Ephemerides (July 2003)
July 24, 2003
Barring unanticipated judicial intervention, California will, two and a half months from now, have the opportunity to rid itself of Governor Gray Davis, a man who ranks as the Lance Armstrong of gubernatorial incompetence, dishonesty and corruption. Though I doubt that recall provisions in state constitutions are a really splendid idea, I do feel a touch of envy for the Left Coasters. How sweet it would have been if we Illinois voters could have sent George Ryan packing before having to suffer through his full four years.
But it is not my purpose to expatiate upon the Gray Excrescence's malversations. He has plenty of unlucky constituents who can do that. (Of course, as George Neumayr recounts, there are certain "Gray Hounds" who will be very sad to see him go.) Rather, I want to offer advice to the California Republican Party.
Dreadful as Governor Davis is, the voters picked him last November over the Republican alternative. It goes without saying that the victory was financed with funds extorted from people and businesses who depend on government favor and was clinched by incessant lying. But democracy often isn't pretty, and the governor didn't do (or at least wasn't caught doing) anything sufficiently illegal to get himself sent to jail. In any event, the Republican candidate had enough money to make his case heard, and he didn't convince a majority of the electorate. Perhaps the outcome would be different if the election were rerun today, but Hiram Johnson didn't get recall added to the California constitution in order to turn the state into a parliamentary democracy. The governor is still selected only once every four years, with recall as a last resort to remove incompetents whose continuance in office is a danger to the polity. Beyond kicking Davis out, the coming election should ideally do as little as possible. The situation certainly doesn't warrant undoing the voters' decision, made less than nine months ago, to entrust the executive branch to the Democratic Party. The Democrats were given four years to dig their way out of the dungheap that Gray Davis piled up, and some other, less tainted Democrat should be given the opportunity to do the job.
It is not as if a Republican has a realistic hope of succeeding in the endeavor. Imagine that Davis is recalled and Darrell Issa or Bill Simon or Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jack Kemp wins the appended election to succeed him. What position will the "winner" be in? Left-wing Democrats control both houses of the legislature, and the new governor's mandate will be ambiguous at best. If, as could happen, he garners only 20 or 30 percent of the vote, nobody will take him very seriously in Sacramento. He will be set up for failure, and California will fail with him. The accoutrements of office are not worth that to anyone.
So I very much hope that no Republican will run to replace Davis. In fact, although all of the state's leading Democrats currently say that they will be true-gray and not enter the race, GOP self-denial might ultimately produce an ideal scenario: several credible Democratic candidates who would have strong incentives to appeal for Republican and conservative votes. Republicans are, after all, over 40 percent of the populace - not enough to dominate the political process but a bloc worth courting. The state might wind up with a halfway sensible leader.
The appearance of Democratic candidates, provided that there are no Republicans on the ballot, seems highly likely. The Greens and other fringe parties will undoubtedly run. I doubt that the Dems will stake everything on winning the recall, with the prospect, if they lose, of bestowing legitimacy on the factions to their left. A Green Party that governs the state for three-plus years will not vanish at the next election, and its appeal will be almost exclusively to people who currently vote Democrat. A three-party state could result, or a two-party state without the Party of Gray.
The California Republican Party has spent the past ten years making idiotic choices, wasting opportunities and alienating natural allies. Maybe, this time, it can figure out its own self-interest.
July 19, 2003
George W. Bush and Tony Blair are alike in two - and it is but a slight exaggeration to say only two - ways: Both are vigorous combatants in the War on Terror, and both are loathed by left-wing opinion in their own countries. In America we see and hear the venom directed at President Bush without respite. For its British counterpart, we can look to the New Statesman, a leading organ of liberal opinion, whose latest issue, Stephen Pollard observes, is largely devoted to branding Prime Minister Blair as clinically insane. "I was sickened this morning when I saw that my review of Mark Steel's book (see post yesterday) appeared alongside these Goebbels-like smears. It's one thing disagreeing with the PM on Iraq and other issues - we are all entitled to our view. That's something some of us want to fight to protect, of course. But a concerted campaign to brand him a psychopath is, to my mind, not merely gutter journalism but contemptible."
