HUFFINGTON: And Human Rights For All?
With Saddam's weapons of mass destruction nowhere to be found, the president'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," "torture chambers," and encomiums to "freeing the people of Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein." He's all but doused himself in the sweet-smelling scent of human rights and put on an Amnesty International T-shirt.
But, OK, let's say we take the president at face value and 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 stops in 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."
You'd think a president willing to send 200,000 U.S. troops to Iraq because of Saddam's mass graves might want to check out firsthand the 20 mass graves recently unearthed in the Congo, freshly filled with close to 1,000 victims of genocidal massacres. There's your causus 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 United States.
But I guess the 3.3 million people who have died in the Congo since 1998 -- to say nothing of the horror stories of macheted infants, incinerated villages, and soldiers mutilating and even cannibalizing their victims -- are not enough to justify a second muscular application of the Bush human rights doctrine. They aren't even enough to motivate the president to squeeze a Congo stopover into his African schedule and bring some much-needed international attention to this massive humanitarian crisis. I'm not talking about making nice with dictators; I'm talking about using the power of his office to help stop the bloodshed.
He also won't be going to war-torn Liberia, a nation of 3 million with historical ties to America, where 200,000 people have been killed, a million more displaced, disease is running rampant, and beleaguered citizens are pleading with the United States to intervene.
After 700 people were massacred in a rebel attack on the capital city of Monrovia two weeks ago, African leaders called on President Bush to send in 2,000 U.S. troops as part of an international peacekeeping force. Both the Pentagon and the State Department are in favor of such a move, but the White House has so far declined to expand its adventures in dictator-eradication to Africa.
Of course, that hasn't stopped the president from paying lip service to alleviating the suffering going on there. Just last week he said: "We are determined to help the people of Liberia find the path to peace." But, apparently, not determined enough to go to the country himself to facilitate a ceasefire agreement between the warring factions.
Instead, he has dispatched 35 -- that's not a typo, "thirty-five" -- U.S. troops to the country, as he put it, "solely for the purpose of protecting American citizens and property." Wow, I bet Liberian President Charles Taylor is quaking in his jackboots. Taylor, whose homicidal regime could teach Saddam a thing or two about torture and mass murder, was last month indicted for war crimes by a U.N. court
While trying to drum up outrage at Saddam earlier this year, the president catalogued 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 humanitarian rhetoric that has no meaning. Here is true evil, but next week will instead be dominated by a series of photo-ops with smiling children and platitudes about the virtues of democracy.
If more proof of the hypocritical selectivity of Bush's moral outrage were needed, look no further than the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when, in the name of liberating the Iraqi people, the White House gladly linked arms with a host of countries its own State Department had castigated for significant human rights violations -- including Uzbekistan, Colombia, Georgia, Eritrea, Macedonia, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, and the Dominican Republic. Given these countries' dismal human rights records, maybe we should have called them the Coalition of the Willing to Torture, Execute, and Rape.
The suddenly fashionable humanitarian justification for the war in Iraq is nothing more than yet 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 Huffingtons columns appear every week on AlterNet. She is the author of "Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption are Undermining America." For information on the book, visit www.PigsAtTheTrough.com