Liberia: Let’s Sit This One Out by Kimberley Wilson

President Bush is being pressured by the world and many American groups to send U.S. troops to Liberia as peacekeepers. Their well-intentioned argument is that Liberia desperately needs to be saved. That much is true.

The tiny country of Liberia is one of the saddest places in West Africa and has seen almost continuous strife over the last decade. The Liberian people are trapped between warring government forces and rebel groups.

On one side is President Charles Taylor with his Small Boy Units – child soldiers who, fueled by drugs and knowing nothing else of life, don’t hesitate to maim and kill. Taylor also used the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. The name sounds dignified, but it’s actually a group of young sociopaths who enjoyed dressing up in women’s clothes, wigs and cosmetics while slaughtering every living soul they came upon. The rebel forces, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), quite frankly, don’t look much better.

The country’s economy is in ruins. The infrastructure is destroyed. If you turn on a faucet, no water comes out. If you flip on a light switch, there’s no electricity. Schools are closed. The telephones don’t work and neither do the sewers. People are not safe on the streets or in their homes. Order and law have completely disappeared.

The Liberians are in genuine agony, and it’s not hard to pity them. But pity isn’t a good reason to send in American soldiers to a place where we have no national interest. Realizing this, peacekeeping supporters are using guilt to bolster their cause. When the Tutsi’s faced genocide in Rwanda, the Western world made a few mild protests but essentially looked the other way until the killing was done. The pro-peacekeeping folks believe that sending U.S. forces to Liberia would in some mystical way atone for the Rwandan failure.

If that doesn’t grab you, there’s also an appealing to sentiment. Freed American slaves founded Liberia in 1821. Their descendents have names like Mary, Peter, Roosevelt, Hill and Young. I’m sure DNA testing would find many of us have distant cousins there. That’s a sweet thought, but it’s still not a good reason to send American soldiers into the middle of this disaster.

The pro-peacekeeping folks would rather not hear this, but there are at least four good reasons why the United States should avoid the Liberian mess:

* American lives will probably be lost. Does anybody really think that the killing factions in Liberia will just lay down their weapons and go home because a few American soldiers tell them to? These individuals enjoy rape, torture and slaughter. If unable to shoot at civilians and each other, don’t be shocked if they vent their violence on the peacekeepers.

* Iraq. Aren’t we busy enough already?

* North Korea. Many see Kim Jong Il, the dictator of that starving land, as a ridiculous little man. But he repeatedly threatens his neighbors with attack. With American forces stretched thinly across the globe, he may decide to finally make his move.

* Soldiers are not social workers. Liberia is going to need several years worth of help. A mere cease-fire isn’t enough.

The situation in Liberia is tragic, but the United States is not the world’s nanny. We can’t save everyone, and there is nothing in our Constitution that says we are obligated to try.

Liberia’s neighbors have the most obvious and immediate interest in restoring the peace. If anybody sends peacekeepers, it ought to be them along with Europeans countries that seem to be so eager to see America get involved.

Peacekeepers may be needed in Liberia, but they don’t have to be Americans. Let’s sit this one out.

(Kimberley Wilson is a member of the National Advisory Council and a freelance writer living in Northern Virginia. Comments may be sent to [email protected].)

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