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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Liberian Civilians Killed in Heavy Shelling

Aired July 25, 2003 - 20:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly violence in the Liberian capital today: At least 26 civilians, including several children, were killed by heavy shelling. The sad irony: Rebel groups actually announced another cease-fire agreement today, clearly ignored by both sides in the bloody civil war.
"TIME" magazine correspondent Stephan Faris is in Monrovia.

Stephan, it is now after midnight there. Have things quieted down since the heavy shelling this morning?

STEPHAN FARIS, "TIME": Well, it certainly has over here in this domestic -- this diplomatic and kind of residential area near the American Embassy. Whether the fighting has stopped over where the front lines are, it's hard to say. There has been, as you mentioned, the cease-fire announced today. I guess the morning will tell whether that actually is being respected.

O'BRIEN: People in Monrovia listened to radio broadcasts that U.S. troops are now committed to heading to Liberia to support the West African peacekeeping troops. What was the reaction?

FARIS: Well, I was over right in front of the American Embassy when people were hearing the news. They were listening to a radio. And they were absolutely impassive. They didn't move at all.

This is in contrast of last week, when just the merest rumor of peacekeepers had them marching in the streets with palm fronds and chanting. They've undergone now a week of shelling. Their food is running out. The water is running out. And they're tired. I think one person said it best. He said: Listen, we're tired of word. We're tired of news. I want to see some action on the ground and then I'll believe it.

O'BRIEN: Stephan Faris is a correspondent for "TIME" magazine. Thank you for joining us.

President Bush today said the situation in Liberia is getting -- quote -- "worse and worse." Facing mounting international pressure to do something, he ordered 2,000 Marines to the region, but not yet into the country.

With the situation spiraling out of control, what are the potential risks of a peacekeeping mission?

I'm joined now by Rich Galen. He is a former press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich; also this evening, by senior national security analyst at the Heritage Foundation, Mike Scardaville.

Good evening to both of you. Thanks for joining us.

(CROSSTALK)

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Hey, Soledad. How are you?

O'BRIEN: Nice to see you, by the way.

Mike, let's start with you. You have said you don't think that troops should be going in. Estimates are that 600 people died, by some counts, in recent violence. Why not send in help to the struggling Liberians?

MIKE SCARDAVILLE, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, first off, the United States does not have any vital national interests in Liberia. Obviously, we are not supportive of the kinds of atrocities that are occurring there. I think that is horrible. And we should use other elements of our foreign policy tools to assist in rectifying that.

However, I think the president's decision to put 2,000 Marines off the coast of Liberia opens us up to a quagmire like we had in Bosnia, where, as soon as other international peacekeepers start losing their effort -- I use peacekeepers very loosely -- losing the effort to create peace in a war-torn state, that American forces are going to wind up getting involved.

I'm all for supporting the peacekeeping force with intelligence, logistics, communications, even some material support. But I don't think this is a fight that the United States has a dog in and that our Marines should not be on the ground.

O'BRIEN: Rich, you have said, now is the right time. It seems, with the increasing violence, that now is a really, really bad time for U.S. troops. Why you to think it is the right time?

GALEN: Well, any time you're going put troops into harm's way, then troops are going to get harmed. That's why it is called harm's way. So I think that's part of the calculation you have to make.

But this is a situation which is not just Liberia, but it's the entire section of Africa that, if you can get Liberia and the Ivory Coast, their next-door neighbor, under control -- the Ivory Coast used to be the economic engine for the region. Liberia could be an economic region for the region. And they're inextricably combined together. So you've got to get this under control. You cannot have a situation where 13-year-olds are running around with AK-47s and just shrug and say, well, not our problem, somebody else has got to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: It is our problem, because, anyplace on the planet where there is widespread anger, widespread killing, widespread death, widespread starvation, I think Americans have -- look what happened in Rwanda. We turned a blind eye to it and one million people were killed. O'BRIEN: Mike, Charles Taylor's spokesman says, considering what has happened in this last week, now Charles Taylor may not want to leave. What do you think happens if he stays?

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Well, I don't think he's -- let me tell you something. I'll just do this quickly.

In America -- in the world now, an American force coming down the street is a very persuasive argument. And he might say he's not leaving, but if those 1,900 Marines in 30 helicopters and eight Harriers actually land in Monrovia, he's gone.

O'BRIEN: Mike, you agree with that?

SCARDAVILLE: No, not at all.

First off, there's a lot of places around the world where a lot of people are suffering. And if you are going to say we're going to get involved here, where are you going to stop and draw that line? The other speaker spoke about the region. So, after we're done with Liberia, are we going to start to sweep around to other countries in the region? I don't think so.

And I think the main reason that -- you just alluded to it -- why we should not get involved is the fact that there is no even potential of peace in this situation right now. If this was a situation where there was a legitimate cease-fire and a political solution was on the horizon and American forces were going to go in just to enforce that peace agreement...

GALEN: It is not just American forces, though. It is regional forces.

SCARDAVILLE: But whether it is American and/or regional is irrelevant. I don't think American forces shouldn't be involved. We have no vital national interests here. There is no national security challenge to the United States.

GALEN: Welcome to 1937.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: All right, gentlemen, before you ratchet it up a little bit, Rich, I want to ask you a question. We heard from Mike that he's saying this could be another Bosnia. Other critics have said, this could be another Somalia. Aren't those just massive risks here in that?

GALEN: Well, everything is a risk.

But every time somebody disagrees with sending U.S. troops somewhere, it is either Bosnia or Somalia or Vietnam. And it is not. It is something else entirely. It is a unique situation. I think the president of the United States has set down a policy of wanting to use, in essence, a hub-and-spoke system for peace in the world.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARDAVILLE: It is the Madeleine Albright policy of how to make everybody love each other all around the world. And the United States does not have the ability to do that.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Guys, no one can hear you if you don't speak one at a time.

Mike, I want to ask you another question instead of that. Listen, isn't there a moral imperative to go in when people are shelling innocent civilians and lives are being lost, at some estimates, hundreds of lives? Isn't there a moral imperative to step in and save people?

SCARDAVILLE: No, the moral imperative in national security calculations is to use military force when our interests and our security is threatened. That is the fact of the matter. That's why we got involved in every war up until about the Clinton administration.

That's when we started to start saying, hey, we're going to ignore our national interests and that's when we'll fight wars. But when our national interests are involved, we won't.

GALEN: Well, you have the same view as Pat Buchanan, who maintains to this day the...

SCARDAVILLE: Pat Buchanan never wants to fight a war.

GALEN: That's right. But you're taking his argument. I mean, you have the Pat Buchanan view of foreign policy.

SCARDAVILLE: Well, in this case, he's right. No, I don't have the Pat Buchanan view of foreign policy.

GALEN: I'm done.

SCARDAVILLE: But we have no interests in Liberia. If we did, I would be all for it. But there is really no reason to go there besides human suffering.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARDAVILLE: I think we should use other diplomatic tools to try and rectify that situation. Local forces, I am all for supporting them. If there is a political solution, then sending in observers who can help monitor that peace, absolutely. Free trade, absolutely.

Going to war in Liberia to try and make people love each other, that's a mistake. It hasn't worked in Bosnia. It hasn't worked in Kosovo. It won't work in Liberia.

O'BRIEN: And that will be our final word.

Michael Scardaville and Rich Galen, nice to see you guys. Thanks for joining us this evening.

GALEN: Have a good weekend, Soledad.

SCARDAVILLE: And likewise to you as well. Thank you.

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