Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Washington Post foreign correspondent Karl Vick recently returned from Liberia and answered online questions this morning. His opening response sums up the relationship between the West and West Africa amazingly clearly and powerfully.
Just to the north of Liberia is Sierra Leone. When the atrocities in Sierra Leone reached a point of gothic horror that the world could no longer quite ignore, it was Britain that sent in the troops that kept the warring parties apart long enough for order to be restored. The country had been a British colony, and naturally looked to its former master for help.

Just to the south of Liberia is Ivory Coast. When that former French colony found its way to civil war after decades as the relatively prosperous, famously stable anchor of Francophone Africa, the nation that sent the troops that are still there keeping the warring parties apart was � France.

The United States never was much on colonies. But Liberia is a lot closer to being a former colony than any other African country can ever hope to claim. The organization that founded the country went by the name the American Colonization Society, shipping freed American slaves to settle the coastal areas of what became Liberia. It was Washington that fended off attempts by France and other European powers to nibble away at the interior territory marked "Liberia" on the map.

And when the call went out for an "international stabilization force" to stand between the three warring parties in the present conflict there, eyes naturally turned to Washington. "It's their turn," said one of the ambassadors to the Security Council. And the Bush administration seemed to step up to the challenge.

But that was a month ago, and it's still all talk.
The United States is setting up a real colony in Iraq. In Liberia, there is not a Democrat's chance in Tom Delay's Texas that a new colony will be constructed. This is the core reason (but clearly not the only one) why the case for US military intervention is so much better than in Iraq.

Moreover, Liberia is already under the neo-colonial thumb of the US, so US troops as part of a coalition including West African states is no step backwards. Indeed, in light of the bloodshed and warfare since 2000, it will be downright positive.

The Bushies now have seen the light on Iraq. It wasn't at all about WMDs, they say. It was all about the mass graves, the domestic terror, the authoritarian regime. We've got all this on a Liberian scale today, and yet the Right somehow can't seem to exercise its moral outrage for Africans as it can for A-rabs who sit on "our" oil and defy "our" will.

Today The Guardian reports the civilian death toll has reached 600 in the last week and at least 200,000 refugees are holed up in soccer stadiums and Masonic Lodges. On Monday, during the heaviest fighting in Liberia in two months and amidst the deaths of nearly 100 civilians, someone in the crowd in Monrovia carried a sign which read: "Today G. Bush kill Liberia people".

If the Right wants to be even remotely believable in its claims of moral interest, Liberia is the place to prove it.


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