July 21: Herman Cohen, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Offers a Plan for Peace in Liberia

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This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, July 21, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: U.S. Marines are on the ground in Liberia (search) and more may be coming soon. Some experts have said U.S. forces would be welcomed by all sides in Liberia; but those mortar rounds, exploding at or near the U.S. Embassy today did not sound like the welcome wagon.

So, what is going on here? For answers, we turn to Herman Cohen, former assistant Secretary of State for Africa.

Mr. Cohen, welcome back.


HUME: So, what in your view is going on here, and what is the right thing to do next?

COHEN: It's a total replay of what it was in 1990. The government forces are forced back on to this peninsula, which is near the U.S. Embassy (search). The rebels are attacking. They can't defeat the government because it is a narrow corridor and you just keep shooting at them as they come in. You can't win. So the rebels are now just shooting mortar shells. That's the best they can do.

HUME: So this is a military standoff in your judgment?

COHEN: Yes. But...

HUME: Dangerous.

COHEN: Taylor can't do anything because he is bottled up in the peninsula.

HUME: Taylor being the principal, the president.

COHEN: The president, yes. And he can't win the war. And the rebels can't win the war until they capture Monrovia (search). So it's sort of a, as you say, it is a standoff.

HUME: Now, Taylor had indicated earlier that he was prepared to leave and he remains there. What is that all about?

COHEN: He can't leave until he is escorted by some peacekeepers. If he tries to leave, his own people will shoot him because...

HUME: You mean the people loyal to him?

COHEN: Yes, because he is abandoning them. So the peacekeepers have to quiet everybody down, say OK, look, everyone can stop being afraid, we're here. Take Taylor to the airport and ship him out.

HUME: When you say the peacekeepers, what kind of peacekeepers are we talking about here?

COHEN: Well, it's either Americans or West Africans or both.

HUME: Now, but peacekeepers usually arrive when there's peace. There's no peace. There is a cease-fire that's obviously out the window. So, what needs to happen? Do you need an invading force to come in and stand between the two sides? That sounds like a Somalia (search) mission.

COHEN: I don't think it has to be invading. The peacekeepers have to say to both sides, OK, look, we're coming in. This time, this day and we're going to arrive here, stay out of the way. And some have helicopter gun ships; I don't think there will be any shooting. If it's Americans, there will definitely be no shootings. If it's West African, it should be OK anyway.

HUME: Now, how many do you think will be needed in a deal like this?

COHEN: Well, it has to be robust. You have to show everyone you mean business, just like the British did in Sierra Leone. You know no fooling around with us; we're coming in here with armor, with helicopter gun ships, with well-armed men, about 2,000…1500 to 2,000. That should do it, I think.

HUME: And that would…and then what would happen is the rebels would then say great; the Americans are here? And what about the forces loyal to Taylor? They know it going to be the end, right?

COHEN: The one thing that drives everyone right now is fear. We're afraid of retribution, revenge, who's going to kill who. Once the peacekeepers are there, everyone will breathe a sigh of relief and say, OK, now we'll be protected. That's what they're looking for is protection.

HUME: From each other.

COHEN: From each other, yes. That's it.

HUME: All right. Now, what about…and Taylor in your view, then, would go?

COHEN: I think he would definitely go, yes.

HUME: And then what?

COHEN: Then if everything goes well, if the people stop shooting, then you could install some sort of interim Liberian regime. There are all sorts of good people available. But you then have to bring in U.N. people to help them.

HUME: Well, if the United States is popular there, and its forces would be recognized as liberators or at least peacekeepers, what accounts for the shelling of the…the shelling that hit the embassy today?

COHEN: I don't think anyone was aiming at the embassy. They're just shelling the area where Taylor's people are and some of them go astray. The embassy is a very big compound, and I'm not surprised that they got a stray mortar shell. But I don't think anyone was aiming at the embassy.

HUME: But would it be your view that the U.S. Embassy would be essentially, by and large, a safe place at this point?

COHEN: It's more or less a safe place. The Americans have warned the rebels to stop shooting at the city, not just at them. And I think the rebels will get that warning.

HUME: And the rebels want what, exactly?

COHEN: The rebels want Taylor out, first of all. And then the rebels want a new regime where they can participate.

HUME: And what kind of regime do they want? Are they…now, is there anything…I mean, who are the good guys here? Are there any good guys here in this?

COHEN: The good guys are the people who don't have guns, who are out there waiting to come in and run an interim government. People like Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, who was a candidate against Taylor, Winston Tubman, who's now working in Somalia, Amos Sawyer who's now in Chicago. All these are goods people ready to come in and work.

HUME: Well, the rebels having fought this far, and being on the verge now of driving Charles Taylor from power, when he's gone, are they going to stand aside and say well, let these people who haven't been around come in and we're going to be real happy with them?

COHEN: I think they're going to say we want to participate. Whoever comes in, fine, but we want a piece of action. And I think they'll get it. They deserve it.

HUME: And what are the real issues there besides Taylor, if any?

COHEN: The real issue is who's in charge of the government and who is willing to share resources and have transparency, or have a real Democratic modern government where everyone can share in the wealth.

HUME: And what about the situation out around the country? Is there a viable economy? What is it…what…usually these situations occur in countries that are desperately poor. It appears that Liberia now qualifies for that, after having some considerable promise before.

COHEN: It wasn't that poor in 1990 when this all started. But of course, everything's been destroyed. The infrastructure, the water, the electricity, just everything is gone. It has to be rebuilt. I think the World Bank (search) can help out if you have a decent government there. And it will need lots of U.N. civilians to come in and help them rebuilds the institutions, the judiciaries, the military, the government, the treasury, the budget people.

HUME: Sound like Iraq.

COHEN: Exactly. Exactly. Yes, but in a miniature form. Right.

HUME: Well, I know. But is it as dangerous as Iraq? You seem to think not.

COHEN: No. Absolutely no.

HUME: You have this sense, and it is striking to me that somehow if the Americans and peacekeepers come, then everybody will be happy. And I can imagine viewers out there thinking is this man right? Why should we believe that?

COHEN: There are lots of Iraqis, especially the old Saddam Hussein people, who say this is dangerous us to, we want everyone to get out of there. But the Liberians are all saying please come in and help us. We want the Americans here. The Liberians were never a colony of the United States. They're trying to become a colony in a sense.

HUME: Different atmosphere.

COHEN: Right.

HUME: Thank you very much, sir. Hope you come back again. Nice to have you.

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