The Liberian Litmus Test
It’s ‘put-up or shut-up’ time in Liberia. So far, the White House hasn’t decided which it will be.
Strategizing Green, 2004
Some left-of-center types blame the Bush White House on Ralph Nader. Now, Green Party members debate how to develop their strategy withou feeding anti-Green sentiment.
Will Pyongyang Parley?
A new report suggests Pyongyang has a secret nuclear plant. Kim Jong Il is still making threatening noises. But is all this a prelude to a compromise?
The Liberian Litmus Test
The White House, it seems, is fiddling while Liberia burns. After much back-and-forth over if and when embattled warlord-cum-president Charles Taylor was going to resign, the shaky cease-fire between rebels and government forces broke down last week. Now, fighting in Monrovia, the capital, is once again in full swing, replete with the now almost predictable horrors — the streams of refugees, the widespread looting, and the drugged-out, Kalashnikov-toting child soldiers — that define such failed-state conflicts. The fighting was so heavy, in fact, that a microforce of Marines — 41, to be exact — stormed in to evacuate American citizens from the US embassy, which was shelled during the rebel offensive. (For the record, 23 Liberians, but no Americans, died during the attack.)
So far, those 41 Marines are the extent of America’s involvement in Liberia, despite pleas from the international community and the Liberians themselves for US intervention. So while shells rained down on Monrovia, fighters from both sides shook down terrified refugees, and African leaders scrambled to ready a regional peacekeeping force, President Bush said only that he continued to “monitor the situation very closely.” Marines stationed in Djibouti have been ordered to sail for Liberia, but there has been no decision to deploy the troops once they hit West African waters. Indeed, according to a Wall Street Journal report (via Slate), a “US official” says the renewed fighting has convinced the White House that foreign peacekeepers should keep their distance.
The United Nations’ Secretary General, Kofi Annan, however, is telling anyone who will listen that delaying intervention will only make things worse. No one — save unnamed “US officials” — seems to dispute this. After all, Monrovia’s citizens are hardly cheering on the rebels, who are by most accounts cut from the same thuggish cloth as Taylor himself. And with every passing day, Monrovia’s humanitarian crisis worsens. Food, water, and fuel are scarce, garbage is piled in the streets, and health officials fear fresh outbreaks of cholera and malaria. For all these reasons and more, the need for intervention is urgent, Julius E. Nyang’oro argues in the Raleigh News & Observer.
“There are several grounds for intervention. The first is moral and historical. Liberia as a nation was put together by returning ex-slaves from the U.S […] When things begin falling apart in 1980, the United States should have intervened. But that never happened […] Further, during the Cold War, Liberia was a major listening post for the CIA in West Africa. In this regard, Liberia was a critical participant in the fight against communism. For these reasons alone, the U.S. should play an active role in making sure Liberia doesn’t go to the dogs.
The second ground for intervention is political-strategic. Although there’s no current evidence that terrorists harassing the West have come from Liberia, there is ample evidence that most terrorists are operating in countries that have failed states. Liberia is one such failed state, so if we are to get on this bandwagon of fighting global terrorism, we cannot allow Liberia to dovetail into this crazy tailspin of violence and nongovernability.
Another concern is that Liberia’s current government does not seem to respect the sovereignty of neighboring states. It has been used as a staging ground for attacks on countries such as Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.
The third ground is a broader, West African economic development ground. There’s no way you can have normal economic development in the region if a conflict in Liberia is spilling into other countries.”
Although international support for US intervention is widespread, it isn’t universal. The editors of the Saudi-based Arab News, who argue for the creation of a standing international peacekeeping force for situations just like this one, can understand the Bush administration’s reluctance to lead a force into Liberia. Unlike in Iraq, they note, the world is actually encouraging the White House to “liberate” the Liberian people.
“There is another reason to be concerned about the pressure on Washington to send in troops.
It indicates that, for all the criticism levied against them on Iraq, the world still wants the Americans to play the role of global policeman.
But if we expect the US to play that role, we cannot in all honesty complain, let alone be altogether surprised, when it does so on its own terms or makes up its own mind as to what are the priorities for peace in the wider world.”
That seems to be a minority view. The bulk of the world believes that given America’s stated priorities, American intervention is needed right away. As Princeton N. Lyman argues in the Washington Post, the US must go in, and go in with the commitment to get the job done right — which means committing the troops, the money, and the time to stabilize the conflict. To be sure, he adds, an American intervention that actually brings calm to Liberia would go a long way toward validating Bush’s stated commitment to freedom, democracy, and human rights throughout the world.
