mr. Bush would send U.S. forces to West Africa. “The U.S. can use some of our expertise to bring stability to Liberia. I hope we can find other African nations and countries around the world that can bring peacekeeping troops.”

Mr. Durbin, however, stressed that the scope of U.S. involvement must be limited, especially with military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The idea of sending in thousands of troops, I’d like to avoid that,” Mr. Durbin said. “I’m increasingly worried about what is happening to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The number of U.S. troops that may be sent to Liberia has been estimated from several hundred to 2,000, compared with 150,000 in Iraq. A Gallup poll released last week showed 57 percent of Americans favored the presence of U.S. troops in Liberia and 36 percent were opposed.

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