I’ve got a few days off from school and this second I’m not doing kneecap stuff so I might as well engage in some rambling on foreign policy. Today’s topic is Liberia.
What to say? The US is considering deploying 2000 troops to war-torn Liberia. In a break with my more liberal friends, I really do not favor this intervention. At least I do not believe we can afford intervention at this time. Liberia is in desperate need of intervention on the grounds of humanitarian suffering. I’ve always viewed Africa as the “continent US forgot”. We’d intercede in Kosovo in 1998 but ignore 4 million dead in the Congo during the same time period. The US was burned badly by Somalia and a perception that Africa would simply never get better because of constant warfare there. (1)
This is why Bush worries me. He and his administration are amateurs in foreign policies and reckless creating consequences they can’t even begin to imagine, then stumbling headlong into the consequences they’ve made rather than pulling up and reassessing. With the pre-emptive doctrine, they abandoned 200 years of Westphalian (relative) stability. But the first use of pre-emption was on Iraq (a weak case) rather than on Iran or North Korea (potentially stronger cases). As WMD hasn’t turned up yet the administration is attempting to redefine after the fact what the reasons for war really were (pulling a page from Clinton’s playbook). However, these new reasons, though comfortable sounding to the majority: “liberating peoples, throwing down dictators, establishing democracy” can be too widely applied to other hotspots as a justification for intervention (i.e. Liberia).
Comparing the revisionist motives for going to war with Iraq the case for Liberia is strong. Human suffering = high, long-lasting dictator refusing to yield power = bad, weak military we think we can easily beat = good. However, the “new” motives (as opposed to “classic coke” motives) of sending the US into war are not a high enough bar in my opinion to justify the use of our forces. I’m a Westphalian die-hard, you don’t intervene in foreign affairs simply because you do not like what is going on in an internal matter. (2) These were the “classic coke” reasons originally used to justify going to war with Iraq: an imminent threat to American security, connections to Al-Queda a demonstratable hostile force to US interests.
The absolute lack of evidence that any of those threats is valid has left Bush in a quandary, one of his own making. He has a choice: is the American mandate to intercede internationally whenever peoples are threatened, dictators rule, and democracy cries out (as Iraq has now been revised to be)…OR is it to only intercede when it’s national security is at stake? To state the former is to stay “consistent” with our message on Iraq, but open up the doors for a hundred interventions in a hundred different countries. To state the latter is to hold the line on causes for intervention but in retrospect significantly weaken the case for our presence in Iraq.
Why do I think Liberia will not be a picnic? Think Somalia, an intervention begun by a former Bush and handed off to Clinton (who without realizing it did the right move in getting us out of there…he panicked at the troop’s death and should have removed us earlier).
1 – We don’t have the support of the leadership to intervene, indeed the current leader is the one that needs to go. Is this peacekeeping or regime change?
2 – A lot of blood has been spilled on both sides, are we going to be there only as long as the current fighting stops or until a “resolution” (years down the road) is reached?
3 – We’re going into an indigenous population that we won’t be able to determine friend from foe.
4 – No clear mandate: are we peacekeepers, do we have the ability to wage war for peace or just monitor? Are we food distributors?
A real concern is how far can we stretch US military resources. US significant overseas military presence currently includes the likes of Columbia, Kuwait, Qatar, Japan, South Korea, Chechnya, Bosnia, Georgia, Philippines, and of course Iraq. Fortunately only one of these deployments is “hot” (Iraq), but Columbia is a pot ready to boil over at any minute and we have significant civil (if not military) problems caused by our presence in Japan and South Korea. How thin can we stretch our resources? While downsizing the Army how many deployments can we sustain? How long will morale sustain in the face of extended overseas deployments when our active soldiers are on food stamps and many reservists deployed overseas are making a fraction of the income (and facing bill collectors) they used too.
So that’s why I’m against Liberian intervention. Ideally, we could have assembled an international coalition and bankrolled parts of it, without putting our own troops on the line. But as mentioned above Bush has made a bed and now has to decide if he will sleep in it. If relief of humanitarian suffering from an oppressing dictator is a good enough reason to go into Iraq, it is unfortunately a good enough reason to go into Liberia. And that spells trouble for the US over the long term.
(1) It’s my belief that Africa is going through the same wars of nationalization that plagued Europe from the 13th-17th Centuries. Colonialism left a huge impact on that continent, a false division of nations created by line drawing rather than actual recognition of power (ethnic, tribal, or military). Falsities never stand for long in power politics; the voids get filled in and resort themselves to accurately portray the reality on the ground. This is why I don’t usually support “enforced” endings of conflict such as in Yugoslavia…you aren’t really solving the problem, simply delaying the inevitable while patting yourself on the back for feeling morally good. Wars are humanity’s way of determining, one and for all, who will have power; and they are not pretty. But they are vital to the evolution of nations and states; imagine the United States if France had “intervened” and forced a compromise solution in the Revolutionary War, or the Civil War. Africa will continue to war (perhaps for years perhaps for decades) and slowly begin to form its own states which will then, like Europe in the 17th, be recognizable in a form that will last the test of time.
(2) This philosophy was not adopted by limp-wristed liberals too afraid to pursue the manly arts of war. These days hawks mistake prudence for pacifism which is both absurd and dangerous. The Westphalian approach was adopted by hard-line generals and military thinkers of the time who realized that if every cause to go to war is subjective from each nation’s perception of how other nations treat their civilians then war becomes unending as there’s always a new perceived wrong to right. That led to centuries of continuous war in Europe. Their solution: there must be a clear and present threat to your own security to justify the use of force mainly in the form of active aggression.