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Liberia: Waiting for Washington
Africa Policy E-Journal
July 3, 2003 (030703)
Liberia: Waiting for Washington
(Reposted from sources cited below)
With President Bush's trip to Africa only days away, the Pentagon
has been asked to prepare contingency plans for participation of
U.S. troops in multilateral peacekeeping operations in Liberia, as
demanded by Liberians, West African countries, and the United
Nations. But the president has apparently not yet made his
decision. Even if some troops are sent, serious questions remain on
the details of participation, and particularly on the terms of U.S.
engagement, given the Pentagon's preference for non-engagement or
for total unilateral control. The longer the decision is delayed,
the more prominence it will have as President Bush visits five
African countries next week, two of them in West Africa.
This posting contains excerpts from two recent news stories from
allafrica.com on the debate, and from an extensive 1995 report by
allafrica.com's Reed Kramer detailing previous failures of U.S.
Liberia policy, including when the President's father was faced
with crisis in Liberia in 1990. The full paper, too long to include
here, is available on the allafrica.com site at the link indicated
Meanwhile news reports indicate that the U.S. has suspended
military aid to about 35 countries, including, in Africa, Benin,
Central African Republic, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger,
South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia. The countries are signatories
to the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC),
and failed to satisfy U.S. demands to sign "bilateral immunity
agreements" confirming that U.S. nationals can commit war crimes or
other serious human rights offenses without fear of accountability
to that international body. For a commentary on the ICC and Africa,
see the issue of Pambazuka News for July 3, 2003 at:
Bush 'Still Deciding' on Whether to Send Troops to Liberia
July 3, 2003
By Charles Cobb Jr.
U.S. President George W. Bush says he wants to get enough
information before he makes a decision on whether to send troops
to Liberia: "I'm in the process of gathering the information
necessary to make a rational decision as to how to enforce the
ceasefire -- keep the ceasefire in place," he told allAfrica.com
The administration has been pressed by regional African leaders
and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to send up to 2,000 troops to
Liberia. Representatives of the West African regional
organization, Ecowas, met with "our military thinkers Wednesday
to discuss military options," said Bush, but a report of that
meeting has not yet reached the White House. "Once the strategy
is in place I will let people know," Bush promised.
No details on the number or type of troops that could be deployed
as part of an intervention force have been released but the
Associated Press Thursday quoted defence officials as saying that
U.S. military command in Europe has been ordered to begin
planning for possible American intervention in Liberia. A
'Warning Order' was sent Wednesday night to Europe Commander Gen.
James Jones asking him to give the Pentagon his estimate of how
the situation in Liberia might be handled. ...
Bush Pressed To Commit 'Boots On The Ground' in Liberia
July 1, 2003
By Reed Kramer and Charles Cobb Jr.
A decade after 18 U.S. Army Rangers were killed by an angry mob
in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, the Bush administration is
facing mounting pressure to put American 'boots on the ground' in
Africa once again. Calls for an active U.S. intervention in
Liberia are coming from the United Nations and various member
governments, including Britain and France and leading African
Senior administration officials met at the White House Saturday
to discuss Liberia during a Cabinet-level 'principals' meeting of
the National Security Council. Another session is scheduled for
Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said during a television
appearance Monday. "There's a sense of urgency with respect to
the situation, and I don't want to pre-judge when the president
might decide or what he might decide, but we are seized with the
matter," Powell told interviewer Jim Lehrer on public
television's NewsHour program. "We understand that this is a
problem that has to be dealt with in the very near future."
Last week, President George W. Bush called on the Liberian
leader, Charles Taylor, to leave office "so that his country can
be spared further bloodshed." Addressing a U.S.-Africa Business
Summit sponsored by the Corporate Council on Africa, Bush said:
"We are determined to help the people of Liberia find peace."
Because Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in 1847 and
was a staunch U.S. ally during the Cold War, particularly in the
1980s, many people in Africa and other parts of the globe see the
country as an American responsibility. However, administration
policy to date has sent mixed signals to the parties involved in
the conflict. In mid-June, with fighting in Monrovia escalating,
the Bush administration positioned a U.S. Navy amphibious assault
ship, the USS Kearsarge, off the western shore of Africa to aid
in the potential evacuation of American citizens. The ship,
equipped with helicopters and a sizeable medical team, arrived
just as negotiations over Liberia's future reached a critical
According to mediators taking part in the talks in Ghana, the
presence of the American ship was a critical factor in persuading
the warring parties, particularly Taylor's beleaguered
government, to agree to end the fighting. But after only three
days - before the ink on the accord was dry, the ship was ordered
back to its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, where it arrived
Monday following six weeks involvement in the war on Iraq and a
short stint providing security for President Bush's visits to
Egypt and Jordan last month.
