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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Part II, US INTERVENTION IN THE LIBERIAN CIVIL WAR: SOME LESSONS TO BE DRAWN. Final Version

This is the second article in a mini-series on US intervention in Liberia that began earlier this week. The first installment set out a case for such intervention, hedged carefully . . . above all, on the condition that we adhere to the successful US role in East Timor in 1999, when a multilateral force contributed to by regional states in the Pacific region around Indonesia intervened and effectively stabilized the turmoil within the country as it re-established its independence from Indonesia. The US role in that UN-sanctioned intervention was important but limited: our military forces were confined to air-lift capabilities and logistic support for the Australian and Asian peacekeepers on the ground. The outcome was a big success. Elections were help in East Timor; independence established; the turmoil disappeared.

That initial article, recall, noted that there were legitimate concerns voiced by the critics of any US intervention in Liberia, even a limited one along the lines of East Timor . . . the model that does seem to be the guide for the Bush administration right now, at any rate in intent. Four stand out in particular:

[1] The intervening regional states in West Africa aren't nearly as stable or efficient or their militaries as disciplined and professional as was the case of Australia and the Southeast Asian countries that saw a clear interest in sending troops to East Timor.

[2] A small country of fewer than a million, East Timor had and has a degree of ethnic unity and shared history that isn't present in Liberia, just the opposite. (As against this, though, note that the armed militias and what passes for the Liberian army are weak, rag-tag forces, with scarcely any effective discipline or training.)

[3] US military forces are already spread thin on the ground in a dozen other countries, with a huge presence in Iraq.

Come to that, a fourth concern needs to be underscored:

[4] Almost all of West Africa is a mess, a political and economic morass. Consider briefly the states that border Liberia. Sierra Leone is something of an exception, at least for the time being: stable after a decade of ruinous war, though only after a British military intervention in 1999, which --- even if officially ended --- has been followed by a strong British administrative and political influence. By contrast, the Ivory Coast has essentially been in civil war for almost a decade too, punctuated by an occasional winner-take-all government, with French troops now present and French administrators on the ground; and Guinea, the third immediate neighbor of Liberia, is a military dictatorship. Further afield, even Nigeria --- where President Olusegun Obasanjo came to power in 1999 ending military dictatorship --- won again this last April only after blatantly rigged elections, an African commonplace . . . with only about four or five of the roughly 18 electoral democracies on the Continent having either fair elections or elections that aren't totally fraudulent; simultaneously, the central institutions of the Nigerian state seem to be breaking down over at least part of the national territory, and especially in the North, where extreme Islamist fundamentalism is on the upsurge, and caused riots resulting in several hundred gruesome deaths last fall to protest a Miss Universe contest in the country. For a warning about the West African morass --- informative, and with his usual humorous touches --- see Mark Steyn, who is himself favorable to intervention by the US . . . provided we recognize it for what it is, he says: an imperial sway over a totally broken-down state and country.

Immediately, a question rears up here: can the Sierra Leone pattern be emulated in Liberia? The fact is, nobody knows with any certainty; you can't even predict with much accuracy what Sierra Leone will be like in a decade or two. At most it's a possibility --- the prospect of emulating the current Sierra Leone political settlement; nothing more.

 

These are weighty concerns. They can't be brushed aside easily, nor should they become fodder for ideological hashings between left-wing liberals and conservatives . . . though, to an extent, that's probably inevitable. And hence all the more reason to be certain about the lessons to be drawn from earlier military interventions by the US in the post cold-war period: Panama in 1989, the Gulf War in Iraq 1991, Somalia in 1992-1993, Haiti in 1994, Bosnia 1995, and Kosovo 1999 and later that year in East Timor . . . followed by the war on terrorism against the cruel mass-murdering regimes and terrorist-supporting states of Taliban Afghanistan and Saddamite Iraq.

 



Our Aim Here



This, then, is what the current article is about: the lessons to be drawn from these interventions. A third article, Part III, will clarify these lessons in more general, theoretical terms (probably tomorrow), followed by a fourth article on the most difficult form of intervention: nation-building, as opposed to the easiest, humanitarian, and the more challenging peace-keeping and peace-making roles. The latter, as we will see, should not be confused with peace-keeping. For peace-keeping intervention to work, there has to be a peace to keep. Otherwise, any military intervention beyond carving out a safe-haven for refugees and protecting them --- as in northern Iraq after the defeat of Saddamite Iraq in 1992, or in Rwanda in 1995 after the huge genocide in that country nearly succeeded --- requires a powerful willingness to fight and fight effectively with clear decisive force to defeat a designated bad-guy enemy: usually a dictatorial mass-murdering government, or a big-guy swaggering warlord, or a terrorist group threatening to seize control of a government and use it against Americans and our allies, or once in a while in a civil war where no clear good or bad-guys can be easily designated.

Are we willing, then --- should chaos and war still rage in Liberia despite the presence on the ground of an African multinational force and a limited but key US military and diplomatic role --- to commit the necessary American forces for a decisive fight against designated bad-guys and their undisciplined, rag-tag, frequently drugged militias in case it comes down to that?



 



The Lessons That Should Guide Our Intervention in Liberia and Elsewhere Where Clear Security Interests Aren't Present Or Are At Best Secondary in Nature

As the previous article noted, the Bush administration has wisely insisted on a clear commitment of the surrounding states in West Africa to carry the biggest military burdens of any intervention . . . as was the case earlier in East Timor. The US role, in intent anyway, is to limit our action to air-lift and logistic support, plus active diplomacy once the West African forces arrive.

Above all, no intervention into the ongoing civil war --- with no effective truce in sight, unless Charles Taylor does go into exile and, just as important, his military and militia forces stop fighting and are disarmed --- can occur unless it has the full commitment of Nigeria and the surrounding states. That commitment, note, has to include a willingness to fight if there's resistance . . . either by Taylor's forces or the various rebel groups. Why? Simply said, if we've learned anything about futile and costly military interventions without such a full-fledged commitment --- which means, if need be, a willingness to fight, at which point US military support can be introduced directly --- it is that peacekeepers sent into a flaring civil war have no peace to keep. They either have to withdraw or they have a willingness and necessary forces to fight --- and fight effectively.

That's the key lesson of Somalia in 1993, after the US government led by President Clinton unwisely let a humanitarian intervention of the previous fall --- initiated by President Bush-Sr, to help starving masses get international food-shipments pillaged by predatory warlords --- slip into a peace-enforcing mode associated with the UN, itself disguised as a confusing peace-keeping mission. There was no peace to keep. Contending warlords were fighting one another and preying on the international food supplies, with no central government and law-and-order. Worse, the UN then let its multilateral forces get entangled in taking sides against certain warlords, especially Mohamed Fararah Addid --- the target of the US Ranger effort to arrest him and his henchmen in Mogadishu in September 1993. The new Clinton administration sided with UN "nation-building", a task way beyond the capabilities of either of the small US force or the larger UN mutilateral forces. The confusion led to the disaster in Mogadishu, immortalized in the extraordinary book, Blackhawk Down by Mark Bowden and the film based on it by Ridley Scott (one of the best war-dramas ever).

And bad as the Somalia fiasco turned out to be --- a limited US humanitarian intervention that then became entangled in UN multilateral intervention that was supposed to be peace-keeping with no peace to keep and then slipped confusingly into weak and ineffectual peace-enforcement and nation-buiilding (the latter the biggest interventionist challenge of all) --- the debacle was even worse in Bosnia at the time, when fairly large forces were committed by the British and French (with a small, totally inexperienced Dutch battalion), where for three years, 1992-1995, these NATO and other UN-sponsored "peacekeepers" were caught up in the chaos and violence of a raging civil war, further complicated by Yugoslav central government support for the mass-murdering Serb forces in the region. We'll return to the Bosnia catastrophe in a moment or two. For the time being, we know enough about Somalia, Bosnia, and other cold-war and post cold-war mutlilateral interventions to underscore several lessons.