“Now there is talk of doing it on the cheap in Liberia. Rather than have the United States lead a substantial peacekeeping force filled out by West African troops, it is argued, this country should provide only a few hundred troops in a command-and-control role, with West Africans providing the bulk of the on-the-ground troops. The idea also is that we would leave quite soon. This will not work.
To do this right, the United States should plan from the outset for a force of 1,500 to 2,000 U.S. troops, supported by 2,000 to 3,000 West African troops. We should plan to stay nine to 12 months. None of this means that the United States will be bogged down for a longer period of time.
Doing Liberia right will redound to America’s credit throughout Africa. It will give substance to President Bush’s many promises of help during his recent trip and strengthen African support in the war against terrorism. And it will solidify allied cooperation and burden-sharing in Africa, a facet in short supply elsewhere. Doing it on the cheap will only lead to chaos, further humanitarian crises, recrimination and, eventually, the need for a stronger force. Let us do it right the first time.”
Strategizing Green, 2004
Will Ralph Nader run for president in 2004? The question is dogging not only Democratic candidates, but also members of Nader’s own Green Party. Nader has been dropping his usual hints, but the old standby progressive hasn’t promised a definitive answer until the end of the year. Regardless of Nader’s decision, the Green Party has decided to field a presidential candidate in 2004.
This weekend the party held their national conference in Washington DC, where they debated their election strategy and called on Congress to impeach President Bush for his alleged WMD lies. After the 2000 election, when many angry Democrats held Nader responsible for stealing Gore votes, such provocative announcements from the Greens are liable to make certain “court the center” campaign managers nervous.
Besides the call for impeachment, however, the discussions didn’t bring the Greens to a final conclusion on a presidential strategy. Some Greens feel the party should collaborate with the Democratic candidate, others feel that running their own candidate is the way to go. Some Green Party activist names have are being considered for nomination, while many other Greens are in favor of offering the nomination to former Georgia Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney. Some leading Greens, like Medea Benjamin — their 2000 Senate candidate in California — argue that the party should focus on getting Bush out of office and not necessarily run a presidential candidate. She told MSNBC: “It’s a time of great dilemmas when defeating Bush is the top priority. We have to figure out how to grow and build our party and defeat Bush at the same time.”
And that’s the question that must be on the mind of every Green and perhaps non-Green Naderites as well: How does the Green Party continue to grow while avoiding feeding any of the anti-Green sentiment left over from the 2000 election? Some Nader voters have become so disgusted with the state of the Bush regime that they decided to write Ralph a kind and loving letter urging him not to run. As the editors of RepentantNaderVoter.com put it, ” It’s time to repent…because Bush is so bad.”
Whether Green guilt over a Bush White House is deserved is up for debate. Since the Supreme Court handed Bush the election (and since Katherine Harris did whatever she did to the voting rolls in Florida), Dems and even some Greens have blamed Nader’s campaign for losing Washington to the Republicans. Some Democrats argue that if Nader had not run in 2000, some of his 22,198 votes in New Hampshire would have gone to Al Gore. Gore only lost the state — and its four electoral votes — by 7,211 votes. And as Tom Curry of MSNBC points out, if Gore had claimed New Hampshire, he would have won the election, even given the mess in Florida. It seems likely that at least 7,211 voters in New Hampshire would have voted for Gore if Nader hadn’t run, but we don’t know for sure. Nader might have drawn in new voters, or voters alienated by both mainstream parties. And as Curry reminds us, the secret ballot principle bars analysts from interviewing the Nader voters.
But anecdotal evidence is enough for some. The Daily Camera of Boulder, CO — where Nader got about five percent of Colorado votes — editorializes that Americans know what Nader did to the election:
“The whole country knows what Ralph Nader accomplished in his last campaign, even if Nader and some of his supporters still refuse to acknowledge it. If he didn’t singlehandedly deliver the 2000 election to George W. Bush, he furthered the Republican cause by siphoning votes away from Al Gore — not only in Florida, but across the country. A shift of political energy from Nader to Gore would almost certainly have delivered the White House to the Democrats, with lasting consequences for domestic and foreign policy.
What would a Nader campaign accomplish in 2004, other than to inflict more damage? How would it sharpen the essential debate of the next campaign — the debate over George W. Bush and his conservative agenda for the country? If Nader does run, his name recognition alone would guarantee him a certain number of votes, even if he campaigned as an independent. But for what reason, other than ego gratification, would he enter the race? And why would voters with a sense of responsibility for the country’s future be tempted to vote for him?
