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Dale Brown’s Ops Report
August 2003
Copyright © 2003, TDPI


Like most of coastal West Africa, Liberia (known before the nineteenth century as the "Grain Coast") was colonized by European maritime powers--first Portugal, then Britain and France. In the early nineteenth century, a private club called the American Colonization Society set up the first settlements of freed and runaway slaves and abolitionists on the Grain Coast. They named their territory Liberia, based on the Latin root of the word "liberty," and named their capital city Monrovia, after then-U.S. President James Monroe.

In 1847, Liberia proclaimed its independence. Because British and French presence in the new nation was so strong, the United States did not recognize the new nation until 1862, during the Civil War.

Although organized by Americans and its government patterned after U.S. statutory law, the United States was unable to exert any influence on Liberia's government or society. Although supposedly established as a "free" society, Liberia was racially divided between the lighter-skinned inhabitants of the coastal regions and the darker-skinned natives of the interior. The interior regions were ruled by uncodified tribal law. U.S.-Liberian relations were severed in the early twentieth century over charges that the Liberian government was running a slave trade to neighboring African countries.

Heavily in debt around the world and without a strong international sponsor, Liberia degraded into tribal conflict. The discovery of high-grade iron ore and royalties from the world's largest rubber plantation couldn't lift Liberia's economy above its West African neighbors, and the country's history was marred by almost ceaseless, brutal, and sometimes gruesome violence. In 1990, at almost the same time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, U.S. Marines were sent to Monrovia to evacuate Americans from the embattled capital. One out of every ten inhabitants of Liberia was killed in the civil war between 1990 and 1994.

The United States had maintained radio stations, military posts, and port facilities in Liberia until the mid-1980s, when Liberia reinstituted relations with the Soviet Union. Charles Ghankay Taylor, a rebel leader who engineered his first attempted government coup in 1989, was heavily supported by the Soviet Union through Libya. He was elected to the presidency in 1997.

Liberia exports iron ore, rubber, livestock, diamonds, lumber, crude oil, and increasingly cocaine and heroin. It imports almost everything else, including 25% of its food. The United States is its largest trading partner.

Obviously the protection of U.S. citizens in Liberia is important--but it's not obvious to me what our other vital national interests are in that war-torn country. There are historic ties to be sure--but is that all there is? Is this why we're considering sending troops to restore peace in Liberia?

Or is it Liberia's substantial mineral wealth? The European Union is Liberia's second largest trading partner--a large percentage of Belgium's gem stock originates in Liberia. Even OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, sends Liberia substantial aid every year. So why isn't the EU or OPEC considering sending troops to restore peace in Liberia?

The United States has not had a good scorecard when it comes to peacekeeping missions. We still have troops in Bosnia, Kosovo, and even Haiti. Our peacekeeping missions to Lebanon and Somalia were deadly failures. Even our spectacular victory over Iraq has been marred so far by our inability to stop loyalists, guerrillas, and extremists from attacking American troops that are doing nothing more than trying to restore order and peace to that nation.

It is obviously in the interest of every peace-loving people to stop violence when we encounter it. President Bush's offer to send troops to support an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) peace-keeping force had one condition, and it was a wise and prudent one: Charles Taylor must step down and leave the country.

But even if he does so, the long-standing tribal and political violence will undoubtedly continue--and U.S. troops will be in the crossfire.

I supported the invasion of Iraq because I believed in the mission--which by the way have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction or humanitarian aid, but with the national interest of establishing American hegemony in a vital but very dangerous region of the world. Whether or not we want to accept that reason, we needed to go in. We have paid a price for it, and we will continue to do so, but that doesn't lessen the need for U.S. troops to be there.

I haven't discovered--and more importantly, I haven't been told--what our vital national interest is in Liberia. I find it difficult to believe that President Bush would offer to send U.S. troops there because of our flimsy historical connection. Liberia exports less than $300 million per year worth of goods, so it can't be its value as a trading partner. It is an English-speaking, largely Christian nation in western Africa, so it has some strategic value; and because of its history with the United States, its people are generally friendly with the U.S. It is a democracy, but it has been under martial law and ruled by an interim government for many years.

Bottom line: tell me why we need to send troops to Liberia. I'm ready to listen and support our President--but I see no compelling reason to do so now.

And please don't tell me it's for humanitarian reasons. There is suffering all over the world, and we as a nation should do anything we can to stop it--but not by sending in our military. As in every other peacekeeping mission in our recent past, that is a recipe for heartbreak and distrust, if not outright disaster.

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