"Once Taylor saw that ship steam away, he reverted to his old
ways - shifting and delaying and refusing to accept what he has
already agreed to do," said one senior U.S. official involved in
the issue. Instead of stepping aside for an interim
administration, as the agreement envisioned, Taylor insisted he
would serve out his term, which ends in January.
Despite this setback, the mediators last week managed to get a
ceasefire in place, after first pressuring the rebels to end
their assault on Monrovia and then arm-twisting Taylor to join in
the truce. The accord was the work of Ghana's President John
Kufuor, current chair of the Economic Community of West African
States (Ecowas), and General Abdulsalami Abubakar, a former
Nigerian head-of-state, who is the chief Ecowas negotiator.
On Saturday, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called
on the Security Council to augment the Ecowas effort with
significant support. "International action is urgently needed to
reverse Liberia's drift towards total disintegration," he said.
During a previous war-enduced crisis in 1990, when the current
U.S. president's father was in office, Assistant Secretary of
State Herman Cohen toured West Africa to meet with key actors in
the unfolding crisis, only to be recalled to Washington where the
focus was on preparation for war with Iraq. "You can only
concentrate on so many things at once," Brent Scowcroft, the
national security adviser to President Bush said in a 1993
interview. The decision proved costly in both human lives and
humanitarian assistance, Cohen said in an interview last week.
The instability spread through the region, engulfing Sierra Leone
and Cote d'Ivoire, and impacting the regional giant Nigeria.
The first Bush administration "looked the other way" while
Liberia descended into chaos, Crocker said. This time around,
Crocker said "it wouldn't surprise me" if President Bush
"confronts the skeptics in the Pentagon -- and we all know that
is where they are -- and says this is the time to act." ,,,
Asked about Liberia on Monday at the Pentagon, Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld said: "We've spent time over the weekend
-- a good deal of time over the weekend -- visiting among
ourselves about that and thinking through different aspects of
it," he said. The president has not yet "made a call," he said,
"nor has the State Department requested an evacuation out of
Monrovia." "We ought to be engaged," said Susan E. Rice, who was
assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1997 until
2001. "Ecowas is saying they will send 3,000 troops as part of a
multinational force if the United States will send 2,000 troops
and takes the lead. I think that is a bargain we ought to
accept," she told the Brookings forum. "For Liberia, the United
States is the international 911. There is no other." ...
Liberia: A Casualty of the Cold War's End
Africa News Service (Durham)
Excerpts only: see full text at:
July 1, 1995
By Reed Kramer
Half a decade ago, with the Berlin Wall coming down and the
Soviet Union entering its final days, a small-scale conflict in
West Africa quietly put post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy to an
Liberia's civil war, which began with a cross-border raid by a
tiny rebel band in late 1989, has claimed the lives of one out of
every 17 people in the country, uprooted most of the rest, and
destroyed a once-viable economic infrastructure.
The strife also has spread to Liberia's neighbors, contributing
to a slowing of the democratization that was progressing steadily
through West Africa at the beginning of the decade and
destabilizing a region that already was one of the world's most
marginal. U.S. taxpayers have footed a sizable bill -- over $400
million to date -- for emergency aid that arguably never would
have been needed had their government used its considerable clout
to help end the killing.
As fighting escalated in early 1990, the Bush administration
faced a serious conundrum. Western European and most of Africa
looked to the United States to take the lead in seeking a
peaceful resolution of the Liberian crisis, since the country's
history bears an unmistakable "made in America" stamp. But senior
administration officials, determined to limit U.S. involvement in
what was viewed as a "brush fire," rejected the notion of
inherent American interest or responsibility.
"It was difficult to see how we could intervene without taking
over and pacifying the country with a more-or-less-permanent
involvement of U.S. forces," Brent Scowcroft, President George
Bush's national security advisor, said in a 1993 interview with
the author after leaving office. In addition, Scowcroft
continued, U.S. attention was "dedicated towards other areas most
involved in ending the Cold War." There was the fall of communism
in Eastern Europe and, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August
of 1990, the build up the war in the Gulf. "You can only
concentrate on so many things at once," Scowcroft said.
But a range of senior U.S. officials did focus considerable
attention on Africa's oldest republic. During a crucial period of
increasing carnage in mid-1990, Liberia was a regular item on the
agenda of the Deputies Committee of the National Security
Council, where most major foreign policy problems were handled.
Later in the year as the crisis deepened, the Deputies dealt
daily with both Liberia and Kuwait, according to participants in
"We missed an opportunity in Liberia," Herman J. Cohen, assistant
secretary of state for African affairs in the Bush
administration, said in an 'exit interview' (CSIS Africa Notes,
Number 147, April 1993). "We did not intervene either militarily
The following account of the U.S. decision-making process during
Liberia's disintegration is drawn from some 30 interviews with
policymakers at all levels in Washington and abroad, and from a
review of historical materials and public records, Some of the
interviews were on the record, but most were with officials who
agreed to talk only if their names and positions were not cited.
