Statement on Worsening Crisis In Liberia

Dubuque, IA, July 2, 2003

Today, the world community looks to the United States for leadership in addressing the worsening crisis in Liberia.  One week ago, I called for a foreign policy under which our nation reclaimed its role as the inspirational leader of the world and the beacon of hope and justice in the interests of humankind.  I said that American military force should be committed only when American security interests are imminently threatened or in the face of imminent humanitarian catastrophe.  And I argued that, in such cases, we must always strive to act multilaterally not unilaterally. 

Currently, we face a challenge to our long-term security interests in West Africa, and the world faces an emerging humanitarian crisis.  The situation in Liberia is unfolding in the context of increasing instability throughout West Africa - Sierra Leone is still going through a difficult transition, and more recently Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) collapsed into conflict.  We can ill afford a swath of instability stretching across that region.  There are also credible reports that terrorist networks, including Al Qaeda, have begun to exploit that instability by, for example, trading in illegal “conflict diamonds” to finance their operations. 

As a member of the international community, and the world's leading power, we share responsibility for helping to resolve such conflicts throughout the world.  Our British allies stepped up to the plate when they intervened in Sierra Leone three years ago to stabilize that situation. The French have gone into Cote d'Ivoire; and French and British troops are now doing duty in the eastern Congo.  African governments have sent peacekeepers into Burundi, and West African leaders have pledged to again send thousands of peacekeepers to Liberia.  Now, the British, French, UN Secretary General and our West African partners are all calling on the U.S. to assist Liberia.  I believe that the US must do its share. 

We must do this not only to defend our interests, but to act as force for good in a country that has been an ally to the US for decades.  The Bush administration claims to prize “moral clarity” in their conduct of foreign policy.  I can think of no better way for the Administration to demonstrate this quality than to step in to assist the people of Liberia, which have long been oppressed by vicious dictators, most recently Charles Taylor.  We have the power to help the people of Liberia put themselves on a path to security and eventual democracy by helping resolve a crisis.   We must never again stand idly by as we did in Rwanda in the face of humanitarian crisis. That inaction remains a terrible stain on our record.

For all of these reasons, I urge the President to act by sending U.S. troops to be a part of a multinational peacekeeping force under U.S. command to enforce a cease-fire and ensure the safety of the civilian population. 

Specifically, we should participate in a short term deployment as requested by the United Nations, the United Kingdom, France and the West Africans in which our troops comprise a significant, but not majority, portion of the force.  ECOWAS (the regional organization of West Africa) has committed to sending 3000 troops.  I believe that if the U.S. provided troops in the range of 2000, cooperating with ECOWAS troops but with a U.S. command, we could stabilize the situation and remain in Liberia for no more than several months, at which time a UN peacekeeping mission could be deployed to oversee a period of transition.

Our presence is vital to securing the peace until a UN transitional authority, backed by a UN peacekeeping force, can facilitate a democratic transition and allow a reconstitution of civil society.  Once our peacekeeping role has been transferred to the UN, it is imperative that we continue to support the process logistically and financially. 

I would urge the President to tie our commitment to assist in this multilateral effort to an appeal to the world to join us in the work that remains to be done in Iraq stabilizing the security situation and building a democracy.

As for Charles Taylor, he should turn himself over to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to answer charges that he is one of a handful of war criminals bearing the “greatest responsibility” for crimes against humanity committed in that neighboring country.

The situation in Liberia is significantly different from the situation in Iraq.  In Iraq, the Bush administration failed to prove either a credible imminent threat to American interests or an impending humanitarian catastrophe.  It also failed to gather the multilateral support necessary to legitimize our actions in the eyes of the world. 

The situation in Liberia is exactly the opposite.  There is an imminent threat of serious humanitarian catastrophe and the world community is asking the United States to exercise its leadership.

Saddam Hussein's was an extraordinarily brutal regime.  The Iraqi people and the world are better off without him.  But that was not the justification the Bush administration presented for the invasion of Iraq.  We based the war on the argument that we faced an imminent threat to our interests from weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi support for Al-Qaeda neither of which have been proven to date.  The world community did not buy our rationale for war or the evidence we presented and it looks like their skepticism was justified.

I stated clearly at the time that our approach to Iraq needed to be multilateral and based on humanitarian grounds.  If we had done so, the entire situation might have played out differently and today we might have the broad international backing we need for the nationbuilding efforts that are now failing. 

I opposed the war in Iraq because it was the wrong war at the wrong time, not because I believe American force should never be used.  I laid out my position clearly in my address to the Council on Foreign Relations last week.  Military intervention in Liberia represents an appropriate use of American power. 

I will not apply a one-size fits all approach to American foreign policy.  We bear a special responsibility in world affairs as the world's only superpower.  There is a time and a place for military action.  In Iraq, we launched a war at the wrong time.  In Liberia, we are called on to keep the peace, and the time to act is now.

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