As President Bush considers stepping up U.S. military involvement in Liberia, a key Senate Republican is offering unusual criticism of administration's handling of the situation. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner, also is voicing concern about sending American forces into the West African nation.
With U.S. naval ships positioned off the coast of Liberia, ready to support peacekeeping efforts led by West African countries, Senator Warner is concerned the Bush administration has not adequately consulted Congress about its next moves in the region.
Just hours before the Senate was to follow the House of Representatives and adjourn for a month, the administration cancelled a military briefing on Liberia for lawmakers with no explanation.
Senator Warner was bewildered. "In my 25 years here, it is most unusual to conduct our affairs in that way between the Senate and the Department of Defense," he said, "and indeed I am not sure I know of a precedent of that type of abrupt cancellation."
Speaking on the Senate floor, Senator Warner expressed concern that the administration will make key decisions about Liberia while the Congress is out of town. While he does not believe Congressional authorization is necessary for the President to send troops into Liberia, he believes lawmakers should be consulted.
U.S. officials say American forces likely will provide logistical and communications support for troops sent by the Economic Community of West African States.
But Senator Warner is not convinced there is a threat to U.S. national security that he says would warrant military involvement in Liberia. "If we are going to make a departure from that doctrine, is that predicated on sound principles that equate somehow to vital security interests?" he asked. "If so, it should be stated. If so, it should be explained to the people."
The Virginia Republican suggested that involving American troops in Liberia would stretch what he described as an already over-deployed and overextended U.S. military.
Noting the mounting American casualties in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, Mr. Warner said the administration has not made clear the risks involved in going into war-torn Liberia. "We should, as an executive branch, as a legislative branch, have informed the American people, have prepared the American people, have prepared them in a way to accept such losses as might occur," he said. "Has that been done? I fear in my judgment it has not been done."
Senator Warner said he hopes the Congress will deal with the matter when it returns in September.