The Left's hatred of these figures goes well beyond ordinary political animus, into the realm of delusion - the only adequate word for much of the commentary on the now-famous sentence, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." If critics charged that that statement was slippery, because it implied more than the Administration was willing to assert, they would have a small but possibly valid point. But they go much further, persistently claiming that the President was repeating information contained in a forged document (according to which Iraq had actually entered into an agreement to purchase uranium from Niger), then elevating uranimum buying to the level of a major issue in the debate about invading Iraq. (In fact, the President first raised the subject 3½ months after Congress voted to authorize military action, and Iraqi attempts to obtain uranium were only a minor element in the evidence for Iraqi weapons programs.) In other words, the Left does not simply impute more blame than a minor misstatement (if it was a misstatement) deserves; it seems unable to perceive what the President actually said or to remember accurately the state of public discourse at the time when he said it. I attribute that failure not to stupidity but to blind, and blinding, hate. 
While the simplest explanation of that rage would be the particular qualities of George W. Bush, what are we to make of the fact that Tony Blair arouses the same seething emotions in left-wing circles across the Atlantic? We can invoke Blair-specific causes there, if we like, and a third set of special motives for the similar opprobrium hurled at Silvio Berlusconi and José Maria Aznar, but eventually Ockham's razor starts to slice. Perhaps a common phenomenon has a common cause.
The obvious common factor is the war. Confirming its key role is the tendency of the venom to grow more poisonous the closer one gets to the central issues of that conflict. Criticism of the Bush Administration's economic policies, for instance, still follows familiar liberal lines, except on the leftmost fringes, where the idea that he is scheming to revive the McKinley era seems to be taking hold. On homeland security and the pursuit of nongovernmental terrorist groups, the rhetoric becomes more shrill, with wildly overstated claims about how many people have been detained for security reasons, phony horror stories about conditions at Guantanamo Bay and paranoid fantasies of drumhead trials. During the Iraqi campaign, where we fought a major terrorist ally directly, the venom bubbled over, not just in pro-Saddam demonstrations but more significantly in the determination to see disaster for the Coalition forces, whatever the facts might be. Thus a swift, decisive, low casualty offensive was pronounced a failure until Baghdad fell, and feeble sniping by backers of the ousted regime in a small corner of the country is portrayed as a major guerilla insurgency.
It is noteworthy, too, that the Left does not direct its fire at the strategy chosen by Messrs. Bush and Blair. It does not offer better means to achieve the agreed-upon goal of incapacitating the anti-Western terrorist network. Instead, it complains about every means and shows little enthusiasm for the end. During World War II, there was plenty of criticism of the leadership of Roosevelt and Churchill, but, outside the small camp of genuine pro-Nazis, it was criticism of their strategic decisions, not of their aim of defeating the Axis. The voices raised today, by contrast, say not, "This war is being badly fought" but "It is not worth fighting".
If I am correct, the Left does not hate the war because it hates George W. Bush; it hates George W. Bush because it finds fighting Islamofascism abhorrent. That is why it also hates Tony Blair - and why it would hate Al Gore if he had become President and followed an identical course of action.
There's no need to speculate about why certain portions of the Left hold that attitude. The Chomsky-Pilger-Fisk Left doesn't disguise its belief that the United States is the world's principal evildoer and that any force that weakens it is to be welcomed. But the irrational version of opposition to the war has spread to people who are not normally identified with ideological malaria. Do folks like Howard Dean and John Kerry and Maureen Dowd want al-Qaeda to succeed in intimidating the West? It seems unlikely, yet they cannot bring themselves to advocate any countermeasures other than anodyne exhortations to "concentrate on catching terrorists" accompanied by condemnation of every police or military action that might accomplish that. If any of them directed U.S. policy, so far as I can discern, our priorities would be (i) avoiding giving annoyance to CAIR and other Islamist advocacy groups, (ii) pleasing U.N. bureaucrats and foreign leaders who have effectively opted out of the war and (iii) taking such precautions as are consistent with the feelings of the aforementioned, an expansive conception of civil liberties and the interests of labor unions. American strategy would be passive, defensive and unenterprising, leaving all initiative to the enemy. That is the prescription for steady demoralization and decline. In fact, it is probably the only route by which the feeble legions of Islamic fascism will be able to overthrow the West.
The tendency that I have been describing is not, of course, the unanimous view of liberals. (For instance, the Daily Howler, linked in the footnote, is a very liberal site.) It may not even be the majority view. It is, however, dominant within the Democratic Party in the United States and very likely would be in the ascendant, were it not for the party leader's autocratic powers, among Labourites in Britain. Given the inherent uncertainties of electoral politics, it could assume the reins of government in either country within the foreseeable future. Whether it does or not, we should not be complacent about the state of society. When major factions of a country's population cannot agree on what is worth defending, their differences may well be resolved through civil war, military catastrophe or dictatorship. England in 1641, France in 1789, Spain in 1936, France again in 1940 and, for that matter, Iraq in March 2003 stand as instructive precedents.
July 11, 2003
If one is accusing other people of lying, it is elementary common sense to be highly scrupulous with the truth oneself. Evidently, that is more common sense than the Democratic National Committee can digest. As Byron York reports, the DNC is running a commercial charging that President Bush deceived the public by declaring, in his State of the Union Address, that "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa". A clip is shown of the President speaking those words.
As Mr. York observes, the tape has been truncated, à la Maureen Dowd. The full sentence was, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa [emphasis added]." That is not, however, too big a prevarication. The real departure from the truth comes in the next lines: "But now we find out that it wasn't true. Far worse, the administration knew it wasn't true. A year earlier, that claim was already proven to be false. The CIA knew it. The State Department knew it. The White House knew it. But he told us anyway."
The bald statement, "A year earlier, that claim was already proven to be false", rests on a superficial investigation conducted by a single U.S. diplomat in February 2002. By his own, highly tendentious account, the investigator, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, did nothing more than talk to government officials in Niger, who presented evidence that their country had not in fact transferred any uranium to Iraq. He does not claim to have investigated whether Saddam Hussein "sought significant quantities of uranium from" Niger, much less anywhere else in Africa. (For more on Mr. Wilson, vide Clifford D. May, "Scandal!")
For the purpose of deciding whether to go to war to oust the Ba'athist regime, the fact that it wanted to buy uranium was significant, because it was a sign of efforts to revive Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons program. Ambassador Wilson's inquiries discredited only the rumors (based on a document now known to be a forgery) that Saddam had already gotten uranium from Niger, not the British report that he was trying to get it from somewhere in Africa.
So the DNC is guilty of two clear and present lies: the lesser one of editing the President's remarks in a misleading fashion and the greater one of stating that they have been "proven to be false" when the only such proof dealt with a claim that Mr. Bush never made. Well, there's no profit in waxing too indignant about Democratic falsehoods; that's the road to extremely high blood pressure. It's more interesting to speculate about why these particular lies, transparent as they are, are being floated.
As campaign fodder, they are rather weak. With Tony Blair insisting that Saddam Hussein did indeed seek African uranium and Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice affirming that the President was, at worst, the victim of an honest mistake by the CIA, no voter who takes the word "lie" seriously is likely to believe that the President was lying. It is even less likely that any of the two-thirds of the public that approves of overthrowing the Ba'athists will regard the issue as important . If the Democratic high command considers this commercial to be a good investment of its rather meager resources, it must be either very stupid or very desperate. Neither hypothesis is probable.
I can see two explanations with a modicum of plausibility. First, a great many Democrats live in a parallel universe, one in which George W. Bush is a reincarnation of William McKinley, if not Benito Mussolini, and so detestable that any words he utters must be lies. Therefore, they don't look too closely at the facts behind any particular allegation, just as most of us would nod at a statement unfavorable to Mussolini without checking its veracity. That this willingness to believe all bad things of the Monster Bush is a real force in segments of our society is shown by a remarkable CBS story about the Niger uranium controversy. Its headline is "Bush Knew Iraq Info Was Dubious" (originally "Bush Knew Iraq Info Was False"), but, as Eugene Volokh points out (initial posting and follow-up), not a word of the story deals with what the President knew or didn't know. Both versions of the headline are fabrications. The idea that Bush might not have deliberately lied was evidently beyond the headline writer's mental horizon.
Second, the highest levels of the DNC are Bill Clinton's cronies and have a big investment in the Big He. They are eager for him to be remembered gloriously in the history books. (Oh, vainest of ambitions! "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. . . .") The most obvious blots on his memory (though not the most serious, as I have discussed elsewhere) are his record of perjury and reputation for talking around the truth. Leveling comparable accusations against his successor does more than just promote the illusion that Mr. Clinton's conduct was no worse than anyone else's; it also forces Republicans and conservatives to engage in analyses of precisely what President Bush said, which superficially sound like the sort of hypertechnical defenses that President Clinton's lawyers devised to argue that their client's responses to questions about Monica Lewinsky did not fall within the legal definition of "perjury".
The average historian and the average journalist are more gullible than the average voter. They will have no trouble believing that the distinction between "sought" and "bought" is as finespun as "what the meaning of 'is' is" and hurling it back in the face of "Clinton haters". The difference that they won't acknowledge is that Mr. Clinton's artful language was designed to fool a court into thinking that he had never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, whereas President Bush, though he may have been wrong, was stating his honest opinion (both that the British government had information about the attempted purchases and that its information was accurate). So the most significant consequence of Niger's uranium may be to save Bill Clinton's Place in History. I trust that he will be grateful.
1. To hear the media blather, one would think that Iraq's hunt for uranium was a key part of the Administration's case for war. Yet, as Best of the Web points out, the White House first raised the matter in the State of the Union Address, 109 days after Congress authorized military action in Iraq. "Are Kerry and the others who voted 'aye' going to claim that they somehow knew what the president was going to say more than three months in advance? What are they, psychic?"
Update, 7/12/03: The Daily Telegraph reports that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has again defended his government's version of events. He says that Ambassador Wilson's report confirms that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999. "Niger has two main exports - uranium and chickens. The Iraqi delegation did not go to Niger for chickens."
Update, 7/13/03: Condaleeza Rice affirms that the President's statement was almost certainly true. Unfortunately, she doesn't come right out and say that the whole fandango about whether it did or didn't meet the standards for inclusion in the State of the Union Address is rather silly - as Jonah Goldberg said in another context: "not even inside baseball, more like inside parchisi". The whole dispute sounds more and more like an arcane tiff between American and British intelligence agencies, each eager to score professionalism points against the other. It's sort of like two mathematicians coming to blows over whose proof of the Pythagorean Theorem is more elegant.
July 9, 2003
While I sympathize with the complaints about executive branch recalcitrance voiced by the commission established to investigate why the government didn't prevent 9/11, it is hard to get excited over them. The fact is, we all know the commission's two principal conclusions already.
First, the U.S. government didn't take Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda very seriously, despite Osama's declaration of war against the American people and repeated attacks on American facilities.
Second, a truly alert and capable domestic intelligence apparatus would have picked up hints of the coming atrocities before they occurred and would have apprehended the would-be perpetrators.
The specific facts by which those conclusions will be demonstrated are details. They may be traumatic, career-wrecking details for particular government functionaries, but their importance for thinking about future policy is nil. Insouciance toward al-Qaeda's threats and blindness to the weaving of a complex terrorist plot were all-but-inescapable by-products of the American climate of opinion.
The degrees of inevitability differ. If President Clinton had, from an early moment in al-Qaeda's self-proclaimed jihad, conducted a sustained counterattack, the organization's leaders could have been captured or killed. But Mr. Clinton had no will for that kind of effort, which would have run counter to his liberal instincts and drawn criticism from the left-wing media. Leaving his personal credibility problems to one side, how would he have proved, to the satisfaction of the Left, that Osama bin Laden wasn't just a well-meaning businessman whose aims were misunderstood by bigoted Americans? We have seen lately how high the bar is to "proving a case" against any enemy of the United States.
The mere fact that al-Qaeda loudly proclaimed its enmity and its determination to kill Americans was not, in the eyes of the Left or of the Clinton White House, sufficient reason to treat it as an enemy. Remember that the Left denounced our invasion of Panama in 1989 after the Noriega government had itself declared war on the United States. Nor did it regard Ba'athist Iraq's firing missiles at U.S. aircraft as hostilities that merited a response. Vigorous pursuit of bin Laden before 9/11 would have aroused howls of protest, warnings of dire threats to civil liberties, cries for curbing America's presumptuous imperialism - especially if the pursuit had been launched by George W. Bush, whom the Left viewed as an illegitimate, "selected" President.
Still, a semi-military initiative against al-Qaeda is at least imaginable. The maintenance of a level of vigilance that could have forestalled the 9/11 plot, except by sheer chance, is not. Prior to a direct attack against our soil, how much support was there for more stringent airline security, an end to the artificial wall between domestic and foreign intelligence operations, greater FBI surveillance of Islamic radicals, stricter scrutiny of visitors from Arab countries or any other useful security measure? Even afterwards, all of those steps remain controversial.
But let's optimistically suppose that super-clever FBI analysts had picked up and pieced together the clues to what Mohammed Atta and his cohorts were up to and that they had then arrested the lot. How much credence would the media have given to the government's fantastic charges? "Stolen from a Tom Clancy plot", "paranoid ravings", "attempted distraction from the re-recount of the Florida chads", "an excuse for domestic repression": You needn't be a Harry Turtledove to devise your own alternative history.
It doesn't matter at what branching or owing to what misstep the police lost the trail; it was never one that could be followed to the end. In fact, would we want a permanent, peacetime security establishment that did dog every such trail relentlessly? Many an innocent action looks suspicious in the eyes of efficient policemen. An effective system of preventive law enforcement would mark a fundamental change in American society. We might be safer. We certainly would not be freer or happier.
The 9/11 commission's findings will be of great historical interest, but there is no rational prospect that they will tell us anything new that will be useful in guarding against future terrorists. The problem, unlike many in this world, is not obscure, and the closest approximation to a solution is not complex.
First and foremost, we must start taking soi-disant enemies at their word. "Declaring war" on the United States of America should be not a rhetorical exercise but a suicide note. John Adams wisely said that our country seeks no dragons to slay. It does not follow that we ought to tolerate the dragons who seek us.
Next, we must accept the fact that internal security is not an American habit. Our institutions and national character allow leeway for a great deal of bizarre, suspicious, even subversive behavior and shrink from repressing anyone simply on suspicion. We will not be eternally vigilant, no matter how many Presidential commissions urge vigilance upon us and warn of the fatal consequences of lassitude. Any program that tries to change that condition will be either a totalitarian nightmare or an abject failure.
Hence, the only practical way to ward off the threat of terrorism is to dismantle the current terrorist infrastructure. The demise of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and the rest will not prevent an occasional isolated madman like Timothy McVeigh from inflicting great harm, but it will remove most of the immediate threat and make it possible to revert to peacetime habits.
That is what the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States will tell us a few years from now. We can act on its report without waiting to read it.
July 8, 2003
Having been busy with travel and family gatherings, I was barely aware of the controversy over what President Bush said last Wednesday about holdout Ba'athist terrorists: "There are some who feel that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on. We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation." According to a gaggle of liberals (Best of the Web summarizes their whines), the President was "taunting" the Saddamites. That, tut-tutted Senator Kerry, was "unwise" and "unworthy of the office".
Well, while young John Kerry was studying French post-modernism at Yale, George W. Bush was, I suspect, taking the famous "gut", Classical Civilization 10, from which he carried away useful insights into how warriors act in pre-modern societies. In the Illiad, proclaiming one's superior prowess and daring enemies to attack is standard practice. The man who does not boast, who never taunts his foe, who responds to challenges with patient words is not a warrior at all, but a half-man like the despised Thersites.
Modern Western societies do not think in those terms or act that way, and a good thing, too. But Iraq never passed through the Enlightenment. The mentalité of friends, foes and neutrals in that region is closer to Homer than to a civilized Massachusetts Democrat. The remnants of the old Iraqi regime hope to establish moral dominance by attacking Americans. American silence can only assist them by making our troops look like non-warriors. The President's confident "bring them on" is the necessary rejoinder. Words must, of course, be matched by deeds, but the conflict is not one in which the quantity of military force will be decisive. U.S. and British forces in Iraq outnumber the enemy by several hundred to one. A combat death every three days (the average since the end of large scale fighting last April) is no threat to their position. The only real danger is a perception that the giaours are timid and vulnerable. That is exactly the impression that an infinitely nuanced, post-modern man like John F. Kerry will give, should he ever become commander-in-chief. We and the Iraqi people are fortunate to have so far avoided that contingency.
July 3, 2003
Irony, sweet irony, as one savors the spectacle of Kofi Annan, Dominique de Villepin and Howard Dean pleading for President Bush to send American troops to Liberia. Governor Dean is particularly fun to watch. He warns of "an imminent threat of serious human catastrophe", an argument that left him unmoved when the subject was Ba'athist Iraq.
The "imminent catastophe" has actually been going on for quite a while. The current civil war, a brutal conflict stemming more from tribal hatreds than political differences, started in 1990 and has continued, with an imperfect hiatus in the late 90's, ever since. During that time a tenth of the country's population has been killed and a third displaced from their homes.
Replacing the incumbent thugocrat with one of his rivals may or may not improve the lot of the average Liberian. There is no way to know. What we do know is that we will find no weapons of mass destruction in Monrovia, that the Taylor regime harbors no international terrorists and that local human rights abuses, grim as they are, are small scale and amateurish compared to Saddam Hussein's atrocities. No argument that was made in favor of intervening in Iraq can be advanced one-tenth as cogently to support war in Liberia. Why, then, do Messrs. Annan, Villepin and Dean perceive the two situations so differently?
