In a previous post I tried to understand how we could intervene. I had an oversight in the analysis: It is all too easy to define a country's interests as those of some particular special interest, and those can be (and often have been) global and intrusive. I was assuming that we gave enough attention to the situation to spot and forestall such hijackings of foreign policy--but it is true that we haven't always been caught them.
It certainly looks as though the situation has deteriorated for Taylor et al, but I can't tell for sure since I don't know how LURD and Taylor are supplied. LURD might be running low on ammo and about ready to fall back. I hope the CIA knows, but I've my doubts about their competence in studying non-sexy countries. I have the feeling that Bush is hoping that Taylor's forces collapse, ending the official civil war (though maybe not the soldier vs civilian civil conflict).
But what then? If LURD won, they'd have a load of Taylor's soldiers on their hands. It wouldn't be smart to try to kill them all, however richly they may deserve it--you want them to surrender and be disarmed. (Just execute the officers?) So what will these soldiers do after the war? What will LURD's soldiers do, given that most won't be needed any more? I think the answer is pretty plain: freelancing.
And freelancing Liberian fighters is exactly what the region does not need.
So is our plan to wait till LURD wins and then lean on them hard to collect the leftover fighters for (supervised) retraining? Imagine guarded camps run by the US which hold the fighters, ID the fighters, trace their home towns (part of ID'ing them), train those we think trainable and imprison those obviously guilty of major crimes. The graduates get a chunk of farmland (I know, this doesn't fit well into the old village system, but I'm not sure how much of that is left anyway) or some tools for their new career, and a warning that if they're ever caught with a weapon again they die.
That would take care of some of the fighters, but not all by a long shot. It takes a relatively small commitment of money and forces once the fighters are rounded up--but we'd have to be ready right away. And the recidivists will still be a serious problem in and around Liberia. And without a lot of help rebuilding infrastructure Liberia will continue to be a mess, and someone else will start this foolishness again. And LURD will need to be leaned on hard to become and stay honest. It still doesn't sound expensive, but it takes a commitment and alert people.
I believe that we have both strategic interests and an ethical obligation to help Liberia. (We did not have such an ethical obligation to Somalia.) I am just not sure what the best thing to do is. If we weren't in the middle of a war I could support the grand intervention with more enthusiasm--it doesn't seem a very dangerous battlefield--but it does tie up a lot of troops. I don't want our troops sitting in between warring factions, which seems to be what Taylor wants (and the starving refugees too). Given the recent history of the country, we would need to demand a large say in how any aid we offer is used--essentially turning the country from a nation into a protectorate.
Perhaps the best solution is to let (or covertly help) LURD win, and then immediately send in aid, but condition all military and economic assistance on Liberia becoming a 10-year protectorate of the US. But this is incredibly tricky. We have to have agreements in place with rebel groups right now. It requires finding people able to supervise rebuilding right now. And I don't think there's a lot of political support for it either.