Ready-Made Cold Warrior
It became the job of William Tubman, a reform-minded career
politician who was electe4d president in 1943 and inaugurated the
following year, to lead the country into an era when the global
spotlight turned towards Africa. ...
The core of his platform was the "Open Door" policy, designed to
promote the development of the country's largely undeveloped
interior based on joint ventures between the government and
foreign investors. ...
As it had done in the two World Wars, Liberia steered a decidedly
pro-American course as the Cold War engulfed the globe. The
United States set up a permanent mission to train the Liberian
military and began bringing Liberian officers to American
institutions for further training. In 1959, Liberia concluded a
mutual defense pact with the United States. ...
Although Liberia was no longer the focus of U.S. interest in
Africa -- new nations like Ghana and Nigeria and the
anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa claimed the bulk of
official and media attention -- U.S. aid grew steadily. From 1946
to 1961, Liberia received $41 million in assistance, the fourth
largest amount in sub-Saharan Africa (after Ethiopia, Zaire, and
Sudan). Between 1962 and 1980, economic and military aid totaled
$278 million. In per capita terms, Liberia hosted the largest
Peace Corps contingent and received the greatest level of aid of
any country on the entire African country. ...
The Soldiers Take Control
Americo-Liberian political hegemony ended abruptly on April 12,
1980 when 17 young army officers of indigenous descent staged a
bloody coup. Tolbert was slain in the Executive Mansion, along
with more than a score of others, mostly security personnel.
Another 13 officials died in a nationally televised execution 10
days later on a Monrovia beach. Coming amid rising public
pressure for political and economic reform and a crackdown on
dissent by the Tolbert regime, the takeover was welcomed by many
inside and outside Liberia as a significant shift favoring the 95
percent of the population excluded from power by
Caught off guard by the turn of events, the Carter administration
reacted cautiously. But after a policy review, an aid package was
approved "to exercise influence on the course of events," ...
After Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, support for Liberia was
increased. Aid levels rose from about $20 million in 1979 to $75
million and then $95 million, for a total of $402 million between
1981 and 1985, more than the country received during the entire
previous century. Ties with the Liberian army were strengthened;
the military component of the aid package for this period was
about $15 million, which was used for a greatly enlarged training
program, barracks construction and equipment.
In 1982, Doe was invited to Washington for an Oval Office meeting
with President Reagan. Although the session began on a miscue,
with Reagan introducing his visitor as "Chairman Moe" during a
photo taking in the Rose Garden, Doe received what he wanted -- a
promise of continued American backing.
... As part of the expanding relationship, Doe agreed to a
modification of the mutual defense pact granting staging rights
on 24-hour notice at Liberia's sea and airports for the U.S.
Rapid Deployment Force, which was trained to respond to security
threats around the world. A year after the meeting with Reagan,
Doe followed the precedent set by Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko in
establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, thus breaking away
from the isolationist stand adopted by most African countries in
the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
A Cog in the Anti-Qaddafi Machine
Exerting a pivotal impact on Liberia policy was the closely held
fact that Doe and his small country had been drawn into an effort
to oust Libya's Muammar Qaddafi from power. Within weeks after
Reagan's inauguration, the CIA, under the direction of Reagan's
trusted adviser William J. Casey, began encouraging and
supporting anti-Qaddafi activity by Libyan opposition groups and
friendly foreign governments. ...
By the time Doe arrived at the White House in August of 1982, the
CIA task force had pinpointed Liberia as a key operational area
-- an easily accessible base for the CIA's heightened clandestine
campaign against Libya throughout the area. According to
government officials involved in Liberia at the time, one of the
first steps taken was to make high-tech improvements in at least
one of the communication facilities in Monrovia
Liberia's usefulness as a regional linchpin already had been
tested during a covert operation in support of Chadian leader
Hissene Habre, who had successfully ousted his Libyan-backed
rival, Goukouni Oueddei in June. ...
According to Woodward, Casey selected Doe as one of 12 heads of
state from around the world to receive support from a special
security assistance program. The operations were designed to
provide both extraordinary protection for the leaders and
otherwise unobtainable information and access for the CIA.
Unknown to almost everyone else involved in making decisions
about Liberia for the administration, this gave the CIA and the
White House a huge stake in keeping the Liberian regime in place.
That objective proved increasingly challenging. Although a
25-person constitutional commission headed by Amos Sawyer, then
dean of the University of Liberia, presented its report in early
1983, the ruling PRC delayed the holding of a promised
referendum, creating growing unease in the country. ...
