Published on Sunday, July 6, 2003 by the Baltimore Sun
Using One War to Distract From Another
by G. Jefferson Price III
Keep a sharp eye on Liberia, folks.
Not that what happens there is of crucial importance to Americans - any more so than, say, what happens in Congo, Rwanda, Somalia, Zimbabwe or any other African country where life is dangerous, degrading and desperate, and America has done practically nothing about it.
By the time you read this column, U.S. forces might have landed in Liberia and it would be logical for Americans to wonder why - why now? If they haven't landed, but the Bush administration is still talking about the possibility, the same question applies. Why Liberia? Why now? The place has been in a state of bloody chaos for more than a decade.
Could it be that the Bush administration needs a distraction?
The scenario is awfully reminiscent of one that existed almost 20 years ago, when Ronald Reagan was president and George Bush senior was his vice president.
American troops were in Lebanon to help save democracy from godless communism and its terrorist surrogates, and to bring order and stability to a bad place, preferably under a Christian leadership.
American Marines were being shot at and killed. Most Lebanese, especially the Lebanese Shiites, were not happy the Marines were there. Then one terrible day, a Shiite drove a truck bomb into the Marine barracks near Beirut airport and the explosion killed more than 200 U.S. servicemen.
This disaster shocked the Reagan White House and the American people who wondered what on earth American Marines were doing in Lebanon. The world press was glued to the grisly scene in Beirut, where Marines were being brought out of the rubble, one body after another.
One day they focused on Vice President Bush, who surveyed the rubble dressed in a helmet and a flak jacket and proclaimed that America would not let "a bunch of insidious terrorists shape the foreign policy of the United States." He also promised, "We are not going to let our friends down because of terror."
Later events rather quickly proved that Bush was wrong on both counts. "Insidious terrorists" quickly changed the policy of the United States government in Lebanon.
Within a year, the U.S. Marines and the naval armada lying off the coast of Lebanon were gone. America's friends in Lebanon - whoever they were - were left to their own devices.
And today, a bunch of insidious terrorists has had a drastic impact on the shape of American policy.
The bombing of the Marine barracks happened on a Sunday morning in late October 1983. Bush's visit was the following Wednesday. That Friday, Reagan ordered the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, where he claimed Godless communists were taking over and threatening America.
Grenada? Anybody remember that pathetic place in the catalog of Reagan adventures? The debate goes on over whether there was any cause to invade the island to get rid of the communists from Cuba and the Soviet Union. Most people don't remember Grenada. But it served its purpose in a couple of ways in 1983, and one of them was to distract from the tragedy of Beirut.
Today, President Bush, whose foreign and domestic policies are overwhelmed by insidious terrorism, has America deeply settled into the aftermath of a war in Iraq, which is not going well at all.
It is similar to Lebanon in some ways, but worse.
No one dragged America into Iraq as they did in Lebanon. The war is not over, no matter what Bush may say, because American soldiers are still being killed by Iraqis.
In Iraq, as in Lebanon, America says it wants to bring freedom and stability to the Iraqi people, but they do not want America's style of democracy and freedom.
Weapons of mass destruction, the main reason for going after Saddam Hussein, have not been found. Neither has Hussein been found. Iraq's vast oil fields are not working. The talk from the president - when he's not doing his macho "Bring them on" - is that Americans will be in Iraq for a long and dangerous time.
Not a happy picture.
Imagine how delightful, under the circumstances, it would be to go to a place like Liberia where people are being shown on television pleading for the United States to come and rescue their country. All those happy faces cheerfully welcoming U.S. troops dispatched by President Bush.
Though there is strong post-Somalia reticence about all things African, the possibilities must still seem irresistible to the Bush handlers.
Reagan had Grenada. Bush could have Liberia. Shucks, there are probably some al-Qaida there.
Remember Wag the Dog, the film that came out during Bill Clinton's presidency? It was a marvelous satire about a president who was in trouble over a love affair and whose handlers created a phony war to distract the public.
If Bush sends troops to Liberia, it would be "Wag the Dog Comes True," except Bush wouldn't be trying to distract from a love affair that disgraces the presidency. He'd be trying to distract Americans from the last war he started in a place that has been wrecked, and where Americans are being killed every week.
G. Jefferson Price III is the Baltimore Sun's Perspective Editor
Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun