By Dick Morris
July 10, 2003
Americans will gladly support their president when he attacks nations that sponsor or harbor terrorists. We will even back him in a preemptive war against a country that might attack us. But when we start sending troops around the world to stabilize nations that, if left to disintegrate, might become breeding grounds for terror, it's a step too far for most Americans.
Why are we suddenly sending troops to Africa?
Is it because President Bush is touring the continent and wants to have something to offer the leaders he meets?
Is it in response to importuning from U.N General Secretary Kofi Annan or other world leaders who are asking for a quid-pro-quo for sending troops to Iraq?
Does the desire to satisfy global public opinion play a role?
Or do his nostrils smell oil in West Africa?
None of the above is justification for sending American troops to yet another foreign venue. Bush will need all the patience we can extend to him as he asks us to put up with troops dying in Iraq while other units fight in Afghanistan, the Philippines and other places where terrorism threatens. It is foolish to use up our tolerance with an adventure in Liberia.
Nor should Bush put his trust in limitations on the mission in Liberia. One good firefight and the United States is committed. Remember the reply of French Marshal Foch to the British general who asked, in 1914, what was the minimum British military contribution that could effectively assist France at the start of World War I.
"One British soldier," he is reputed to have answered.
"And we will see to it that he is killed."
Africa is a quagmire if ever there was one. The civil wars there are eternal and unending. They have no start and no finish. The cycles of revenge make any assessment of right and wrong, good or evil, almost naïve.
It is not our fight, and we are unwise to, in the words of John Quincy Adams, "go abroad in search of dragons to destroy."
Besides, the U.S. Army is not the only force in the world. We should let the African nations and European powers take the lead while we husband our resources to fight in heavy combat or where our presence alone can do the trick.
The growing potential of West Africa as a source of oil should not tempt us into military action. We must make sure never to do what the left accuses us of doing each day - trading blood for oil. The sudden interest in this oil-producing region might leave many skeptical and troubled.
Bush must remember that a large minority of Americans, on both the left and right, are isolationists. In a survey for President Clinton, I found the exact percentage to be upwards of 35, evenly divided between the two parties.
Those America-firsters have suspended their criticism of Bush (at least those on the right) because of the unique circumstances of the Sept. 11 attacks and the global threat that terrorism represents. But it is unwise to tempt them into political alienation.
Idealism that makes no distinction between areas where our national interest lies and those from which it is remote does no good for America. The weariness of the post-Versailles, post-Korea, post-Vietnam eras is never far from the national mood.
Bush will need Americans to stay focused and alert as we face the common danger of terror and work together in far flung corners of the globe to counter it.
He does himself and his cause
no service by asking us to invest in conflicts remote from our
vital interests and far from our national mission.
Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Morris is a political consultant, commentator and best selling author. Look for his newest book, "Power Plays" available now and look for Dick's new book, "Off With Their Heads - Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists In American Politics".
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