President George W. Bush is off on a visit to Africa. He’ll be zipping through Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia in less than a week. Some may wonder why, after visiting Africa only once before during his long (interminable) presidency, in 2003, Bush has decided at this late date to return his attention, albeit briefly, to The Continent.
Well, I think I’ve got an answer: Bush is looking for his next country to run. And he thinks he’s found it in Liberia.
If you think about it, it even makes a certain poetic sense. The two nations are vastly different, clearly, but they share some common threads. The United States was founded on slavery; Liberia was founded by black Americans fleeing slavery. The United States has a three-pronged system of government, and so does Liberia (modeled upon the American version). The United States has a flag of red and white stripes with some stars in the blue corner, and so does Liberia (one star, not 50).
Plus – and here’s the deal-sealer – they love Bush in Liberia. Here at home the president enjoys, at latest measure by The Washington Post, a 32 percent approval rating. That means some 66 percent of the country disapproves of him and everything he does, while the remaining folks can’t be bothered to answer or just don’t care.
But Liberians, by and large, love George Bush. In Liberia our president is a rock star. When I was there last August I could not find a single Liberian who had anything negative to say about the man. Not that I tried per se. But, you know.
Abu, who drove me through the pitted streets of Monrovia and showed me the palaces which various despots built, declared Bush a hero to the Liberian folks.
“You mean George Bush?” I asked. Just to clarify.
“He is a great, great man,” Abu said.
“George W. Bush?”
“We honor him.”
“The president of the United States?”
“He is the most powerful man in the world,” Abu went on, which was not unreasonable. “When he said to Charles Taylor, ‘It’s time to go,’ Taylor went. He saved us more bloodshed.”
Well. Hard to argue with that. It is certainly true that in July 2003, on the eve of his first trip ever to Africa, Bush said not once but twice that Taylor must stop clinging to power and leave war-ravaged Liberia. It is equally true that without Bush’s forceful statement, Taylor, a despot for the ages, might well have lingered even more.
Of course, it is equally true that by the time Bush made his remarks, tens of thousands of Liberians had been brutalized and slaughtered. By the time he made the call, the people of Liberia had been begging for U.S. intervention for months. By the time he made the call, the grieving, exhausted, angry citizens of Monrovia had piled their dead outside the gates of the American embassy in protest of the United States’ slowness to get involved.