Friday, July 18, 2003

I was at Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network website looking for something else when I saw this. According to Roberston, Liberia's indicted war criminal dictator Charles Taylor may or may not be great but at least he's Christian, unlike the Muslim rebels who are trying to overthrow him.


Pat Robertson Explains His Position on Liberia and President Charles Taylor
July 16, 2003
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA -- As you may know, Liberia was founded by the United States as a homeland for freed African slaves. The word Liberia is a derivation of the Latin for "free" or "freedom," and the capital, Monrovia, was named after President James Monroe.

Liberia had as its first president a Baptist minister from Norfolk, Virginia. It modeled its constitution after the United States and attempted to follow us in establishing its government. Liberia considers itself a "little brother" of the United States, and has always looked to the United States as its founder, friend, ally, and protector.

In the early 1980s, there was a military coup in Liberia led by Master Sergeant Doe. The Liberian President Tolbert was hacked to pieces by machetes. Then all of the top members of his government were taken from the capital city and butchered. Doe began a reign of terror in Liberia, which resulted in civil war. Among those who fought Doe was Charles Taylor whose militia ultimately defeated Doe. Subsequently, Taylor was elected president of Liberia in what I understand to be a free election.

Shortly thereafter, a rebellion broke out in neighboring Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor backed the rebels, whose teenage soldiers were guilty of extreme brutality. Since Sierra Leone was a former British colony, first the United Nations and then the British sent troops in to establish order and put down the rebellion. From all I can gather, they were successful.

Because of Taylor’s role in assisting the rebels of Sierra Leone, the State Department of Bill Clinton urged the United Nations to place economic sanctions on Liberia. The government of Charles Taylor denied any further involvement with the rebels in Sierra Leone, but to no avail. As a result of the pressure brought on by the United States through the United Nations, Liberia was squeezed unbearably and the people suffered.

With Taylor weakened, a group of rebels, who were principally Muslim, began a civil war using neighboring Guinea as a staging area. The United States gave $3 million to help the army of Guinea, and I have on good authority that at least two containers of arms were sent by the United States to the port of Monrovia in Liberia to be used by the rebels against Taylor.

Guinea is a Muslim country ruled by a capricious and ruthless dictator. If the Taylor government falls, the Muslim rebels are hoping to overrun Liberia, which is a predominantly Christian nation. If they do so, it is feared that a vicious civil war will result, leaving the nation bleeding and in chaos.

My question to the United States State Department is very simple, "If you are successful in taking down the government of Charles Taylor, what plan do you have to establish stability in Liberia, the rule of law, free elections, and representative government? What appropriation has been made by the United States Congress to back up the actions that you have taken to bring down the freely elected government of a sovereign and friendly nation?"

These questions and my concern in no way indicated that I was supporting Charles Taylor. I merely asked the State Department how much African blood would have to be spilled before they were satisfied.

The Christian nations of Africa are right now under assault by Muslims funded either by Saudi Arabia or Libya. This fact is well known to the CIA. Regrettably, the State Department seems to be indifferent to this emerging tragedy.

I regret that my sentiments in support of the suffering Liberian people were misinterpreted by The Washington Post as unqualified support for Charles Taylor, a man who I have never met, and about whose actions a decade ago I have no firsthand knowledge.

Thank you for writing, I remain…

Cordially yours,
Pat Robertson

Some of what Roberston said is true, especially in the dry historical part of the beginning. He also rightly points out the nefarious activities of Saudi Arabia and Libya in sub-Saharan Africa. Though there's little evidence to suggest that the State Department (the new favorite scapegoat of conservatives) is indifferent to this.

Guinea is indeed a predominantly (85%) Muslim country ruled by a capricious and ruthless dictator (General Lansana Conté). But Charles Taylor makes Gen. Conté look like Santa Claus! Conté actually allows opposition, he actually allows civil society and his government doesn't harass Christians (as such) at all. Muslims and Christians pretty much get along in Guinea... probably because none of them watch Roberston's show.

Furthermore, to say that Charles Taylor's government was "freely elected" is a bit like saying Saddam Hussein or the Supreme Soviet were "freely elected." No one dared do otherwise.

Robertson fears that in the case of a rebel victory, "it is feared that a vicious civil war will result, leaving the nation bleeding and in chaos."

NEWSFLASH: Liberia IS in the midst of a vicious civil war that has left the nation bleeding and in chaos.

If Roberston is, by his own admission, ignorant of Charles Taylor's history, perhaps he should inform himself so as to make himself look less foolish. To cite Taylor's alleged Christianity as somehow proof of virtue is an insult to those of us Christians who believe things like murder and rape are wrong. Is his next piece going to be entitled "Adolf Hitler: Misunderstood Christian"?

