AFRICOM : Implications to our national security and national interest, if...

By: James Thomas-Queh

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
November 5, 2007


A conspicuous absence yet from this debate – on an issue of a vital importance to our national security and national interest - is the opinion of our major political leaders. And what do you expect, most of us still have families, homes, businesses and other attachments in the United States. How can we also forget that the United States has generously taken in the largest Liberian refugee community than any other Western power. Well, even a former head of state of our dear Republic is currently sick and ailing as a refugee in the United States, but surviving mainly on the welfare of the American people. And while all this may not seem to be a burden on our conscience, how can we realistically pretend to refuse to render an assistance in return to a friend of this enormous heart – a friend on whom lies our national life-line.

Another reminder for the sceptics
Are we aware that since the day President George Bush declared publicly that “Taylor must go” – Liberia is up, running and flying high; Taylor is in jail at the Hague; no world leader now dares to miss some photo ops with our Iron Lady? Are we delighted that the Americans lend us their tax payers’ hard earned money to train our new army, police, teachers, renovate our schools, roads, pay our civil servants, and the rest? Ah, the TPS – thousands of our compatriots have been given another chance to stay and work in the United States, sending half of their pay checks back home to feed the other 80% jobless relatives. We have a very short memory, don’t we?

So, were the US military to constitute the core of the UNMIL forces (as the French do in the Ivory Coast where they have long maintained a military base) would we have been pleased to host the AFRICOM? Or, were the UNMIL forces to leave today, and the US military should offer to take care of the security of Liberia, will we rejoice and applaud the arrival of the AFRICOM? Are we happy to have the full support of the United States in our engagements and obligations with the international community? Well then, we must be coherent with ourselves.

And one other thing I have learned since I became of age -contrary to some of my compatriots - is that 160 years on the United States has no obligation to Liberia in any way or form, except perhaps, a petit moral burden. Or else, there was no need at all for independence in 1847.

From that position, here is where I concord fully with the sceptics. True, every penny the United States spends on Liberia is definitely in pursuit of its own nation interest - whether security or otherwise. And that we are aware of this reality, it is incumbent upon us to store it firmly in the back of our heads; then we can learn to utilize adequately the benefits of our relationship with the United States, in the interest of our nation and people. And thank heavens, no one has understood this better than President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. I applaud her farsighted wisdom to guarantee our feeble national security and in the process facilitate a durable reconstruction, development, and reconciliation.

The Bull-whipping-tail mentality
Now, as others before me have said, the world has changed. But we think the world has changed only to the advantage of the big powers – to impose and bully us around. That is the usual old-fashion bull- whipping- the- tail mentality that we still harbour. But mind you, at times the tail also whips the bull, though unknowingly.

When Liberia was no more of a strategic importance to the United States, our nation was left to go rot. But here we are, after 250 000 dead, destruction and refugee camps –suddenly Liberia has become of strategic interest once again to the only hyper power in the world. What then a great opportunity! Because as God would have it, the world has changed and our eyes are opened; in this process, our country has now its own self-imposed conditions and obligations: sustainable democracy and stability. On this much the United States is equally aware, but even more – it knows better than we do, the eminent danger or risk of putting the most powerful army in the midst of a people who are not free and stable; a people who do not even have the minimum for survival or have nothing absolutely to lose, and in a nation of jobless masses, no functional infra-structure, light, portable water, schools, hospitals, security forces, and the rest – everything to which the US government is actively contributing currently to prepare the arrival of the AFRICOM proper - if and when it does formally come. What we need to remember, though, all this infra-structure and utilities –an enormous business opportunities -were established, managed and maintained by a Liberia-US partnership and cooperation in the past more than 50 years ago. But little did we know that the task would have been left to us alone; almost half a century later we are back to the identical protocol – our destruction and enormous natural resources have provided yet another great business opportunity. It’s only an useful hint to the wise.