 

The lessons need to be enshrined here. Four Stand Out:

  • IF YOU INTERVENE IN A CIVIL WAR WHERE THE WARRING PARTIES AREN'T WILLING TO ABIDE BY A CEASE-FIRE, YOU'RE NOT ENGAGED IN PEACEKEEPING. YOU ARE REDUCED TO PEACE-MAKING --- WAR-FIGHTING: YOU HAVE TO TAKE SIDES AND THEN FIGHT TO DEFEAT WHAT YOU THINK IS THE BAD-SIDE, HOWEVER MANY GROUPS MIGHT BE INVOLVED


  • EFFECTIVE WAR-FIGHTING --- PEACE-MAKING --- REQUIRES OVERWHELMING FORCE AND A CLEAR EXIT-STRATEGY AT THE END. THAT STRATEGY MUST ENTAIL AN IMPROVED LOCAL SITUATION AND SOME PROSPECT OF ULTIMATE PEACE. WITHOUT A CLEARLY EFFECTIVE MILITARY FORCE BEHIND IT AND THE WILL TO FIGHT DECISIVELY, ANY US OR UN INTERVENTION WILL AMOUNT TO A BLUFF . . . WITH LIKELY DISASTER LOOMING AHEAD.


  • IF THAT PROSPECT OF ULTIMATE PEACE IS TOO ELUSIVE, THEN THE MISSION SHOULD BE REDUCED TO STRICTLY HUMANITARIAN ACTION --- A LESS POLITICALLY AND MILITARILY DEMANDING OPTION --- SUCH AS CARVING OUT A SAFE-HAVEN, PROTECTED BY SMALLER NUMBERS OF TROOPS IN AN AREA THAT CAN BE EASILY SECURED. OTHERWISE, DON'T INTERVENE.


  • THE WORST TACTIC IS TO INTERVENE, EITHER FOR HUMANITARIAN OR PEACE-KEEPING PURPOSES, WITH A SMALL FORCE, ONLY TO FIND THAT YOU FACE STRONG ARMED RESISTANCE AND LACK THE WILL TO BEEF IT UP AND DEFEAT OR DESTROY THE RESISTORS. WITHDRAWING IGNOBILY, AS FROM IRAN IN 1980 OR BEIRUT IN 1983 (after our Marine barracks were blown up by a suicide-bombing pair) OR A DECADE LATER FROM SOMALIA.


  •  

    A Clarification or Two

    This latter lesson --- which as it happens links to the wider war on terrorism --- needs to be briefly clarified. It hooks up with the warning in lesson 2 about the dangers of bluffing . . . with disaster likely to befall any interventionist forces, ours included.

    Ponder the dangers in clear historical terms.

    Above all, our unwillingness to confront the reality of our enemies squarely and without illusion and then defeat or destroy them with decided firmness --- failures that started in Iran with Shia fanatics in 1999 and 2000, and continued for two decades in Beirut in 1983 with Hamas bomb-terrorists, or in Mogadishu in 1993 a warlord where local Al Qaeda agents were likely present, or with Al Qaeda later in Africa and elsewhere under Clinton --- has had disastrous recurring effects on US foreign policy and above all the credibility of our national will. In plain English, they encouraged Islamo-fascist terrorists in the Middle East, North Africa, and Afghanistan to believe that the US was a paper-tiger super-power, unwilling to risk large and even small numbers of American casualties when faced with a resolute enemy . . . particularly if the enemy, Islamo-extremist and Islamo-fascists and any warlord henchmen allies, was relatively indifferent to its own casualties. And note. This is hardly an idiosyncratic view. Far from it, the lesson's been underscored recently by no one less than James Woolsey, our former CIA head and the most talented we've maybe ever had in that post. Writing in a British weekly earlier this month, he asked why it was that our Islamo-extremist and Islamo-fascist enemies felt emboldened to attack the US even on our soil in September 2001 or blow up US embassies abroad or defy repeatedly UN Security Council Resolutions about disarmament and human rights (Iraq and, on human rights and terrorism, Taliban Afghanistan).

    His answer is worth setting out at length:

    " . . . for all practical purposes we hung a 'kick me' sign on our backs in the Middle East.

    First, we convinced many people there that we did not give a damn about the people in the region and that we cared principally about its oil; that it was a filling station for our large sport utility vehicles. Secondly, we convinced them that we were a wealthy, feckless country that would not fight.

