Accessibility links

African-American Lawmakers Urge Bush to Send Troops to Liberia - 2003-07-26

African-American members of Congress say the Bush administration needs to immediately send troops to Liberia. The lawmakers told reporters on Capitol Hill that the scale of the crisis demands President Bush decide quickly on a U.S. military commitment and leading role in organizing an international force.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are frustrated with what they call unacceptable delay in making a decision on how U.S. troops will be involved.

Elijah Cummings, chairman of the Black Caucus, says the presence of Americans on the ground would be very significant.

So far President Bush has ordered U.S. troops to take up positions off the coast of Liberia to support the deployment of a West African peacekeeping force.

But Mr. Cummings says the positioning of a U.S. assault ship, the Iwo Jima, from the Mediterranean to the coast off Liberia is a welcome, but not sufficient, response.

"We believe that the president should make a definitive decision regarding the nature and scope of U.S. participation so that it is clear to the Liberian people, the U.S. public, and the international community, that help is on the way," he said.

African-American lawmakers say they are willing to go to Africa to help with efforts to resolve the crisis in Liberia.

They have had frequent contact with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials pressing the case for immediate commitment of troops.

However, they believe President Bush may not yet have recognized that a leading U.S. role is necessary.

"We expect him to do what is necessary, make the decision, do what is necessary to stop this carnage and not sit back and wait, and hope that perhaps [the United States] will never have to go in. But it is stalling at this point," said California Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

The African-American lawmakers say they are prepared to assist in any way, including traveling to Africa to take part in efforts to forge a political situation.

In past appeals, they have pointed to what they call double standards in how successive U.S. administrations have handled crises in Africa versus those in other world trouble spots.

Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey picked up on that line of criticism. "As we asked other countries to come into Iraq and to assist us in that situation, other countries are saying America where are you with your moral obligation to Liberia?" he said.

For Congresswoman Diane Watson, unless President Bush acts, and until Washington works on finding longer-term solutions with allies and the United Nations, many will continue to question the administration's attitude toward Africa.

"Until we do that and make it real clear, then there is a question about why the president is hesitating over going to the 'dark continent,' and adding the assistance to one of our countries, and I say ours because this is where liberated slaves went," she said. "We need to have a very clear, transparent foreign policy that covers not only the hot spots, but the human spots where people are dying and being harmed every day."

The lawmakers express impatience with the amount of time Nigeria says it will take to organize an initial contingent of about 1,300 troops for Liberia.

They say that in the seven to eight days it will take to send the U.S. assault ship to waters off Liberia, and move Nigerians into position, hundreds if not thousands more people could die in Liberia.