Also, why do they think it vital for the United States to lend a hand? The largest American force that any of them contemplates is on the order of 2,000 troops. Is the rest of the world so impotent that it cannot find that many men to put onto the field? Or have Americans been elevated to supersoldier status, so that 2,000 of our boys are believed capable of accomplishing what 20,000 French or Canadians or Nigerians couldn't?
It is futile, I suppose, to search for rationality among the left-wing Liberian hawks. If they were capable of reason in matters involving the Great Satan, they would have taken the side of civilization and liberty in the Iraqi campaign. Whatever impulses move them to advocate intervention in West Africa are, we may be sure, too feeble to withstand a minute's scrutiny. All that they have so far advanced publicly are lamentations about the horrors of civil war and invocations of America's barely visible "historic ties" to Liberia .
A number of conservatives, including the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal have reacted by declaring that we have no national interests at stake in Liberia and need to avoid dissipating our strength through aimless "peace keeping" between factions that probably have little desire for peace and none at all for justice. That attitude is one that comes easily to Americans. Contrary to leftist rhetoric, any imperialist impulses that the United States harbors are heavily muted. Our history is largely one of avoiding opportunities to expand our domain or accepting them reluctantly for limited periods of time. Our role in Iraq is a continuation of that tradition: We are there because Iraq was an important base for our enemies and can become an important center of operations against organized terrorism. Once the War on Terror is won (or, God forbid, abandoned), we will let the Iraqis resume life without our help or hindrance.
The question that Liberia raises is whether our laissez faire bias is still prudent when applied to Africa. That continent comprises 20 percent of the world's land area, is home to ten percent of its population, contains vast, underexploited natural resources - and is collapsing politically, economically, socially and demographically. George W. Bush is the first President to pay close attention to the potential for disaster. His coming African tour contrasts sharply with his predecessor's, which featured apologies for dead people's past sins and blindness toward living people's present tragedies.
If Africa's future is despotism, war, AIDS, recession and bigotry - the future portended by Robert Mugabe, Thabo Mbeki and Charles Taylor - the world will be like a man gnawed by a virulent cancer. Curing the disease will be far harder and more painful than acting to prevent it. Leaving it alone in the hope that it will cure itself is madness. Among the most easily foreseeable consequences is the creation of a huge Islamofascist recruiting area, coupled with a reservoir and breeding ground of HIV.
Forty years ago, in Why Not Victory?, Barry Goldwater took notice of what was then a less serious situation in Africa and suggested that the continent's salvation might lie in "trusteeship" by the Western powers. For that idea he was universally derided. It formed part of the standard "extremist of the Right" litany. Nowadays, while it may not be a practicable concept, it doesn't look like a foolish one. African chaos has gone beyond being merely a humanitarian concern. While I have little notion of what a viable recovery strategy would look like, it clearly must involve the United States, not only because we are much more powerful than any other nation but because the alternative "trustee" is France, whose almost yearly interventions since decolonization have generally worsened whatever they touched. Last year's bungling in the Ivory Coast was only the latest such debacle.
Therefore, I am inclined to think that we should not shy away from Liberia. We have, I trust, learned from President Clinton's failures in Somalia and elsewhere, and will not send an undermanned, underequipped force with no clear mission. We can spare a few thousand troops for the effort. Contrary to media handwringing, we do not require 150,000 soldiers to cope with a couple of hundred Ba'athist terrorists in Iraq. Imperial overstretch is several commitments away. To "stretch" into Africa now will be less taxing than if we put it off until circumstances have grown more desperate.
1. Here is a summary of those ties: (i) The American Colonization Society played a major role in founding the Republic of Liberia and maintained a degree of control over its government until 1847. (ii) In the early 1850's, the U.S. and British navies suppressed the slave trade along the Liberian coast. (iii) In 1862 President Lincoln granted the country diplomatic recognition. (iv) For a few years before World War I, the U.S. was part of an international consortium that administered the Liberian customs service, and the U.S. army trained the Liberian police force. (v) In 1926 Firestone Rubber Company lent the Liberian government the funds that it needed to repay its foreign debt. (vi) During World War II, the U.S. government built an airport and deep water harbor at Monrovia. The port remained under U.S. control until 1964. (vii) At various times in recent years, American officials have deplored the Liberian government's miserable human rights record. I doubt that, added together, that record makes us responsible for rectifying the region's wrongs.