The effect of change has been alive, undeniable and cannot be underestimated. It was Liberians in anger and despair who exhibited those dead bodies –women and children – before the US Embassy in Monrovia in the early 2000s, to call the attention of the world to the plight of their dying nation. For the same purpose, Liberians in the United States were demonstration in Washington D.C. to mobilize the American public opinion. And again very recently, Liberians were mobilized for the renewal of the TPS. In all, the results speak for themselves. So, it is not always the bull that whips the tail; the tail sometimes whips the bull - true, it is unknowingly.

Now, in as much as I have tried to expose the merits of AFRICOM’s presence on the Liberian soil, let me also add this advice of caution. As the world changes in cycles, there will certainly come another time when Liberia will lose its strategic importance to the United States. And for those of us who talk about lesson of history, this is where we need to take the cue; so that the benefits we reap today can be utilized properly to prepare our nation and people to survive AFRICOM. In other words, we should expect that all things established today will be put fully and solely into our care tomorrow. Thus is the imperative that in the course of tutoring and preparing our future generations, we should be explicit on what constitutes our national interest and national security, and how a nation can pursue and preserve the same. A prerequisite to maintaining a nation’s independence and not be at the total mercy of other powers.

Implications to our national security and national interest, if..
All said, suppose the US administration had made a formal request to the Liberian government to host the AFRICOM, and in return our national leader were to have said: “Great, I accept – but let me first put it to my national legislature – the representative of the people.” Obviously, this would have been the ideal formula to satisfy our national ego and give a semblance of honour and respect to our nascent democracy and independence. But logic and our national realities prevailed; President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf pre-empted the American administration (whose request, apparently, had already been refused by some countries on the continent) and thus, unilaterally, put our country at the disposal of AFRICOM. We acknowledge that already to be a genius strategic move to help a Great friend save face, but in the process to help also us save ourselves. Or as paraphrased humorously by a buddy: For the survival of Liberia, if I were this Liberian leader I would marry to America, then love to China. And so far, so good.

However, this pre-emption has put our entire political class before a “fait accompli.” And in my view, this is exactly where may lie the immediate danger to our national security and national interest more than any future threat of Al Qaida or the transformation of our democracy into a dictatorship due to the presence of AFRICOM on the Liberian soil.

Because knowing the unpredictability, whims and caprices of democracies – even the oldest among the lot has – what would be the consequences “if” the issue of hosting the AFRICOM came before the Legislature, and that Honourable Body should reject that Bill or attempt to prolong the debate indefinitely– can anyone imagine the magnitude of a political backlash or the implications to our national security and national interest? Of course, the Americans are much more cautious to avoid any further embarrassment; they are still testing and softening the ground. To support an independent and a functional National Legislature, the USAID is already financing the renovation of the Capitol building. If not for nothing else, at least, the Honourable Body then should have no reason to be ungrateful to United State. These are all wise men and women, you know, who should be aware where their national interest lies – if not their own first and foremost.

Notwithstanding, I would still prefer were our major political leaders to join this debate and give their honest public opinion on this issue. In the 1970s, when we were protesting and demonstrating to change the course of the world, we were at same age as of most of those who are today opponents of AFRICOM. And because our leading politicians of the epoch kept an absolute silence or an ambiguous position on the actual situation of the nation (if not just reminding us: don’t wreck this boat, some of you may not know to swim)- we precipitated our nation into a tragedy.

What is more, I have said in the beginning of this paper, that most of us have homes, families, businesses and other attachments in the United States. But not only that, I have also mentioned elsewhere that we are citizens of the United States, Europe and Liberia, and so are our children and grand children. Our taxes paid on all sides are helping the reconstruction of Liberia today. Thus is the importance of our input to such major national issues – first, to reassure our youths that our double belongingness does not make us traitors or sold-outs for or against either of our homes, but we are enormous asserts to all the camps. We have the advantage to criticise on where and how we want our taxes to be spent (and even if we are not always listened to); that we have the advantage to agree and disagree with the policies of the United States, Europe or Liberia. And second and more important, when all major political leaders participate actively in a debate of national importance, it increases the moral and other obligations on all parties in making sure that commitments made are respected.

That is my perception of a genuine partnership and a sustainable democracy and development; at the same time our credibility remains intact.

© 2007 by The Perspective

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