In early 1984, the government shut down the leading daily, The
Observer, edited by Kenneth Best, one of Africa's best known
journalists. The PRC also used a ban on political activity,
enacted in the aftermath of the coup, to crackdown on critics.
When [election] balloting took place, Doe declared himself the
winner by 50.9 percent of the vote, despite ample evidence that
he had been defeated. Nevertheless, the Reagan administration
accepted the results. ...
Liberians were "baffled" by Washington's reaction and the
"reluctance to concede the grimness of Doe's human rights
record," Enoanyi says. The situation grew increasingly bad,
particularly after a failed coup attempt by Doe's exiled former
second-in-command Thomas Quiwonkpa, which was followed by
stepped-up attacks on the opposition.
After the election results were announced, the [U.S.] House and
Senate each passed nonbinding resolutions calling for an end to
U.S. assistance, but the administration announced aid would
Meanwhile, the CIA activity in Liberia increased markedly. ...
The country proved important for another covert action that year
-- the airlift to Unita mounted after the 1985 repeal of the
Clark Amendment, which had barred covert U.S. security assistance
to any of the factions in Angola. Almost as soon as the votes
were counted, the Agency began shipping materiel, with Roberts
Field again playing a key support role as a transit point.
In early 1987, Secretary of State George Shultz landed at Roberts
Field at the end of a six-nation African tour and, to the
consternation of many, applauded "continued efforts towards
political reconciliation" during a luncheon with Doe. ,,, On
December 24, 1989 two dozen armed insurgents quietly crossed into
Liberia from the Ivory Coast, ushering in a new and tragic phase
of the Liberian saga.
U.S. Policy in the 1990s
The connections spanning two centuries and the particularly close
ties of the 1980s led Liberians and others to expect that the
United States would help when trouble came.
The 1989 insurgents were led by Charles Taylor, 40, a former
procurement clerk in Doe's government who fled to the United
States after being charged with embezzling a million dollars, was
detained in Massachusetts for extradition and escaped from jail
while awaiting a hearing. The rebels expected to quickly garner
support and cover the 200 miles to Monrovia in a matter of weeks.
The unrest caused mild alarm In Washington. An interagency
working group , chaired by Assistant Secretary Cohen, was
convened to review the situation and reexamine options. This was
followed by extensive discussions in the Deputies Committee.
"There were different views on how active we should be," said one
participant, "but ultimately, the prevailing view was that this
was something for the Liberians to work out themselves."
The policy that evolved throughout 1990 can be viewed through the
prism of three guiding principles.
1. Reluctance to Break with Liberia's Rulers.
As soon as the first reports arrived from Nimba, there were a few
calls within the administration for a course correction that
would distance the United States from Doe's unpopular rule. ...
As the deliberations moved up the policy chain, new global
considerations took precedence. Liberia's proven utility as a
military staging base and intelligence monitoring site weighed in
Doe's favor. Moreover, policymakers were instinctually leery of
Taylor, since they had intelligence indicating he had received
modest backing from Libya, including training for some of his
2. Disregard for the Potential Impact of Low-Level Engagement.
U.S. prestige carried more sway in Liberia than most senior
policymakers realized in their 1990 evaluations. The inclination
was to downplay the significance of historical ties rather than
employing them as tools for successful diplomacy. ...
3. Preference for Arms-Length Diplomacy.
Forceful diplomatic engagement of the kind that has long been
routinely employed by superpowers was never attempted in Liberia.
Instead, U.S. involvement was limited largely to the protection
of American lives and the provision of emergency aid. And there
was not much public pressure to do anything more. ,,,
West African governments, however, expected and wanted a more
active American role. "We could not understand how the U.S.
government with its long-standing relationship with Liberia could
remain so aloof," said Ambassador Joseph Iroha, a career Nigerian
diplomat who represented Ecowas in Monrovia for several years
during the war. West African states sent in troops to stop the
fratricidal killing," he said, because "we couldn't allow this
sort of thing to continue."
What Have We Learned from Liberia?
Unfortunately, by the time Ecowas was able to organize an
intervention force in late 1990, the country's dismemberment was
far advanced and domestic division had been cemented with
widespread bloody conflict. In addition, the peace force brought
problems of its own. ...
Critics of U.S. policy argue that even after the administration
decision to limit direct American involvement, Washington could
have done much more, both materially and diplomatically, to
bolster the West African effort and make it more successful.
No one can judge with hindsight whether the loss of an estimated
150,000 lives and the regional devastation spawned by the
Liberian crisis could have been prevented without extended U.S.
military engagement ...
What is certain is that failure to stop the fighting during 1990,
before the entire country was demolished, erected barriers to a
solution that still have not been overcome. The result was to
condemn Liberia and much of the region to continuing suffering
and to divert scarce international assistance from economic
development to sustaining refugees. ...
Date distributed (ymd): 030703
Region: West Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+ +US policy focus+
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