July 9, 2003 - Hartford Courant: RPCV Shaun M. McNall says Send Troops To Liberia, But Carefully

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RPCV Shaun M. McNall says Send Troops To Liberia, But Carefully

Read and comment on this op-ed from the Hartford Courant by Liberia RPCV Shaun M. McNall and his call to secure the Capitol and other key strategic points; provide support for troops and humanitarian relief; coordinate disarmament and the peaceful exit of President Taylor from Liberia; help install an interim coalition government, headed by a respected non-combatant; Facilitate free and fair elections; and provide training for a new, professional military and civilian police force.

Mr. McNall was a presidential election observer in Liberia in 1997. He is now a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2004 in Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District. If elected he would be the third member of Connecticut's Congressional delegation who is a Returned Volunteer along with Senator Dodd and Representative Shays. Read the op-ed at:

Send Troops To Liberia, But Carefully*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Send Troops To Liberia, But Carefully

July 9, 2003

Shaun M. McNally

Liberia is the epicenter of a virus spreading brutal anarchy through West Africa. It has replicated itself in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. If untreated, regional civil war will grow, with ripple effects that could touch America.

The British and French have responded by sending troops to Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Now, with the announced departure of Liberian President Charles Taylor, the world is looking to the United States to lead peacekeeping efforts there.

America should meet this challenge. However, we should be careful and smart.

America has been the dominant foreign influence in Liberia since its inception in 1848. Liberians feel a strong, deep kinship with America.

I experienced this kinship while living in Liberia in the early '80s as a Peace Corps volunteer. Discussing American current events with Liberian friends was commonplace. Once, in a remote village, the local chief led me to his home to proudly show me his picture of President Kennedy.

Over the years, Liberians have seen America in the faces of Peace Corps volunteers who taught in schools, helped in clinics and worked with farmers. Thousands more have attended our colleges and universities and become American citizens.

It is in the context of this unique relationship that Liberians are keenly disappointed in America.

Liberia is withstanding its second wave of civil war in 15 years. The first war ended in 1995, after 250,000 citizens died and more than 1 million people were displaced. It decimated this poor, beautiful land.

I returned to Liberia in 1997 as a presidential election observer. What I saw both shocked and inspired me.

Once proud landmarks had been riddled by artillery. U.N. and European Union tankers supplied the only clean water to a city of 1 million homeless squatters. Human waste flowed in open gutters.

Everywhere I went, unspeakable stories of war followed: Child soldiers leading summary executions. Public and systematic rape. Stories of torture, death and disease.

Yet Liberia had hope in 1997.

In the pre-dawn Election Day darkness, along the Sierra Leone border, I watched hundreds of men and women wait silently for the polling places to open. I witnessed the heroic determination of ordinary people who courageously said no to violence and yes to peace.

Since 1997, President Taylor has become a despot exporting violence to neighboring lands. In the face of growing anarchy and renewed civil war, innocent civilians are dying from bullets and shrapnel, some while huddled in the shadows of the U.S. Embassy walls.

Their hope for democracy and peace goes unanswered.

Given our strong relationship and the dire consequences of inaction, the United Stated should send a modest troop contingent to lead peacekeeping efforts. Working along with military personnel from African allies and the United Nations, the coordinated effort should:

Secure the Capitol and other key strategic points.

Provide support for troops and humanitarian relief.

Coordinate disarmament and the peaceful exit of President Taylor from Liberia.

Help install an interim coalition government, headed by a respected non-combatant.

Facilitate free and fair elections.

Provide training for a new, professional military and civilian police force.

Make West Africa a higher priority for international assistance. Long-term engagement, not American benign neglect, is the vaccine that will kill this plague.

This plan is not without risk. However, West African anarchy is also risky for America's national security.

In areas of anarchy and lawlessness, terrorism thrives. Training camps hide from international view. Illegal drugs, diamonds, timber and gold are traded for weapons of every kind.

In Liberia, experts report that al Qaeda exchanged more than $20 million in currency for illegal diamonds. Diamonds are used to fund al Qaeda's activities. Will West African diamonds fund the next terror attack?

The international community should peacefully combat civil war in West Africa. It needs to be part of our battle against terrorism. It is also the right thing to do.

Shaun M. McNally of Deep River was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1982 to 1984. He is a candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2004 in Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District.

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