Africa's Saddams

President Bush's Iraq talking points center on human rights, but his African flyover shows his rhetoric has no meaning.

By Arianna Huffington
Published July 2, 2003 5:55PM (EDT)

With Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction as difficult to find as Saddam himself, President Bush's Iraq talking points now center on the humanitarian upside of having ousted the Butcher of Baghdad. His speeches are liberally peppered with mentions of "mass graves" and "torture chambers" and encomiums to "freeing the people of Iraq." He has all but doused himself in the sweet-smelling scent of human rights and put on an Amnesty International T-shirt.

If we buy his new argument that ending humanitarian crises through military force is good foreign policy, then how can he justify embarking on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa next week without including on his itinerary Congo and Liberia? His five-day visit will include Senegal, Botswana, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa -- but not the absurdly named Democratic Republic of Congo, site of what one African expert has labeled "the worst humanitarian situation on the entire face of the Earth."

I would think that a president who was willing to send 200,000 U.S. troops to Iraq because of Hussein's mass graves might want to check out firsthand the 20 mass graves recently unearthed in Congo, freshly filled with close to 1,000 victims of genocidal massacres. There's your casus belli right there. That is, if there is any substance to this new Bush doctrine that evil dictators who abuse their own people must be deposed, by force if necessary, even if they pose no imminent threat to the U.S.

I guess the 3.3 million people who have died in Congo since 1998 -- to say nothing of the horror stories of macheted infants, incinerated villages and soldiers cannibalizing their victims -- are not enough to justify a second muscular application of the Bush human rights doctrine.

I'm not saying Bush should go make nice with dictators. I'm saying he should use the power of his office to help alleviate suffering, like his hero Ronald Reagan when he went to the "evil empire" in 1988 and met with Soviet dissidents. "I came here," he told them, "hoping to do what I could to give you strength."

But the problems in Congo apparently aren't enough to motivate the president to squeeze in a Congo stopover and bring much-needed attention to this humanitarian crisis. Nor will he be going to war-torn Liberia, a nation of 3 million with historical ties to the U.S., where 200,000 people have been killed and a million more displaced and beleaguered citizens are pleading with the U.S. to intervene.

After 700 people were massacred in a rebel attack on the capital city of Monrovia two weeks ago, African leaders called on Bush to send in 2,000 U.S. troops as part of an international peacekeeping force. The Pentagon and the State Department are in favor of such a move, but the White House has been extremely reluctant to extend its adventures in dictator eradication to Africa.

Of course, that hasn't stopped Bush from paying lip service to stopping the bloodshed. Just last week, he said: "We are determined to help the people of Liberia find the path to peace." But not determined enough to facilitate a cease-fire agreement. So far, he's dispatched 35 -- that's not a typo -- U.S. military personnel to the country, as he put it, "solely for the purpose of protecting American citizens and property." Wow, I bet Liberian President Charles Taylor, indicted last month for war crimes by a United Nations court, is quaking in his jackboots.

While trying to drum up outrage at Saddam, the president cataloged a list of his atrocities, including mutilation and rape, and proclaimed: "If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning." But the president's flyover of Africa's hearts of darkness, riven by mutilation and rape, shows that it's his rhetoric that has no meaning. Here is true evil, but next week will instead be dominated by photo ops with smiling children.

The suddenly fashionable humanitarian justification for the war in Iraq is nothing more than another White House deception designed to cloak the fact that the original justification -- Iraq as an imminent threat -- hasn't panned out. Which is just too darn bad for the long-suffering souls of Congo and Liberia.

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

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