Left Justified: What do we want in Liberia?

July 1, 1993

We need an international law against military generals taking over their own democratically elected governments by force. The United Nations should thwart any two-bit thug who seeks to take advantage of his position of power. Can we all agree that military dictators suck, and the United States should not support them. And, if the U.S. gets a chance, should it give aid and comfort to democracies around the world?

You’d hope so. But Liberia, that poor little African nation founded by American ex-slaves seeking freedom, is a perfect example of our foreign policy causing mayhem. In 1980, a low-ranking officer in the Liberian presidential guard, Samuel K. Doe, murdered the president, executed the nation’s entire cabinet, and declared himself ruler. Within months, Ronald Reagan gave dictator Doe half a billion dollars in foreign aid—more money than any other African nation. Reagan wanted a strong ally against Communists, and he was willing to pay a fascist to do the dirty work.

Dictator Doe led a crusade against Moammar Quaddhafi of Libya, as well as the Soviet and Cuban adventure in Angola. Mr. Doe also slaughtered his own civilians and fought rival gangsters (“war lords” is too grand a name for these thieves and cutthroats). Thus began 20 years of civil strife and anarchy.

So should our military go into this fray under the banner of democracy? Really, it would be nicer to have an international force automatically respond to military dictatorships. Such a threat of international cooperation against an army coup d’etat could thwart many would-be generals from taking troops out of the barracks. But how many times has the United States actually paid generalissmos to shoot their own duly elected presidents?

Church World Service (the CROP Hunger Walk people) has been sending aid and comfort to the poor of Liberia for a long time. I almost signed up for a United Methodist trip to the northern portion of that war-torn country. It was canceled at the last minute, but I hope to make the trip someday soon. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that do food, medical and developmental assistance suggest that these rebels are really unorganized packs of hungry kids armed to the teeth (thanks to the international gun trade), and any show of military might will send them scrambling.

Granted, the United States military’s performance in Iraq should do the trick. But our present administration has given up on “nation building” and seems to have lost its marbles when it comes to building democracies and setting up legitimate governments. Really, this is a job for the United Nations. Really, we never should have disdained that wonderful congress of countries. Really, the hope of people everywhere for decent government and human rights comes from the countries of the world agreeing to deliver it, not from the United States going it alone, deciding who’s to be blessed or cursed.

If you’d like to help the people of Liberia as well as the rest of the world, the CROP Hunger Walk will take place in October. But you can pick up materials to help raise funds now. Two recruitment rallies are scheduled this month: Saturday, Aug. 23, 9 a.m. at Riverfront Museum Park, 711 N. Main St., and Tuesday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m. at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 3300 Rural St. Pick up walk materials and find out how you can make a difference and help feed a starving world.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

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