Politics & Policy

No On Liberia

The case against nation-building.

We are hard up on it in the matter of Liberia. The nation-changers see it as one more nation to change and who would vote against a different nation, except for the matter of how to bring it about? The nation-changing program in Iraq is going muddily, and it is good news that the Iraqi guerrillas don’t have weapons of mass destruction at hand, but rifle fire and an occasional hand grenade serve their political purposes. They aren’t enough to drive the Coalition forces out of the country, but they are enough to give off a Chechnyan smell of perpetual armed resistance.

Three considerations appear to be converging, in the matter of Liberia. The first is pretty unqualified approval of intervention by the United Nations. The second is the warrant issued for the arrest of Charles Taylor as a war criminal. The third is a perceived sense that some singular exertion should be made to do something in black Africa.

The best thing that has happened in very recent years in that part of the world was the willingness of the British, with some help from the French, to send a detachment of soldiers to Sierra Leone to tell them they had to stop chopping off some children’s hands and sticking rifles into the hands of others. That form of civil life was something of an endowment by Charles Taylor, who has proudly thought himself the center of revolutionary activity on the west coast of Africa.

Africa is a terrible mess, and the inclination over the years has been to turn one’s head away from it, in part because of an accepted sense of futility in trying to do anything about it, in part because there is a suspicion, mostly unexpressed, that black countries simply don’t know how to maintain civil democratic order. Oh, we go through the proper formalities. Everybody cheered the day that Ian Smith stepped down and Mugabe stepped up. In the Congo, The Economist puts the figure of dead in fighting at 4.7 million. Oh, and in the Sudan, something over 2 million in two decades. And we all know about Rwanda and Burundi and the l.5 million dead. Abstention presupposes a callused capacity for detachment from this continental gore, as we whistle along, year after year. The figures of African dead amount to many times the loss of Allied troops in the Second World War, and come near to the numbers of the Holocaust. But what we are trained to celebrate is decolonialization. There is little in post-decolonialization to warrant celebration.

President Bush put off a decision to engage in Liberia. He said he wanted “all the facts.” What facts are we short of that have a bearing on the challenge at hand? Our nation-building has given us Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The intervention in Haiti, by Mr. Clinton, was a political gesture designed to assure the black community that intervention in behalf of blacks was something the United States was willing to do. Putting down in six nations in Africa, President Bush will have an opportunity to canvass sentiment on a venture into Liberia.

He would do well to jettison, at the outset, any claim to special U.S. obligations to Liberia stemming from our national sponsorship of a free and independent Liberian state in 1847. We are not beholden to Liberia in the sense that the British, French, and Belgians can be thought to be beholden to Rhodesia, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, and the Congo. To talk about responsibilities traceable to events a century and one-half past gets you into the kind of historical sandpit Clinton got into when he decided to apologize, in Africa, for slavery. Mr. Bush has a pretty clear alternative, which is to say that intervention in Liberia is primarily an African responsibility, and that the Economic Community of West African States in Nigeria must take the lead. The United Nations needs not only a mandate to intervene in Liberia, but needs also to do effective recruiting to bring in the necessary peacekeepers. Their first duty would be to send paratroopers to chop off Charles Taylor’s hands, sparing him the humiliation of having to salute his captors.

Yes, of course, the United States should offer a contribution of food, medicine, and peace-corpsmanship. But the endeavor should be thought a black African enterprise, and that is a hefty challenge to the diplomacy of the United States government.

 

Most Popular

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More

The Secret Life of Joe Biden

In a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry is accused by his new girlfriend, a police officer, of being a fan of the tacky 1990s soap opera Melrose Place. When Jerry lies and denies it, she suggests putting him on a polygraph to find the truth. In an effort to beat the machine, Jerry seeks the advice of his ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Barr Is Right About the Prosecution Power

Attorney General Bill Barr gave a speech at Hillsdale College on Wednesday that attracted a lot of attention. Much of that attention was for his ill-considered remark (in a question-and-answer session following the speech) that "Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, [the pandemic lockdowns ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Barr Is Right About the Prosecution Power

Attorney General Bill Barr gave a speech at Hillsdale College on Wednesday that attracted a lot of attention. Much of that attention was for his ill-considered remark (in a question-and-answer session following the speech) that "Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, [the pandemic lockdowns ... Read More

Snobs or Mobs?

A   lot of us were feeling pretty good about the future of the media in late September of 2004. Dan Rather and the CBS news division had just tried to derail George W. Bush’s reelection campaign with some genuine fake news — based on fake documents — and, in spite of the manful attempts of ... Read More

Snobs or Mobs?

A   lot of us were feeling pretty good about the future of the media in late September of 2004. Dan Rather and the CBS news division had just tried to derail George W. Bush’s reelection campaign with some genuine fake news — based on fake documents — and, in spite of the manful attempts of ... Read More
Film & TV

The Convictions of Jim Caviezel

‘I didn't get invited by Hollywood to come to this industry,” actor Jim Caviezel says. It was God — not the executives, the talent agents, nor the filmmakers — that gave him his acting talent. “God believed in me, that He wanted me to be an actor. I felt it in my heart very deeply.” A man of deep ... Read More
Film & TV

The Convictions of Jim Caviezel

‘I didn't get invited by Hollywood to come to this industry,” actor Jim Caviezel says. It was God — not the executives, the talent agents, nor the filmmakers — that gave him his acting talent. “God believed in me, that He wanted me to be an actor. I felt it in my heart very deeply.” A man of deep ... Read More