“Nigeria is in the Lead”

Given our concerns about defining the mission in Liberia, the President’s words were welcome.

Given our concerns about defining the mission in Liberia, the President’s words were welcome.

West African governments, with assistance from the U.S., negotiated the exit of Charles Taylor from Liberia. The U.S. also participated in negotiations with two main rebel groups to move back from the capital, Monrovia. West African forces, led by about 800 Nigerian soldiers, started in Monrovia and then secured the port so American forces could move in. About 200 Marines and Special Forces are there to assist in specific missions. According to news reports, about 150 Marines will form a “quick reaction force” that will stand by for emergencies, probably remaining at the airport. Another 50 Americans are providing communications and logistical support to the Nigerian troops and a team of Navy Seals is surveying Liberia’s port for obstacles.

While we and the Marines are clearly thrilled that the local population is hailing them as heroes (we’re always ready to hail the Marines), we are inclined to cheer the Nigerians in this case. And cheer, too, the administration for standing firm in the face of pressure to “do something”, i.e., send a large American force to impose itself between forces all of a dubious nature; choosing instead to find “what needs to be done”, i.e., missions best accomplished by American military force.

It is too early to begin even to think about peace in Liberia. But the nature of this exercise thus far indicates that the U.S. can have a political impact disproportionate to our investment of troops by working with regional interlocutors toward an outcome that serves American and other national interests.

Diplomatic Niceties

The North Korean news agency KCNA reports that, “Leader Kim Jong Il was presented with a floral basket by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on the occasion of the 58th anniversary of the Korean liberation. The floral basket was conveyed to Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun by Palestinian Ambassador to the DPRK Shaher Mohammed Abdlah.”

The “Korean liberation” is the Korean War; its casualties including an estimated two million Korean civilians, more than 1.5 million Chinese and North Korean soldiers, 415,000 South Korean soldiers, 33,629 killed or missing Americans, and 4,266 from other UN contingents. The result was a “hellish nightmare for the people” in the North – words that caused some diplomatic consternation in the State Department, probably as a function of our desire to engage the North in crucial negotiations.

Diplomacy sometimes requires overlooking the obvious flaws in one’s negotiating partners for the greater good. However, the U.S. should strongly resist overlooking the fact that Yasser Arafat is still giving instructions to Palestinian diplomats abroad, and still cozying up to one of the remaining legs of the Axis of Evil. Even diplomacy has to be constrained by a semblance of reality.