Monday, July 07, 2003

IRAQ VS LIBERIA: MOTIVES AND PROCESS
In the face of international pressure, some sort of American involvement seems increasingly likely in Liberia. It's interesting to note public reaction to this potential intervention. In contrast to the run up to the invasion of Iraq, there is no organized opposition, no gigantic marches, no worldwide condemnation of President Bush. Why?

The fundamental differences between the Iraq and Liberia are motives and process.

The invasion of Iraq was widely perceived, both internationally and (albeit less so) domestically, to be about economics: Washington wanted to expand American economic influence in the Middle East.

Additionally, the path followed by Washington did not inspire widespread confidence. The administration followed the UN path only grudingly and then, when it couldn't get exactly what it wanted the instant it wanted it, it tooks its ball and stomped off home. There's a fine line between leadership and bullying; Washington was on the wrong side of that line.

And these two fed off each other. Washington's refusal to play by the rules of the international game cast even more doubt on the sincerity of the motives. The anger provoked by that doubt pushed the administration to be even more intransigent.

Yet such doubts don't really surround the case for American intervention in Liberia. The United States does not have a large economic interest in Liberia or West Africa. And the administration is working with, not against, the United Nations and countries in the region. Basically, most of the world seems to believe that a Liberia intervention would be the right thing done for the right reason.

Large stocks of weapons of mass destruction haven't been found in Iraq, but hawks dismiss this fact noting "at least Iraqis are free of a brutal dictator." If a good thing is the result, do dubious motive and process matter? Does the end justify the means? Why do motive and process matter so much?

Motive matters because it speaks to credibility. Credibility speaks to leadership. The difference between leadership and bullying is the difference between having widespread support (and lots of help in sharing the burden) and having widespread opposition.

If you are going to justify an intervention by saying "we're powerful, we can do whatever we want," then the motive is clear and unambiguous. But if you are going to use righteous propaganda to justify an intervention, then you are relying on an argument that goes beyond the law of the strongest. Especially in a supposed humanitarian intervention, having unquestioned motives is useful in gaining the trust and cooperation of the locals, of those who you are supposedly saving.

Process matters because it speaks to motive. The more widespread consultations are, the broader the consensus, the more credible the intervention becomes. While process shouldn't hold one hostage in the most urgent situations, it shouldn't be disregarded casually and regularly. The American government followed the right process in Afghanistan and, as a result, it had widespread international support. The opposite was true in Iraq and international support was accordingly minimal.

Both Saddam Hussein and Liberia's Charles Taylor were ruthless dictators and brutish thugs reviled by their populations and despised by their neighbors. Yet the run-up to intervention in both countries provoked wildly different reactions both from Americans and the rest of the international community.

Is it because the American left and Europeans were huge fans of Saddam? Is it because indicted war criminal Charles Taylor is ten times the monster Saddam was? Did the international community get a sudden crush on President Bush? Is it because anti-war protesters were tired out by the Iraq demonstrations? Perhaps that fatigue caused them to confuse President Bush with Ralph Nader? What explains this dichotomy?

No. It is because the motive for intervention in Liberia is widely seen to be honorable. And because the process followed is seen to be without haste but without willful foot dragging, without contempt for the international institutions important to so many countries and appropriately consulting other countries in that region and nuturing their support. The administration is seen as wanting to do something to help the situation in Liberia but does not appear to have an unseemly desire to flex its military muscle for its own sake. It's a blueprint for the way things SHOULD be done.

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