Never Kill the Messenger Liberians

Flashback: US Ambassador Michael McCarthy speaks at an event at the US Embassy in Monrovia  

.... In ancient times, it was considered an egregious offense in both legal and religious terms to attack or harm a diplomatic envoy. Even the most belligerent of ancient rulers seemed to hesitate to mistreat his enemy’s ambassadors for the simple reason that he wanted his own ambassadors to be able to carry out their diplomatic missions unmolested.

By Reginald B. Goodridge, Sr. 

History is replete with the valuable services that messengers have provided since ancient times to secure peace, prevent wars and safeguard civilization.

In international conflict, most belligerents have long recognized the tangible benefit that exists in mutually recognizing and adhering to the idea that certain persons should be immune from attack or molestation, even when those people are official representatives of the enemies.

This is the concept embodied in the idea of diplomatic immunity, a modern phrase that has actually existed in different constructs for thousands of years. The international law of diplomatic immunity in its current form was created in 1961 by the adoption of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The ideas formally codified at Vienna ensured the safe conduct of diplomats to facilitate communication between governments, “particularly during times of disagreement or armed conflict.”

In ancient times, it was considered an egregious offense in both legal and religious terms to attack or harm a diplomatic envoy. Even the most belligerent of ancient rulers seemed to hesitate to mistreat his enemy’s ambassadors for the simple reason that he wanted his own ambassadors to be able to carry out their diplomatic missions unmolested.

It is therefore surprising to me, and disingenuous on the part of CDC Government Officials and Legislators to be raining attacks and insults on American Ambassador Michael A. McCarthy, over his frank assessment of poor governance conditions across Liberia. In this respect, we strongly urge everyone to be careful how they attack the present outgoing or incoming American envoy, and to ‘never kill the messenger’.

Diplomatically, an attack on the American Ambassador is not only an attack against the government and people of the United States of America, but against that country’s core national interests.

What then are the core national interests of the United States of America in Liberia at this critical time of the special relationship that has existed between the two nations for almost two centuries? They are clear and simple to me as a student and instructor of diplomacy.

The CDC government should realize that diplomatic interactions between the US and Liberia are dependent on several indicators such as good governance, economic relations, national security, the environment and the welfare of the people, much of which depend on donor funding, particularly American tax payers’ money.

Liberia is a recipient of hundreds of millions of US dollars through USAID with dozens of outlets throughout the country, and other related agencies such as the Peace Corps, which makes the ‘special relationship’ quite lopsided. Of all people, CDC government officials, legislators and supporters should know that you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

The US is indeed a stakeholder with vested interests in Liberia tied to its core national interests. A weak and corrupt governance structure in Liberia as Amb. McCarthy has repeatedly pointed out, has a tendency to induce poverty through hardship among civil servants and minor government functionaries.

It also has the tendency to destabilize the nation through unrest, which could spread across borders. Instability in Liberia and the sub-region is costly, and unpredictable, and therefore poses a national security threat to the interest of the United States and its allies who spent hundreds of millions of dollars to secure the peace that we enjoy today.

The temptation for poverty stricken functionaries to be lured through cash inducements from radical individuals who may cross Liberia’s porous borders to create chaos for our nation and our partners is very real. This is why the Decentralization deficit has attracted the attention of the American Ambassador, because any form of destabilization in the interior of Liberia is a direct threat to the core values and national security interests of the Unites States.

The long arm of international conflict such as is being played out in the Russian-Ukrainian war has a direct impact on the livelihood, security, and stability of West African nations. Just as poor nations in West Africa were affected by the Cold War that raged for decades between the USSR and the United States, and triggered a scourge of military coups and counter-coups in the 1960s to the 1980s, so now African nations may be affected by the war in Ukraine, which is, in essence, a proxy war between the Russian Federation and the United States of America.

Therefore the probability for the Russian Federation to trigger instability in the backyard of fragile allies of the United States in West Africa cannot be underestimated. This is what is meant by a threat to the core values and national security interests of the United States.

One would not want to be remiss in considering that the nagging Jihadist insurgency has spread through many African countries, including neighboring West African states such as Mali, Niger, and Nigeria - as well as small sleeper cells in Mauritania and Sudan. With the support of adversaries of the United States, what is to stop the Jihadists from incursion into Liberia, its key ally in West Africa?

