All Writings
July 27, 2003

An Administration With No Scruples

Whereas the administration finds it now convenient to justify the war in Iraq as a humanitarian effort, it has not found the moral courage to prevent a human tragedy from engulfing the Liberian people. True to its own brand of duplicity, the administration has shown utter disregard for the human lives under assault in that African country, hiding its inaction behind excuses and empty promises. The war in Iraq offers a glaring example of the administration's struggle with the truth which seems to be finally catching up with it, as high-ranking officials, including the President, try to put the best possible spin on the Iraq debacle. The administration's failure to produce a shred of evidence linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, to prove that there was at any time an imminent threat to the United States, and to produce weapons of mass destruction have sent it scrambling for a rationale to justify our armed intervention. So it is Mr. Hussein's atrocities against his own people–the mass killings, tortures, abductions, and incarcerations which marked his regime-that, when all the other rationales have evaporated, are now trumpeted by every low and high administration official as the rationale for the war.

But the same moral imperative obviously is not applicable to Liberia. Thus far Mr. Bush has turned a blind eye to the human horror there, because his administration's morality conveniently disappears when other so-called national interests are not being served. Unique among African peoples, Liberians consider themselves to be a colony of the United States; to them America is like a big brother. Now they feel we have forsaken them. Over 100 thousand internally displaced Liberians are trying to stave off death because of hunger and disease; Malaria and cholera are claiming the most vulnerable: the children and the old. And with no food, water, or sanitation, the horrific situation is becoming even more desperate. In addition, food deposits at the ports are beyond reach; distribution is impossible. On the verge of a great human disaster, the Liberian people do not understand what more can possibly be needed to make the United States act on their behalf..

Apparently, Pentagon officials are the most resistant to intervening in this crisis, while the state department is more eager to find a solution. Among the reasons imputed for the reluctance to intervene are: We have no vital interests in Liberia, the military feels over-extended in Iraq and elsewhere, the last African intervention in Somalia ended in a debacle, and the Pentagon historically shies away from non-combat missions. How ironic and pathetic! In Iraq we charged in against a standing Iraqi army of more than 300 thousand, more than 230 of our troops have died, with our casualties rising daily. Of course there is one difference: Iraq has vast oil reserves. This is the beginning and the end of how this administration defines our national and humanitarian interests.

In testimony before the Senate Services Committee, General Richard B. Mayer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that whatever we do it is essential "that we have a clear mission, we understand the mission we are asked to do; that we have an idea when the mission is going to be over–in other words, when can we come out of the mission and that we have sufficient force to deal with the security situation." It certainly is reasonable to ask that we clarify all these issues in advance. But does General Mayer have any idea how long our troops will stay in Iraq? Does he have an exit strategy to bring our troops home from that country? Just how many more soldiers must die there before he admits that we were ill prepared for the aftermath of that war? Why is it we have to answer all these questions before we dispatch 2000 troops to Liberia when none of the questions were ever asked in the case of Iraq, with the result that over 150 thousand of our troops are targets for being shot at and killed daily?

Adding insult to injury, Mr. Bush's recent order to deploy American troops off the coast of Liberia, presumably in support of the as yet-to-be-formed West African peace-keeping force, is an empty gesture at best. His statement during a recent Rose Garden appearance that "Aid can't get to the people. We're worried about the outbreak of disease." is blatantly cynical and shows indifference to saving the life of a single child. In 1990, former President Bush faced a situation eerily similar to the one his son now faces: Should he deploy troops to Liberia to stop civil conflict, restore order, and allow the people to build their democratic institutions? Mr. Bush senior responded by sending U.S. ships to the coast of Monrovia, where they were ordered to evacuate Americans and Europeans in the area but to leave the Liberians to their fate. About the present situation, Secretary of State Collin Powell recently expressed his frustration, stating that we do have an interest that West Africa does not fall apart and reiterated his support for an American role, calling it a "moral imperative."

New Jersey Democrat Donald Payne, a ranking member of the House subcommittee on Africa, bluntly called the administration's reluctance to intervene racist: "It is because they are African, and they are black, and they don't count." I am not sure Mr. Payne has got it completely right. The Iraqis are not exactly white, but their country has oil and Liberia does not. Surely the horror of the human tragedy in Africa is not limited to Liberia, and many African nations ought to send peace-keepers, especially ACOWAS. This fact should not stop us from immediately addressing the grave humanitarian crisis in Liberia. We have a unique responsibility not simply because of our historic ties to Liberia, but because we helped create the conditions that have led to this cycle of violence. Mr. Bush's delay in sending troops to the region, while at the same time raising false expectations that he would help, is unconscionable.

The administration's shortsighted policy risks our losing an historic opportunity to send a strong message that morality matters in foreign affairs. As the only superpower we have a special responsibility to do the right thing which will also I believe ultimately serve our best national interests. If there is one moral imperative, this is it.