This is a man who has spent a lifetime demonstrating that he cares deeply about important causes. The best way for Nader to champion those causes in the 2004 presidential race is to stay out of it.”
These are questions that Nader is going to have to answer to if he announces his intentions to run. His standard 2000 response of “both the Democrats and Republicans are the same” is not, in today’s political reality, likely to satisfy many voters. But judging by an interview Nader had with the Denver Post this week, it looks like he is still using the same old lines. At the age of 67 Nader has withstood many political storms, and he seems to be taking the long view. He told the Post that: “You never know when the breakthrough’s coming; when the tipping point comes.” The Greens, and countless others, are hoping that that tipping point will come in 2004 — whether or not Nader’s candidacy is part of it.
Will Pyongyang Parley?
North Korea has long been a thorn in the White House’s side (as well as a member of the Axis of Evil) — bitterly refusing to participate in multilateral negotiations while openly admitting it has a nuclear program. North Korea wants a seat at the negotiating table, but only if the talks are with Washington and Washington alone. The Bush Administration, however, insists that North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat is not a bilateral problem. Given our allies in the region, it’s a regional problem and must be approached multilaterally. Lately, Kim Jong Il has been making threatening noises, and again demanded bilateral talks, but he might also be preparing for another round of talks that include China.
Last October, North Korea admitted to its nuclear program, and then proceeded to boot the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors who were monitoring the nuclear plant at Yongbyon. Earlier this month, Pyongyang claimed to have reprocessed 8,000 nuclear fuel rods, which would give them enough uranium for six nuclear warheads. The U.S. was unable, however, to find any evidence to back up that boast.
Now, amidst concerns voiced by the International Atomic Energy Agency last week that Pyongyang could be a major threat, the New York Times released a report on Sunday suggesting that North Korea might have a second, secret nuclear facility. In the report, US officials confirm that sensors set up on North Korea’s border have detected “elevated levels of krypton 85” — a gas that is released when spent fuel is converted into plutonium. Officials have ruled out that the gas was emitted at Yongbyong — Korea’s main nuclear plant. South Korea has dismissed the report, calling it “low in reliability,” but maintains that North Korea has deployed heavy artillery closer to their border. The new White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the White House sees “no legitimate use” for any weapons-grade plutonium that North Korea may possess, but wouldn’t confirm the new report suggesting a second plant. Another senior official called the new evidence “worrisome, but still not conclusive.” Despite all the smoke and swagger emanating from Pyongyang, and in sharp contrast to his take on Iraq, Bush still says he sees the nuclear crisis as something that can be solved diplomatically. He shrugged off recent evidence as routine boasting from Kim Jong Il, saying that it is “nothing new.”
Meanwhile, the elevated krypton levels have startled leaders across the globe. England’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has vowed to tackle the nuclear problem in North Korea, writes the Independent’s Jo Dillon. Even at the risk of taking another beating from members of parliament for following America into yet another conflict:
“Mr Blair said: ‘There is a real danger posed by North Korea and its nuclear weapons programme, and I do not think we can turn away from that danger or pretend it doesn’t exist.’
The British stance on North Korea, however, has prompted fears that Britain is ready to be drawn into another American-led war. Patrick Mercer, a Tory MP and ex-soldier, predicted Britain could again be at war ‘within a year’.
Peter Kilfoyle, a former Labour defence minister, said: ‘North Korea is on the same list as Iraq. We pulled back east of Suez and it seems as though we are expanding our role again.'”
China has also been at the forefront of the negotiation talks — prompting praise from the director of IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has said that he was encouraged by China’s recent diplomatic moves, the Economist notes. Blair, during his recent visit to the Asian continent, has said that China, along with Japan and South Korea, may be the key to the multilateral negotiation talks, writes the San Francisco Chronicle:
“‘What’s interesting is the degree to which the Chinese leadership here now are very much trying to assist in resolving some of these most difficult questions,’ Blair said.
‘The key thing that has changed in respect of North Korea is there is now pressure here in this region, from China, from Japan, from South Korea, and the pressure from China is particularly important, in bringing home to the North Korean regime they have got to change their position on this nuclear weapons program.'”
So what is the likelihood of future multilateral talks with Pyongyang? Channel News Asia suggests that future talks between Washington, Pyongyang, and Beijing may be in the making:
“The Korea Times quoted anonymous sources as saying an announcement on the three-way talks would be made this week.
The report added that nuclear discussions would likely be held on September 6 in the Chinese capital, Beijing, where a first round of talks in April ended with no breakthrough.”