    Starting in 1979, when our hostages were seized in Tehran, we tied yellow ribbons around trees. In 1982-1983, our embassy and marine barracks were blown up in Beirut and we left. Throughout the rest of the eighties, there were various terrorist attacks against us, mainly sponsored by Iran, and we prosecuted a few terrorists here and there - we sent the lawyers, basically - and we would occasionally lob in a bomb or a cruise missile from afar. In 1991 in the course of the Gulf war, we encouraged the Kurds and the Shi'a to rebel against President Saddam Hussein, then we signed a ceasefire agreement which left the Republican Guard and their armed helicopters intact, and the bridges intact. We stood back and watched the Republican Guard massacre the Kurds and Shi'a whom we had encouraged, thereby convincing all and sundry that once the Americans and their allies had secured the oil of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, they did not give a damn about the people of the Middle East.

    In 1993, Saddam tried to assassinate former President George Bush in Kuwait. The best response that Clinton could come up with was to launch two dozen cruise missiles into an empty Iraqi intelligence headquarters in the middle of the night, thereby presumably responding effectively to Iraqi cleaning women and nightwatchmen, but not particularly effectively to Saddam. In 1993, our helicopters were shot down in Mogadishu, our rangers were killed and again, as a decade earlier in Beirut, we left. Throughout the rest of the nineties, with the USS Cole and East Africa embassy bombings and the like, again we prosecuted a few terrorists and occasionally launched a cruise missile or a bomb at a tank or a surface-to-air missile site.

    No doubt if you were in al-Qaeda, in Iraqi intelligence, or one of Khamenei's advisers assessing things at the end of the twentieth century, you would have had to say that the Americans - from this wealthy, feckless, spoiled country - would not fight. You would have had some evidence for that. Now, just as that was the assessment of us by the Japanese at the beginning of the 1940s, and just as they were somewhat surprised after Pearl Harbour, after September 11 both the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and now the Ba'athists in Iraq, are somewhat surprised. However, there is still a long way to go. "


     

    Intervening as a bluff, in short, will likely backfire. Intervening repeatedly as we did in Iran under Carter in 1979 or in Beirut in 1983 under Reagan or in Somalia in 1993 (Bush-Sr, Clinton) --- or lobbing cruise missiles at suspected Al Qaeda bases (after two of our embassies were blown up in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998) in the Clinton era, not to forget the hundreds of ineffectual missiles aimed in vain at the Saddamite regime later that year by Clinton --- and proving irresolute and uncertain about the nature of the mission will not only likely fail and backfire, it will, as Woolsey among others note, only embolden fanatical enemies to increase their attacks.

    Fortunately, the Bush-Jr. administration has seemed to learn this lesson: first in Taliban Afghanistan in late 2001 and more recently in Iraq. Let us hope it can apply the East-Timor model effectively in Liberia or, if that fails, have a back-up plan that will bring far more effective military force to destroy resistance to the success of the UN multilateral intervention.

     

    Intervention in Bosnia, 1992-1995: An Object-Lesson in Disastrous Illusions

    The Bosnian civil war, aggravated by Yugoslav support for local Serbian forces, is an object-lesson here. The NATO and other peace-keeping forces sent there in 1992 and 1993 were supposed to keep a non-existent peace. They had no authority to fight, and in any case neither London nor Paris, the two governments with the most troops on the ground, had any stomach for fighting. In short, it was a con-job . . . full of self-deception. That self-deceiving bluff dragged on for three years: the NATO and other forces in Bosnia pretended to be neutral peacekeepers --- with no peace to keep, just the contrary --- and the political and military heads of the multilateral forces had no authority or desire to choose sides and fight. Strikingly, too --- as the corpses mounted --- the EU's sole exercise in military intervention (the US told to "butt out of Europe's backyard" by the then head of the European Council, Luxembourg in 1992) proved increasingly disastrous. The Serb forces quickly saw through the fraudulent peace-keeping. They first ignored the peace-keepers, then took pleasure in harassing and humiliating large numbers of British and French professional soldiers. The UN administrators overseeing the multilateral intervention added to the self-deception: they created allegedly safe-havens for Bosnian Muslims in outlying towns and cities. And then came the summer of 1995.

    As Serb forces went on the offensive all around the country, they began overrunning the UN safe-haven cities one-by-one. In their wake, huge massacres would occur --- the most notorious at Srebrenica, where several thousandsMuslim men were slaughtered after Dutch peacekeepers (a few hundred inexperienced teen-agers mainly), terrified by Serb threats and unable to get UN authorization for NATO planes to bomb the Serbian forces, let those forces into the city with assurances that respect for human rights would prevail. The entire UN mission was now jeopardized. The US military --- which had confined its role to offshore logistical support (no bombing) --- had been planning for two years how to rescue the British, French, and Dutch NATO allies' forces, but then, with the entire UN intervention on the verge of an unalloyed fiasco, Clinton came down on the side of bombing and managed to get the approval of our allies' governments (which until then had recoiled from the prospect).

     

    The result?

    A quick and massive route of Serb forces, a simultaneous counter-offensive by Muslin and Croatian forces on Bosnia soil (with lots of ethnic cleansing practiced by them on Serbs), and then a speedily mediated peace by Clinton with Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian leaders at Dayton, Ohio in November 1995. Even then, Clinton had to engage in arm-twisting and threats. The lesson here? It's simple and straightforward: only resolute American military action salvaged the disastrous UN "peacekeeping" mission. And war-fighting and creating a peace by means of military force are not peace-keeping, rather peace-making.

    Immediately after the Dayton accord, US peacekeepers poured into Bosnia in large numbers with authority to attack and kill any fighters from any side violating the peace. A few other contingents arrived from elsewhere too, including Russian peacekeepers. Eight years later, note carefully, that peace has prevailed. Decisive military action by the US was and remains its cornerstone . . . exactly the case in Kosovo four years later, 1999, when NATO went to war with Milosevic's Yugoslavia. US planes carried out 85-90% of the systematic bombing in that spring; US cruise missiles accounted for 95% of the missiles used. The outcome there was decisive, and peace has prevailed too --- in part thanks to peace-keeping forces (mainly to control local Albanian extremists, threatening Serbian civilians), and in greater part to the sudden collapse of the demagogic, trouble-making Milosevic regime in Belgrade.

     

    Three Further Lessons Here:

    [1] Why did the US intervene with such decisive military force in 1995 in Bosnia and four years later in Kosovo?

    Not just for humanitarian reasons. They generally won't suffice by themselves to justify such resolute military action. Instead, it seems to require that there also be present in any crisis a major national interest of a clear security or economic nature or both (as in Afghanistan and Iraq recently). In the Balkans interventions by the US, what was at stake was not just the stability of the Balkans --- including the prospect of wars between Bulgarians, Greeks, and various former Yugoslav peoples --- but the entire credibility and future of NATO as an effective alliance in the post cold-war era. The US, remember, had had to intervene and fight in two ruinous World Wars in Europe earlier in the century, then station hundreds of thousands of troops for decades under NATO auspices to protect West Europe from any Soviet threat. The security stakes in the Balkans were clear, just as they are in the US-UK intervention to destroy Saddamite Iraq, occupy it, and begin to try reconfiguring the entire political map of the Middle and Near East, where bankrupt and corrupt despotic and sometimes anti-American governments rule over teeming populations attracted to the messages and symbols of Islamist extremism and even terrorism.

     

    [2] The next lesson? Moralizing hokum and hypocrisy, left-wing version.

    Specifically, in November 1995, President Clinton told the American public solemnly that US forces being sent to police the now-agreed upon peace in Bosnia, but only for a year. It was a promise he reiterated in the fall Presidential campaign of 1996: our troops would be out in December. Seven years later our troops are still there. So . . . was Clinton lying at the time? Where the hue-and-cry from the left over this deception? And why are there so many double-standards used by the critics of George Bush over Iraq, whose charges of deliberate lying and deception by Blair and Bush make these two leaders bungling lummoxes . . . unable to carry through their alleged lies by having a small CIA or MI-6 team spread a few test-tubes of bio- and chemical-agents here and there, especially after agreeing to have hundreds of US, UK, and foreign journalists on the spot with advancing US-UK forces.

     

    [3] The loud-mouthed left --- which has alienated so many moderate Democrats and independent voters in this country with its irresponsible behavior, including (it seems) its wild charges about deliberate lying and deception in the Bush administration's motives for going to war over Iraq --- will apparently support only one kind of military intervention by US forces in the world: one, remarkably, where there are no clear national security interests at stake, with moral purity (as Mark Steyn notes in the link set out at the outset here) its only concern.