Military Aid; Will Liberia Be Another Somalia?

Article excerpt


The news that President Bush has ordered three warships with some 2,500 Marines to the waters off the coast of Liberia in West Africa creates an uneasy sense of deja vu. The president has commendably made a commitment to a new engagement with Africa, but should that extend to the deployment of U.S. forces? Allegedly, the U.S. Marines are only there as a stopgap measure until the United Nations and the West African nations get a promised peacekeeping force together. This, however, is not a reassuring prospect.

For one thing, the United Nations has a very spotty record on peacekeeping. For another, the United States has been badly burned on a similar humanitarian mission in Africa. We should have learned some lessons since the Somalia debacle of the early 1990s. Where there is no enforceable peace settlement, the law of unintended consequences often carries the day, and the results of our intervention become unpredictable. Also, with misery plentiful enough around the world, U.S. military resources quickly become over-committed.

It was just over a decade ago, in December 1992, that President George H. W. Bush, the president's father, sent American troops to Somalia to deliver food and other humanitarian aid in the midst of starvation caused by drought, warlords and raging civil war. The pictures of misery and starving children were played night after night on the news. It was a well-intended effort, which I, for one, at least initially supported.

But it was not a successful one, despite the deployment of 28,000 U.S. troops and thousands more from allied countries. While starvation was momentarily alleviated in parts of Somalia, the ravages of the warlords persisted, and with the country awash in imported weapons, there was little our troops could do. As President Clinton decided to keep U.S. troops Somalia for nation-building purposes under the U.N. banner, his administration failed to grant them the military equipment they needed. As a consequence, 26 U.S. servicemen lost their lives in a disastrous raid on warlord positions in Mogadishu in October 1993. They died for no good reason.

Indeed, the experience was so bad that -when an actual genocide took place a few years later in Rwanda, involving the two major ethnic groups - very few people had the stomach to intervene. Hutus slaughtered Tutsis with impunity by the hundreds of thousands. The U.S. military performed well in setting up water purification in refugee camps in neighboring Congo for the millions of fleeing Rwandans. …