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U.S. role in Liberia debated

Ken Adelman, left, and William Cohen
Ken Adelman, left, and William Cohen

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(CNN) -- A U.S. assessment team of about a dozen people -- both military and civilian -- will arrive in Liberia on Monday, U.S. military officials said. The team will try to determine what U.S. forces might do in the region, and how West African troops might contribute.

CNN anchor Judy Woodruff discussed the developments Sunday with former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Ken Adelman and Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

WOODRUFF: Former Secretary Bill Cohen, let me turn to you first. Peacekeeping troops [from] the United States, should they be sent to Liberia, this country that has been ripped apart for years now by civil strife?

COHEN: Well, I have some real question on whether we should be taking the lead in going into Liberia. We have many other countries who also have an interest in seeing that humanitarian assistance is delivered to the Liberian people.

We have many European countries who failed to support the effort in Iraq, who would have the ability to form part of a coalition to go into Liberia. We have the capacity to be in a supporting role, certainly, as we were in East Timor, when a request was made for us to take the lead role.

But I think that we have to be very cautious, not simply looking at Liberia as an individual country, but looking at the entire sub-Sahara Africa region. We have to look at Congo. We have to look also at what has taken place in Rwanda, and not simply go into one place thinking we can pull our toe back out three or six months from now. So I have some real questions about whether we can stretch our forces any thinner than they're currently stretched today.

WOODRUFF: Les Gelb, do you have those same questions?

Leslie Gelb
Leslie Gelb

GELB: Everybody looking at sending our troops to Liberia is going to be concerned about it, no question. But I think, given the state of play there now, there won't be any help for the Liberian people unless we do take the lead. And I think we ought to go ahead and do it.

But more importantly to me, I think we've got to get ourselves out of the position of being called on by the world to lead peacekeeping operations any time there is internal trouble anywhere in the world.

We've got to begin to put together some kind of international peacekeeping force under a U.N. umbrella, with individual states having the right to say no to sending their troops in particular situations.

If we don't do this, every time there's trouble anywhere in the world, the world will demand that we go in there and lead the way militarily. That's an impossible situation for us.

WOODRUFF: But, Ken Adelman, the United States is the world's superpower. When a country [like Liberia] is in dire straits, a country historically with close ties to the United States, why doesn't this make sense?

ADELMAN: Well, I think overall it does make sense for a temporary time to stop the killing over there. I'm partisan because I lived in Africa for two-and-a-half years, in the former Belgian Congo, now back to being called Congo, and visited Liberia several times. It was not any great shakes when I was there in the early '70s, but I would be very wary of the Nigerians coming in for a peacekeeping operation.

I've seen nothing but bad come from that, to tell you the truth. And I know there's a lot of hoopla on the news recently about the Nigerian president going there and what Nigeria could do. They don't do much except rip off a lot of the country.

I would have a lot more confidence in a South African peacekeeping force coming in after we quell things [in Liberia].


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