Augustine C. OhanweTuesday, June 17, 2008
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ohn McCain recently invited Barack Obama to accompany him to Iraq in order to observe the ”progress” the US forces have achieved in all fronts. Obama had been against the Iraqi war from the beginning but Sen. McCain felt that Obama’s visit would disarm his skeptism on the Iraqi situation and will compel him to accept the idea that the pendulum of victory will definitely swing to the US favour. Such acceptance, in McCains perception will make Obama to soft pedal in his anti-Iraqi war stance during the presidential election campaign.


But Peter Beinart’s commentary, ”Barack, Don’t Go” (Time, June 16, 2008) is insightful and illuminating. The meat of Beinart’s piece is ”that when you take a guided tour, your guide decides what you see. In Iraq today, as in Vietnam back then, the tour guards are America’s officers and diplomats on the groung.” It does mean that they will not naked the actual fact on the ground. This is the crux of the matter which Obama should masticate with good appetite.

What makes politics interesting is its diversionary games and war of wit. Politicians can make you buy the idea that they "will construct a bridge where there is no river.” Politicians have one thing in common with circus magicians. Both have deceit and manipulation as their stock-in-trade. A circus magician will point his purported magic wand to the north-east direction with the sole aim of diverting your attention to that area after which he dips the same wand into a deep black hat and a rabbit will appears. Even though the rabbit was planted there before the magic session started, his disciples who are embedded in the spectators will convince many that it was a real magical feat.

Should Obama decides to travel to Iraq, he will be made to accept the snapshot of the Iraqi situation as the whole picture, as in the case of Vietnam and Liberia under Samuel Doe. Liberia was one of the US cold-war sphere of influence because of its strategic importance and historical connection President Reagan sent out a fact finding mission there in order to have a thorough appraisal of the political situation under Samuel Doe’s leadership. The feed-back came from a guided tour.


Doe came to power via April 12 1980 coup d’etat. Five years later he formed his own political party – the National Democratic Party of Liberia (NDPL) and lifted ban on the formation of political parties. He appointed himself as the Interim National Assembly president and used his power to change the constitution by extending the tenure of the office of the president in preparation to rig the election to his favour. By such a ploy he has feathered his nest. He harassed an influential and popular political party – the Liberal Action Party (LAP) under the leadership of Jackson Doe. He saw him as a threat and stalled the registration of his party but later allowed him to register his party only a day before the voting date, giving its leader no time for campaigning

In spite of all odds placed against him, Jackson won the hearts of many Liberians. During the counting of votes, many international media including the BBC carried reports announcing that Jackson, the presidential candidate for Liberian Action Party would win a land slide 60 per cent over other candidates. The next day vote counting increased the figure to 70 per cent. Doe stepped in and rigged the election to his favour.


A coup d’etat to unseat Samuel Doe came up in November 1985 but it was quelled. News of the attempted coup was greeted with jubilation in Monrovia but later it was realized to be unsuccessful when by mid-day Doe assured Liberians that he was still in control of the nation. Liberian news letters that were sympathetic to the coup plotters against him paid a horrible price. His assassination squad set fire to the Liberian newspaper offices destroying thousands of dollars worth of equipment and destroyed the best collections of historical material in Liberia.

Doe arrested top officers of the Liberian Broadcasting System for the way they aired the news of the attempted coup. Top staff were handcuffed and bayoneted to death. The building of the Daily Observer had its electricity disconnected because it carried a photograph of Doe performing an official function and one of the convincted murderer on the same page. The electricty was re-connected only because of the state visit from Romania’s Ceaucescu and Nigeria’s Babangida’s visits to Liberia and Doe needed an independent newspaper to cover their visits.

Klon Hinneh, the managing editor of The News newspaper was arrested and detained at the central prison for publishing a picture of the Chief Justice of Liberia, Emmanuel Gbalazeh at the back page of the newspaper. In Doe’s understanding it belittled the chief justice’s position and office. The managing editor was later fined $2,000. The Daily Observer, in another development was banned for publishing articles captioned, ”Monrovia Stinks” and ”Bad Roads.” Doe described such a report as an embarrassment at a time when the Isreali president, Dr Chaim Herzog was visiting Liberia. A few months later, the Daily Observer was again ordered closed for publishing a story from a statement issued by the Labour Union in which they called on the government of Doe to repeal the inhuman Decree Number 12 which barred strike action in any form. A reporter of of the Daily Observer was arrested and detained for writing a story about an alleged scandal involving $125,000 at the Ministry of Rural Development.


Inspite of the transparent electoral malpractice that brought Samuel Doe to power, his post-election crackdown on the media and assassination of his opponents the informations obtained from guided tour and passed over to President Reagan was not a palatable one. Chester Crocker, Assisstant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs had this to say: ”Large number of Liberians went to vote on election day, which by all accounts were free and fair.” Crocker added, ”there is in Liberia today a civilian government; a multiparty legislature, a journalistic community of government and non-government newspaper and radio station and an ongoing tradition among the citizenry of speaking out; a new constitution that protects freedom and a judicial system that can help to enforce those provisions.” It was on the strength of such a report that Presiden Reagan sent out post-election congratulatory message to Samuel Doe through his offical delegates. Later, when Reagan Administration found out the real picture of Doe’s adminstration he was alarmed.

It is hoped that Obama’s visit to Iraq will not be greeted with a twin reincarnation of the Liberia and Vietnam’s scenarios.