Monday, July 07, 2003

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.

Today, I was reading an article in Le Monde entitled “The second ‘pacification’ of Africa.” The article included a comment from a recent speech by French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. In it, he stated, “The fall of the Berlin Wall, opening the doors for a new world, did not bring about the expected pacification” of Africa.

Mr. de Villepin is clearly implying that the wars and general instability in Africa from the era of independances (late 50s/early 60s) until the collapse of the Soviet bloc (late 80s/early 90s) was due to the struggle between the USSR and USA. While no one can be sure how the newly independent African nations would’ve turned out otherwise, clearly the meddling of the West and of the communist bloc destroyed any hope the continent had of a good jump out of the starting blocks, so to speak.

Yet the expectation expressed by Mr. de Villepin displayed either a willful ignorance or a shocking naivete. For 30 years, foreign countries undermined harmony throughout the continent, supported or actively implemented coups d’Etat, intervened militarily to protect their economic interests and funded government armies or rebellions. To expect that three decades of instability would simply end just because the Soviet Union collapsed is to ignore that such conflicts inevitably generate momentum of their own. Mr. de Villepin is like the parent who gives his kid a ton of candy after dinner and then reacts with anger when the kid won’t go to sleep.

I suspect the foreign minister’s comments were based more on willful ignorance, as a way to brush off French complicity in helping create the mess that is sub-Saharan Africa. Certainly Britain,and to a lesser extent the Soviets, Belgium and the US, played their part but France’s culpability is by far the greatest.

Political alliances, particularly those with autocratic regimes, are almost always based on perceived short-term interests without regard to unintended long-term consequences. This should serve as (yet another) warning about opening such Pandora’s boxes.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

The United States suspended military aid to about 35 countries in a dispute over the International Criminal Court (ICC). The countries failed to exempt American troops from prosecution in the ICC, which Washington fears will target American troops in politically motivated prosecutions, despite the numerous safeguards which make such an eventuality almost impossible.

Others fear that the ICC will undermine the jurisdiction of national courts, yet this fear is unfounded. The ICC will only be relevant when national authorities are unwilling or unable to deal with accusations. The NGO CICC notes:

14. Will the International Criminal Court infringe on the jurisdiction of national courts?

No. The International Criminal Court will complement, not supercede, the jurisdiction of national courts. National courts will continue to have priority in investigating and prosecuting crimes within their jurisdiction. Under the principle of complementarity, the International Criminal Court will act only when national courts are unable or unwilling to exercise jurisdiction. If a national court is willing and able to exercise jurisdiction, the International Criminal Court cannot intervene and no nationals of that State can be brought before it. The grounds for admitting a case to the Court are specified in the [Rome]Statute and the circumstances that govern inability and unwillingness are carefully defined so as to avoid arbitrary decisions. In addition, the accused and interested States, whether they are parties to the Statute or not, may challenge the jurisdiction of the Court or admissibility of the case. They also have a right to appeal any related decision.

To inform yourself further on how the ICC will actually operate, go to for more facts.

Anyway, the US has decided to cease military aid to several dozen countries. Among the countries are: South Africa, Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro (former Yugoslavia), Malawi, Mali and Zambia. Considering that all of these countries are valliantly taking steps to recover from a recent history which included ruthless dictatorship, massive human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing and/or rampant corruption, do we really want to punish them for upholding the rule of law and send them the message that immunity/impunity is not only acceptable, but imperative?

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

With the devastating civil war raging in Liberia and rebels closing in on the capital of that West African country, there is now talk of a UN-led intervention force in Liberia; the Bush administration is under some pressure to contribute American troops. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times ran editorials today in favor of intervention. Much to my surprise, the question leaves me feeling very ambivalent.

Anyone who has read my recent writings knows my feelings toward evil Charles Taylor, the dictator and indicted war criminal who the rebels are sworn to overthrow. More explicitly, I can't think of another human being on the planet who I despise more than Charles Taylor. I would support nearly anything that I believed would remove this blight on humanity who has done nothing but reek havoc, chaos, displacement and murder which has affected tens of millions of West Africans, not just his own countrymen.

I am not opposed to internationally-authorized humanitarian intervention on prinicple. In fact, I tend to support it if it will help. But just as I don't oppose it on ideological grounds, I don't support it reflexively either. While no one can guarantee 100% success in peacekeeping, the Hippocratic oath applies: first, do no harm. I am not convinced that an international intervention would do no harm.

