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Jewish World Review July 14, 2003 / 14 Tamuz, 5763

James Lileks

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Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do | Liberia. It's all about the oil, isn't it. Wait a minute -- no oil.

OK, then it's a scheme to give fat contracts to Halliburton to rebuild the infrastructure. Wait a minunte -- no infrastructure. So what deep devious reason does President Bush have? Rubber! Of course! No blood for Rubber!

No war to enrich Bush's rubber cronies! Down with big rubber!

Or perhaps there's something else at work. Prior to his swing through Africa, President Bush made the case for beneficent unilateralism. "It's in our national interest that Africa become a prosperous place," he said. "It's in our interest that people will continue to fight terror together; it's in our interest that when we find suffering, we deal with it."

Three points, three very different reasons. The first confirms the fears of those who believe the administration wants to plant the flag of corporate globalism in the mother continent. Sure, they want a prosperous Africa, but only if that means 7-11s and McDonald's every six miles, shoving Winstons and Big Macs in the mouths of a helpless population. They want a prosperous Africa that will make shoes, spin cotton and cheaply clothe the millions John Ashcroft wants to imprison at Guantanamo.

Right. Fine. Does that tinfoil beanie get uncomfortably hot in the summertime? Just asking.

Point two: "It's in our interest to fight terror together." True enough, but the continent does not exactly boil with Islamic fury.

You have lawless Somalia on the Horn of Africa, where al-Qaida et al can operate as they please. You have Nigeria, which ought to be renamed "Oil-Rich Nigeria," since that's the usual description. Oil-Rich Nigeria has a heapin' helpin' of home-grown Islamists in the north, and it would not be a good thing if they took control of the oil fields in the mostly Christian south. But this isn't the first front in the war on terror, or even the second. The Saudis fund more in a day than Africa can do in a year.

Point three: "It's in our interest that when we find suffering, we deal with it." In the practical sense, this simply isn't true.

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Starvation, tribal war, AIDS, flatlined economies -- they have a negligible impact on American interests. Rwanda will not nuke Des Moines for food and fresh water. The Congo will not sail ships up the Potomac and loot D.C. Africa could disappear tomorrow and the net impact on the world's economy would be slight. Write off some loans; buy some new maps; move along.

But that is not a humane opinion. It is not, to risk using a dangerous word in modern politics, very Christian. And the president is a very Christian man. One senses that he regards national self-interest here not just as a projection of military power for specific objectives, but the use of American largesse to help others in need. In his view, it is in America's interest to be decent. It's in our interest to be good.

No, we can't solve everything, but that's no argument for solving nothing.

Some liberals who've deplored the president's faith-based faith will be pleased, despite themselves. Some conservatives who've applauded the president's narrow definitions of national self-interest will be crestfallen. Classic Bush: Everyone's bluff gets called. Europeans who think America is a blood-maddened ox crashing through Baghdad museums en route to the oil fields? Unilateral this, Jacques.

Liberia, however, is not Iraq. Which side do we want to win? The Liberian People's Front, the People's Liberia Front, the Army for Liberian People? This isn't like a squabble between Elks and Kiwanis over who gets the Holiday Inn meeting room on Wednesday morning. This is ethnic chaos in its most distilled and potent form, strife unmoored from ideology, seeking only to be standing on top when it all ends.

The United States may go to Liberia, but one day it'll leave. The day the last cargo plane rumbles off is the day someone will pass out the rifles again and make a bid for power.

How many American lives will that interregnum of peace be worth?

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
04/03/03: The world is ending, the world is ending! Doesn't anybody care!? Why won't anybody listen!?
03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
02/28/03: Roadmap to peace?
02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
01/30/03: The US can go to war whenever it likes for its own reasons, and all the UN can do is pass more worthless paper
01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
11/04/01: America, loathe or it leave it
09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
08/27/01: If the economy is in a funk, why aren't we dancing?
08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
08/10/01: Hail to our co-chiefs?
08/03/01: Constitution: George the Uniter picked a doozy to unify detractors
07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
05/21/01: One man's toke is another man's snort
05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
02/09/01: In search of the the first ashtray thrown by a member of the First Family
02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks