July 03, 2003

Why Liberia? Why would the

Why Liberia?

Why would the U.S. perhaps be sending troops to Liberia? We have no vital interests there. We didn't lift a finger during much worse carnage in Rwanda. And our troops are already operating in far-flung spots from the Philippines to Afghanistan, from Iraq to South Korea.

That said, we feel a historical connection to Liberia as it was founded by former U.S. slaves, we have legitimate humanitarian concerns about war crimes that have occurred under Charles Taylor's reign, and we have real concerns about the general stability of West Africa. And Spence Ackerman points out another reason Liberia is important:

"In short, the world is waiting to see if two things will happen: First, whether the United States will flex its muscle in the service of moral principle when U.S. economic and security interests are not directly at stake; and, second, whether concerted international outcries can spur the United States into multilateral action it would not otherwise take. If the Bush administration meets the test, it could find itself with something it doesn't have much of right now political capital to call upon the next time the United States seeks to address a security threat the world would rather ignore--say, in Iran or North Korea. Leaving aside the compelling human rights issues at stake, that would be quite a bargain for the 2,000 U.S. peacekeepers that ECOWAS is requesting."

Now I happen to think we met both these tests with out belated interventions in Bosnia in the 1990s. And making decisions about troop deployments based on amorphous suggestions that our "political capital" might be enhanced in places like the chanceries of Berlin or Paris isn't what I'd view as a touchstone variable by which to make policy. Still, however, it wouldn't hurt to show that the U.S. is still willing to "do" humanitarian interventions through multilateral fora at this current historical juncture. Needless to say, there is widespread skepticism, fear and resentment about U.S. intentions on the global stage these days. A peacekeeping foray in Liberia might indeed improve atmospherics a bit.

Another bonus? We wouldn't have to read these self-righteous (and breathtakingly hypocritical) dispatches in Le Monde.

UPDATE: A WaPo article on what might be awaiting U.S. troops in Liberia should they be deployed there.

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