Out with the new, in with the old

International | This troubled nation needs to return to its past before charting its future

Issue: "Ten Commandments showdown," Aug. 30, 2003

Theoretically, Gen. John Abizaid could find himself in Baghdad and Monrovia in the same week. The new head of U.S. Central Command must give orders over hot spots in both Iraq and Liberia, along with 23 other countries in the command in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Troop commitment to the West African civil war is nearly nonexistent compared to troop levels in the Middle East-300 soldiers in Liberia versus a quarter-million in the Iraqi region. But the dispatch of even a few soldiers to police an internal conflict has raised questions about mission validity nonetheless.

"The fact that our soldiers won't be coming home from Iraq on time underscores the reason we shouldn't rush to join the Nigerians and others deploying to Liberia," writes Heritage Foundation policy analyst Jack Spencer. In a recent report he argues that U.S. forces are "stretched almost to the breaking point" with the war on terrorism, operations in Afghanistan, peacekeeping in the Balkans, and looming threats over North Korea. In addition to the hundreds of U.S. soldiers on the ground patrolling a ceasefire agreement ahead of a UN-sponsored army of West African soldiers, there are 2,500 U.S. Marines waiting off the coast of Liberia in three warships.

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Despite the criticism, the Bush administration has been arguing for its growing military presence in Africa. Military strategists, too, are paying closer attention than ever. The United States has beefed up a new anti-terror base in Djibouti, a predominantly Muslim nation in the Horn of Africa, poised conveniently at the mouth of the Red Sea and across from Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon has kept quiet about long-term plans at the base but has used it as a turnstile for special forces hunting terrorists in the region. With growing evidence of al-Qaeda terror cells in East Africa, along with attacks on Israeli locations in Kenya, clandestine military activity is likely to continue.

But military intervention isn't always the solution to Africa's woes. "A lot of these are low-level criminal conflicts," said retired Army colonel Daniel Henk, who chaired the Department of Defense Africa Center for Strategic Studies. "More African conflicts could be solved by law enforcement rather than military involvement."

Mr. Henk, who now teaches at the U.S. Air War College, said that with better law enforcement nations like Liberia could cut off destabilizing flows of weapons, narcotics, and criminals before those problems escalate into civil war.

To that end, both the State Department and Justice Department-together with the Pentagon-support extensive law-enforcement training exercises across the continent. Two weeks ago Central Command, with the State Department, sponsored a three-day meeting in Ethiopia to discuss security issues with African military and civilian leaders. The meeting, an annual event called Golden Spear, draws about a dozen African nations together with Central Command officers. Perhaps most in need of the training, with a spiraling conflict that provoked international intervention, Liberia failed to send a representative as President Charles Taylor prepared to step down from office.

Many who call for U.S. forces in Liberia cite the country's American roots but ignore its Christian history. Former American slave Lott Carey returned to the area that became Liberia as one of the first black missionaries back to Africa. He started a church and became governor of the new territory. His reason for leaving America: "I am an African, and in this country, however meritorious my conduct and respectable my character, I cannot receive due to either," he said. "I wish to get to a country where I shall be estimated by my merits, not by my complexion, and I feel bound to labor for my suffering race."

Liberia led the way in Africa as an independent nation, the only uncolonized nation in the midst of European colonies from 1847 to 1980. The country got its start before the U.S. Civil War when the American Colonization Society sent freed slaves back to Africa.

At that time Liberia had a system of representative government, with three branches and a balance of power, and an elected president. Some said the society was just trying to get blacks out of the United States. But the objective was to allow former slaves to have an opportunity to run their own affairs politically and socially in Africa. The original 1847 national documents express noble Christian desires similar to Puritan reasons for leaving Europe to come to America.

"Our churches, for the worship of our Creator, everywhere to be seen, bear testimony to our piety and to our acknowledgment of His Providence," the declaration says. "The Native African bowing down with us before the altar of the living God, declares that from us, feeble as we are, the light of Christianity has gone forth; while upon that curse of curses, the slave trade, a deadly blight has fallen as far as our influence extends." One of Liberia's early presidents, Joseph J. Roberts, saw the new nation as raised up by God for a special purpose of showing Africans the way out of slavery.


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