I must clairify for emphasis. I do not mean that American or international troops would be committing atrocities. But rather, the objective of such an intervention would be to bring the war toward its conclusion, rather than prolonging it. I am not confident that this would happen.

Conceive, for a moment, what would happen if an American or international force went to Liberia, even upon the ostensible invitation of Taylor and the rebels. What would it do? Likely, it would act as a buffer between Taylor's men and the two rebel groups. Since Taylor wants to cling desperately to power and since the rebel groups' sole stated objective is to get rid of Taylor, it is difficult to imagine what sort of negotations could occur. The intervention force would simply be allowing the two groups to bide time and re-arm themselves. You don't need me to elaborate what would probably happen next. Allowing warring groups to catch their breath and re-arm, to participate in even bloodier and longer-lasting battles, would this be doing no harm or would it be prolonging the agony?

As someone who's lived in one of Liberia's neighbors and who knew several Liberians, I bring perhaps a different perspective to the debate. This perspective explains my passion for Liberia and the depth of my hatred of Taylor, but it also offers gave me a historical understanding of the country and region.

Liberia's first civil war (1989-97) offers a cautionary tale to the present situation. Just as Taylor's troops were rolling through the country and were on the verge of capturing Monrovia (the capital) in 1990, the West African Economic Community decided to send a "peacekeeping" force, called ECOMOG, to protect Monrovia's civilians. This is similiar to what is being proposed now for the UN and/or US.

ECOMOG comprised mostly Nigerian troops but also men from Guinea, Ghana and other West African countries. All the groups hated ECOMOG, because it was perceived as a barrier to any of them gaining absolute power. ECOMOG quickly became seen as a warring faction just like the others and was targeted as such. It really didn't end up doing much except enriching Nigerian generals.

Some have argued that ECOMOG's intevention was actually WORSE than doing nothing because it prolonged the war and its atrocities by over 6 years. Without ECOMOG, Taylor's troops likely would've captured Monrovia by 1991 and the hostilities would've mostly ended then. And Taylor, whose ascession to power ECOMOG was designed to prevent, ended up becoming leader anyway.

If the US and/or UN were to intervene, I don't expect the corruption problem. The force would be enthusiastically welcomed by the civilian population (who demonstrated in front of the American embassy in Monrovia for intervention), much the same way Sierra Leonians welcomed the British intervention a few years ago. But the force would surely be treated hostily by the three warring factions, once they re-armed. It would get extremely messy.

I don't think we should militarily intervene just for the sake of intervening (ie: for the sake of falsely assuaging our consciences). The ECOMOG example serves as a cautionary tale in that regard. We should also make our intended course clear and unamiguous. Rwanda and Srebenica are two examples of how giving false hope is more cruel than remaining silent.

The international community has few non-military options left. There's already an arms embargo on Liberia and, I believe, timber and diamond embargoes as well. I think Taylor, who is believed to have links with al-Qaeda via the blood diamond trade, is banned from travelling to the US or the EU. That combined with his indictment for war crimes limits the options pretty tightly.

What should we (ie: the US and Europe) do? We should certainly be prepared to send humanitarian aid and assistance as soon as is practicable. We should hope the rebels take power quickly and that Taylor's troops offer little resistance, although that hasn't happened so far. If the rebels do take power, we should work with them to help stabilize the country, encourage them to implement the rule of law and use any leverage we have to make sure they don't screw up; in general, they're not an especially savory bunch either so we should keep an eye on them.

If the West Africans want to send their own intervention force, the US doesn't need to commit our own troops but we should be willing to offer any technical assistance they may require. Leaders like Thabo Mbeki often talk "African solutions to African problems." We should encourage this and offer any ancilary help necessary.

Something simple like this might have abated the Rwandan genocide. East African countries wanted to intervene in Rwanda, but the Clinton administration refused to LEASE them military equipment their armies needed to stop the slaughter.

Too often, reacting to such a crisis is seen as an all (we must send our own troops) or nothing (we must turn our heads away and pretend it doesn't exist) affair. We must realize there are many different ways of reacting to such a crisis other than this simplistic dichotomy.

Otherwise, I think we should let the war play itself out, hope the rebels win quickly and be prepared to help out civilians after that happens. This is not a very satisfactory thing for me to write. It does not sound very compassionate, especially considering it affects people from a country to which I have ties. But it's precisely because of these ties that I recognize the difficult nuances of this situation. Letting the war play itself out may sound cruel, but prolonging the agony is even crueler. Well-intentioned people must realize that this is one of those heartwrenching disasters where no solution is good. Only one that is least agonizing.

First, do no harm.