In for a penny, in for a pound. Once you start justifying military intervention in other countries solely on “humanitarian” grounds divorced from even a semblance of American security interests or credible imminent threats, there is virtually no limit to the range of countries to which the United States might choose to send military forces.
Thus it is quite possible that the Bush administration is ready to send troops to Liberia, which is still in the throes of a three-year (or 14-year, depending on how you chronicle the chaos) civil war, on grounds that are essentially sentimental.
Anybody with a heart would feel sympathy for the beleaguered people of Liberia. Led by a president, Charles Taylor, who is under indictment for war crimes for his involvement with rebels dealing “dirty diamonds” in neighboring Sierra Leone, the country has endured a bloody civil war. The latest cease-fire, on June 17, featured a pledge by Taylor to step down for the good of the country. But that pledge was broken last week in the midst of four days of fighting that left at least 500 civilians dead in the capital city of Monrovia.
Government troops seem to have prevailed for the moment as fighting stopped for a while last weekend. Then came calls from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and others for the United States to take the lead in sending about 2,000 “peacekeepers” to Liberia, to be supplemented by 3,000 troops from West African countries.
The situation is complicated by the fact that President Bush is beginning a five-day trip to Africa on Monday. He could be persuaded to commit U.S. troops as a goodwill gesture, to show that he really, really cares about suffering in Africa and is willing to put American military personnel in harm’s way to prove it.
As Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute said, however, “There is not even a peripheral, much less a vital, U.S. interest at stake in Liberia. It might be possible to find a country less relevant to America’s security and well being, but it would take a major effort.”
Does that sound a little harsh? In fact, when considering whether to send U.S. troops abroad, the president should be tough-minded and realistic, not just about core American interests but about the prospects for success. Asking our sons and daughters to put their lives on the line is no light matter.
President Bush should think long and hard, and listen to those concerned about an already-overstretched military, before deciding.