What's Up, Uncle Sam?

By: Dr. S. Jabaru Carlon

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 8, 2003


Recent writers on U.S.-Liberia relations have variously referred to the latter country as "Uncle Sam's Stepson" or "America's Stepchild". (See, "Liberia: Uncle Sam's Stepson", book by Bill Frank and "Liberia: America's Stepchild", a documentary by Nancy Bright). This relationship has existed for more than a century and a half - dating as far back as 1818, when the first attempt to colonize this part of the Grain Coast (present day Liberia) was made. This first expedition was terminated on Sherbro Island, a territory belonging to the British Colony of Sierra Leone, due to lack of sufficient funds. Through the auspices of the American Colonization Society (ACS) and the United States Government - then headed by former Governor of Virginia, James Monroe, now the fifth President of the U.S. - a later expedition (of 1821) succeeded in founding a permanent location on Cape Mesurado. And thus the Liberian nation was born, an American colony; as the American flag was flown over the Cape the following year. In homage to President Monroe, the capital city of the colony/country was named Monrovia. And the rest is history. Somehow unfortunately, this historical tie has often been ignored or conveniently forgotten by American officialdom.

But even after the Liberian nation had been firmly planted on the continent of Africa and the world had recognized her existence in the comity of nations, she continued to hold her relationship with America (the ‘Motherland') dearly. Important landmarks that show Liberia's usefulness to America in this regard include: her involvement as an ally in World War I and the subsequent establishment of the League of Nations; the establishment of the Firestone Rubber Plantations Company on Liberian soil; the amphibious airbase in the lakeside town of Tallah in Cape Mount County that facilitated troops movement by America and the Allies in Africa, Asia and parts of Europe during World War II; the Voice of America (VOA) radio station near Monrovia for spreading American and Ally propaganda throughout Africa, Asia and other parts of the world; as well as the Omega Communications Towers in Paynesville near Monrovia. All of these served U.S. interests well, at least until the end of the Cold War, following which time Liberia fell out of grace with America: of course from no fault of the former.

From the foregoing, it is difficult for me to understand the argument by some American officials that their troops cannot and/or should not be sent on land to help bring civility, peace and stability to a country that has so well served her; claiming that that country is no longer useful for American interests. But is that really true? Liberia still serves as ‘soft bed' for American activities in Africa and the Middle East, and America still maximally benefits from the Firestone Rubber Plantations. Somehow, and in spite of this "hawk-and-chick" syndrome treatment of Liberia, Liberians still regard America as a ‘traditional friend'. ("You are already in my claws", says the hawk [America] to the little chick, "so you don't matter any more".) Quite clearly, in which other country outside the United States does one ever see the citizens voluntarily and joyously waving - instead of burning - the Star Spangled Banner? But that was what Liberians did when they saw the few Marines that recently landed in Monrovia from the U.S. warships anchored off the coast of Liberia. Our friend, they thought, has come to save us. And yet, those troops have since left Monrovia and still sit out there at sea (as their colleagues did in 1996) and watch Monrovia burn.

Another Somalia?

No, indeed! The greatest fear of U.S. officials seems to be inherent in their experience in Somalia, where they lost some 18 troops during Operation Black Hawk. This is perhaps a good reason for holding back their troops, though probably not the real reason. The real reason still may simply be that Liberia is presently of little or no economic value to America. And she's, of course, no real threat to America; Liberia had long placed herself in America's claws, and is therefore "no sweat" for America. "Do with me as you please", seems to be the message from the Grain Coast country. Is this kind of treatment the humanitarian and democratic voice that resonates from the ‘greatest democracy', the most powerful country on earth? Surely, some better voices could be heard from here.

Indeed, the Somali fever must be blown away from the Liberian picture. For Liberia cannot and will never be another Somalia for America. The tides that bind America and Liberia are by far stronger and firmer than any that could ever exist between Somalia and the U.S. Unless, of course, America totally abandons and completely severs the existing historic ties with Liberia; which I see as an unlikely happenstance. This is why I conjure and cajole "Uncle Sam" to wake up and come to the aid of her only true ally and ‘traditional friend' in Africa. In a more serious vein, I think American troops should go on land and lead the peacekeeping process in Liberia.

If only U.S. officials had heeded the original recommendations of the 31-man vanguard sent to Liberia in July! Among all else, this group had seen the Liberian situation as crucial and desperate, needing the immediate deployment of American troops to curb the devastation and carnage that was being carried on by rag-tag militias. (The Team had "called for rapid U.S. intervention to restore order".) Sadly, that group's initial report conveying such an urgent message was reportedly hijacked within the bureaucracy and watered down to the present ineptitude that engulfs action towards military aid in Liberia. And Uncle Sam/America continues to ignore the plight of his stepson/stepchild. For me, it's like those fathers in this country who create the single moms by abandoning their children. So my own future title for U.S.-Liberia relations would be: "Liberia: Uncle Sam's Abandoned Child". I'd only hope that this abandonment this time would not be as reckless as it has been in the past - especially in 1990 and 1996. Surely, the Pentagon's concern over spreading its troops too thin, is understandable; but the small number of Marines needed for the Liberian case - at most 2,500 - may not deal so much damage to the vast troops holding of the U.S. And what is more, the end-result would be far reaching: it would save the entire West African subregion from the cancerous catastrophe the Liberian condition has brought about. As a knowledgeable American veteran pointed out in a recent radio interview, Liberia is a very small country - compared to Afghanistan or Iraq - and the resources (in men and materiel) needed to "put out the fire" here would be relatively very small. My considered guess is that a thousand troops or so (added to the African group) would effectively and more quickly do the job.

In conclusion, it cannot be over-emphasized that a U.S. led peacekeeping force is needed to stop the senseless carnage and pillage in Liberia. The whole world seems to be saying this and American officialdom must rise to the task. All others in Europe, Africa, Asia and elsewhere are looking up to the U.S. to take the first and leading step in this direction. America cannot and must not shirk from taking her rightful place - a leading role in bringing peace and stability to her ally, stepchild/stepson and abandoned nephew. This done, Liberians should overlook the previous abandonment; otherwise, no one can predict the future. Liberia has died a lot for America; it's time for America to die a little for Liberia. So what's up Uncle Sam? Gird thyself and save a friend! You once staged "Operation Restore Hope" to Somalia, what not an "Operation Restore Peace, Hope & Stability" to Liberia?