In the growing debate over whether the Bush administration should get “boots on the ground” in the war-torn West African nation of Liberia, the neoconservatives who helped lead the charge to war in Iraq have been surprisingly silent. Led by top Pentagon officials and advisers like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, the neocons were championing war with Iraq even as the dust from the 9/11 attacks was still settling over lower Manhattan. By September 20, the neocon-led Project for the New American Century (PNAC) had published an open letter to the president calling for “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq” — regardless of whether evidence connected him to the terrorist attacks. As the war crusade gathered momentum in late 2002 — and as doubts grew about Saddam’s connections with Al Qaeda — the neocons gave voice to a full-throated Wilsonianism (minus the multilateralism) as the reason for invading Iraq. The newest rationale became “liberation” from “tyranny.” As Lawrence Kaplan and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol wrote in late January, the “Bush strategy enshrines ‘regime change’ — the insistence that when it comes to dealing with tyrannical regimes like Iraq, Iran, and, yes, North Korea, the U.S. should seek transformation, not coexistence, as a primary aim of U.S. foreign policy. As such, it commits the U.S. to the task of maintaining and enforcing a decent world order. ” After the war, when critics began hounding the administration to prove that it had not exaggerated its claims regarding Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the neocons lambasted the doubters as mere quibblers and bad sports who were, in Charles Krauthammer’s words, “deeply embarrassed by the mass graves, torture chambers and grotesque palaces discovered after the war” and thus trying “to change the subject and relieve themselves of the shame of having opposed the liberation of 25 million people.” Given their apparent concern over stamping out terrorism across the globe and ousting leaders who commit atrocities against their own people, the neocons’ silence over Liberia is deafening. After all, Liberia seems to be a country tailor-made to the neocons’ interventionist agenda. First, unlike the case in Iraq, there is solid evidence connecting Liberia to international terrorism. Liberian President Charles Taylor allegedly gave refuge to Al Qaeda operatives after 9/11 and helped the terrorist group buy diamonds from rebel groups in neighboring Sierra Leone. Second, unlike Saddam Hussein, Taylor has actually been indicted for crimes against humanity by an international court. While the Hussein regime was clearly one the great human rights abusers of the last 20 years, Taylor can certainly be said to hold his own in that area. Not only are there “mass graves and torture chambers” to which Krauthammer is presumably sensitive, but there were also the tens of thousands of amputations and mutilations carried out by Taylor-backed rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone. As Human Rights Watch put it, the Liberian president is notorious “for the brutal abuses of civilians perpetrated by his forces in Liberia, and for his use of child soldiers organized in ‘Small Boy Units.'” Taylor’s hand has also been traced to brutal conflicts in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. With the president on his way to Africa this week, one would expect the normally loquacious neocons to be raising their voices. So far, only the neoconish Wall Street Journal editorial page seems to have squarely addressed whether the United States should intervene. Its recommendation — let the feckless U.N. and the perfidious French, who “left America alone to clean up Iraq,” take care of the problem. The lone neocon voice calling for intervention appears to be Thomas Donnelly, a Perle colleague at the American Enterprise Institute. With coauthor Vance Serchuk, Donnelly argues in The Washington Post on July 7 that intervention is justified not for humanitarian motives per se, but because of the growing acknowledgment that “U.S. security interests in Africa… cannot be ignored.” But where are the rest of the neocon ring leaders? If they truly believe that the United States is now committed “to the task of maintaining and enforcing a decent world order,” than why aren’t they crying out now for intervention in Liberia? Why hasn’t PNAC issued a new sign-on letter pressing the administration to act? And why aren’t Wolfowitz and his comrades in the Defense Department strongly urging the president to once again extend the boundaries of the war on terrorism?
Michael Flynn is a research associate with the IRC’s Right Web program. Jim Lobe writes for Right Web (rightweb.irc-online.org), Foreign Policy In Focus, and Inter Press Service.