Iraq Policy Critics Now Want U.S. in Liberia
Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Bush administration remained noncommittal yesterday on whether it would send U.S. troops to quell the civil war in Liberia, where President Charles Taylor was defying a U.S. demand to step down.
President Bush "is determined to help the people of Liberia find a path to peace," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said after the National Security Council discussed the Liberian crisis.
Reflecting what one senior State Department official called intensive internal discussions, Mr. Fleischer told reporters that "the exact steps that could be taken are still under review." He said a U.S. military role is still under consideration.
Some of the harshest critics of the U.S.-led war in Iraq are all but begging a reluctant Bush administration to lead a peacekeeping mission in Liberia. Within the U.S. government, the Pentagon has been hot on Iraq but cool on Liberia, while the State Department has taken the opposite tack.
With a bloody civil war flaring up again in a country founded by freed American slaves more than 180 years ago, "this has been a doubled-edged debate about American power for everyone involved," said Robert Jervis, a professor of international politics at Columbia University.
"All those people who were ambivalent about American power now think it's great so long as it is being used for their purposes," he said.
Many of those most opposed to the U.S.-led effort in Iraq now argue that American participation is vital to the success of a proposed 5,000-strong multinational peacekeeping mission to enforce a cease-fire. Among them are U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, leading European powers - including France - and the editorial page of the New York Times.
"There are lot of expectations that the United States may be prepared to lead this force," Mr. Annan said during a visit to Switzerland yesterday. "Several countries, members of the U.N., have appealed for that. The Liberian populations are also asking for that."
The pressure from the international community comes as Mr. Bush prepares for a critical trip to Africa and puts to test one of the key issues of his 2000 presidential campaign.
"There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not often," Mr. Bush said during that campaign.
"It must be in our vital interest whether we ever send troops," Mr. Bush said then. "The mission must be clear. Soldiers must understand why are we going. The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well-defined."
A senior administration official told the Associated Press that the current thinking within the administration is in line with those statements.
The official said Mr. Bush is reluctant to send troops purely as peacekeepers. However, another official told the Associated Press that the White House did not want to take the military option off the table for fear of making headlines just before Mr. Bush's Africa trip.
Few African nations supported the war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but several West African nations said they were prepared to contribute some 3,600 troops to an American-led force to restore order in Liberia.
But "being the world's only superpower means having the luxury of saying 'no' when the rest of the world wants you to say 'yes,'" said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. …