Don't Panic! July 31 2003

Your war questions answered

Why might the U.S. intervene in Liberia?

As of me sitting down to write this, the White House still hasn't decided whether it's going to send an American fighting force into Liberia.

If you think that seeing the Bush White House hesitate about the use of military force is weird, consider this — U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is begging us to send the few, the proud, the Marines into Liberia as soon as possible.

The reason that the U.N. is asking and that the U.S. is considering sending soldiers in is the civil war. Not the Ken Burns documentary, but an actual and particularly brutal civil war.

It's been going on pretty much non-stop since 1989. That's when then rebel leader Charles Taylor and his army snuck across the border into Liberia from the Ivory Coast (a country that, despite its two-soaped name is no cleaner than any other country in West Africa). Military units from ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, intervened and slowed Taylor's invasion. The following year though, an offshoot of Taylor's group led by a fella named Prince Johnson, thrust its way into Liberia's capital, Monrovia. Johnson captured, tortured and killed Liberia's then president, Samuel Doe. If you found the photos of Uday and Qusay's dead bodies disturbing, note that copies of a videotape showing Doe's torture and execution were reportedly popular stocking stuffers throughout West Africa for several years.

Doe's death didn't slow down the fighting, despite multiple international attempts to negotiate peace treaties. One of the attempts was the 1997, Jimmy Carter-monitored election that made Charles Taylor president and put his party in charge of the House and Senate (theirs, not ours).

Not content with ensuring death and squalor in his own country, Taylor decided to spread his unique brand of lovin'. Taylor began arming, funding and organizing the rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds (a ghoul's best friend). Interestingly, it was Taylor's involvement in that horrific war (now over) and not the wrecking of his own country that earned him the international war-crimes indictment that he'll hopefully be answering to soon.

Around the same time that Taylor's support of Sierra Leone's rebels started getting international attention, a rebel group within Liberia called Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy began battling the Taylor-led government's forces. They're the group that's battling Taylor's government in the capital right now.

Since Taylor's invasion in 1989, it's estimated that over 200,000 Liberians have died in the fighting. That's nearly 10 percent of the population. Imagine a war that left 28- million Americans dead. Osama, Saddam and Lex Luthor teamed up and nuked New York, Chicago and L.A. and it still wouldn't be as deadly to us as Liberia's civil war has been to them.

That's the main reason that we're considering sending in the Marines. There's also oil. We don't buy oil from Liberia, but we do buy a lot from nearby Nigeria. There's also quite a bit of oil off the West African coast that we've got our sights on. Promoting regional stability (which Taylor has already proven to be a danger to) protects the billions we've got invested there.

Political stability in the region also serves the War On Terror™. Remember al-Qaeda? When regular old banking started becoming a problem for al-Qaeda, they started buying diamonds from Sierra Leone's rebels (the one's that Liberia's Charles Taylor so involved with). Diamonds are densely valuable, nearly as good as cash, and not subject to being "frozen" the same way that money in a bank account can be. The fewer competing military groups there are in the region, the fewer opportunities al-Qaeda will have to do business there.

So, with all of these compelling reasons to intervene, why aren't we? Well, the Pentagon would like to conserve its fighting capacity for more direct threats to U.S. interests in Asia and the Middle East. Also, last time we tried a large peacekeeping operation in a lawless African nation, the result was Black Hawk Down. Even if we don't send the Marines in, we've already pledged to at least provide logistical and material support, so whatever happens we're still gonna be involved.


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