The American Interest

Out of Africa

But for the death and suffering it has caused to thousands of innocents, the Liberian imbroglio would have an almost farcical quality—Graham Greene meets Lehar.  On one side, there was the LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy), a ragtag army of heavily armed but poorly trained and undisciplined rebels.  They nevertheless have the upper hand in a 14-year-old civil war that has utterly destroyed an already dirt-poor and chronically mismanaged West African state.  On the other side, there was its unspeakable president Charles Taylor, whose shrinking forces controlled only parts of the capital city of Monrovia at the time of this writing.  While the two sides’ “ideological” differences are unknown, their disregard for civilian lives and what little remains of usable property in the ruined country is fully shared.

The rebels said that their July offensive against the capital—marked by indiscriminate shelling of civilians—was in response to violations by Taylor’s loyalists of a cease-fire announced in June.  The United States wanted Taylor to resign (which he just did, as this issue goes to press) and go into exile, but Washington had also accused the rebels of violating the cease-fire themselves.  Mr. Taylor had accepted an offer of political asylum from Nigeria “in principle,” but he said he would not leave until international peacekeepers—including...

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