It is therefore of paramount interest for not only well meaning Liberians, but our key ally, the United States of America, that corruption in the public sector is minimized, that the government’s Decentralization Policy is well funded and well managed, that our porous borders are well patrolled and secure, that scarcity in the administrative and security structures are not subject to lethargy, penetration or temptation by cash inducements from nefarious foreign agents.    


Formal Diplomacy suggests structured interactions between an ambassador or his proxy, with the government of the host country through either the president or members of any of the three branches of government. In the case of Liberia, it is not unreasonable to assume that Amb. McCarthy or his designee would not have had a series of such formal diplomatic interactions with the president of Liberia, cabinet ministers or leaders of the legislature and the judiciary – behind closed doors.

It is very possible that issues relating to bilateral relations, the Ambassador’s observations on governance of the country as it relates to his nation’s interests, instructions and concerns of the State Department conveyed to our government through him or through periodic assessment reports, would have been discussed. I would not be surprised in the least that all or most of the issues published in the State Department’s regular assessments of governance in Liberia were not raised during the formal diplomatic exchanges.

Public Diplomacy, or People's Diplomacy, broadly speaking, is any of the various government-sponsored efforts aimed at communicating directly with foreign publics to establish a dialogue designed to inform and influence with the aim that this foreign public supports or tolerates a foreign government's strategic objectives.

This notion snugly falls in line with Amb. McCarthy’s interaction with non-governmental actors, private and public institutions and the general public of the host country, Liberia. The ambassador or his proxy, for example, giving a lecture at an academic institution, or engagement in community projects through the US Ambassador’s special fund, or touring the country and reporting on the dire state of the failed Decentralization Policy of the host government, all fall within the realm of Public Diplomacy. This is Diplomacy 101.

That Amb. McCarthy’s numerous observations on corruption and poor governance in Liberia, especially his recent assessment of the dysfunction of county offices, were expressed through the realm of Public Diplomacy, would suggest to me that these issues were certainly raised through Formal Diplomacy; and he felt that they probably fell on deaf ears. Then he lost patience.

Surprisingly, the Legislators who had previously been mute on the Ambassador’s numerous criticisms of the Executive Branch of government, became suddenly outraged after he revealed their lavish lifestyle courtesy of a US$65 million budgetary allotment, at the expense of the livelihoods of local officials and millions of citizens in the various counties that they represent.  

There is a certain degree of hypocrisy exhibited by government functionaries and legislators accusing the ambassador of working for the opposition, and calling for him to keep his ‘nose’ out of the internal affairs of Liberia, while at the same time begging for the good graces of his government that he represents to buttress the government’s budgetary shortfall which is created perennially by, coincidentally, bad governance. 

Then there are the same government officials and legislators who are jubilant over the imminent departure of Amb. McCarthy, while praying for the arrival of his successor. How naive and utterly simplistic they appear to be in their feeble calculations. Unlike our current governmental structure which is driven by personality, cronyism, and nepotism, the governmental structure of the United States is driven by a system.

In essence, regardless of the individual person who occupies an office, the system, the policy, the core values and national security interests of the United States of America remain supreme and immovable.

How can one assume that the successor to Amb. McCarthy would not have first read the numerous State Department assessment reports on Liberia, or the periodic reports filed by Amb. McCarthy, or the instructions from the Secretary of Sate for continuity in the protection and projection of the policies, the core values and national security interests of the United States of America in his new post? In Liberia, we say better the … that you know, than the … that is coming.

Not long ago, another presidency of Liberia became obdurate in acceding and adhering to Formal and Public Diplomatic overtures from the United States, through its several Ambassadors, pertaining to governance in Liberia and related sub-regional issues. It was repeatedly pointed out that the policies, core values, and national security interests of the United States of America were threatened.

Hardly anyone listened. Government officials, Legislators, and friends of the president lambasted the Ambassador. Everyone remembers the ‘picky hair’ invectives that were intended to denigrate the appearance of the ambassador. The messenger who was doing his job on behalf of his government was being verbally ‘killed’.

Washington had had enough. They had received numerous assessment reports on governance in Liberia and the perceived threat to the sub-region. These reports were documented and filed by several ambassadors, relayed to the State Department, and passed on to the White House.

The word came from the White House. On July 4, 2002, America struck. And the Liberian presidency was gone. Enough said. Proverbially, The Ides of July 4th looms. A hint to the wise is sufficient.  

Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Daily Observer's editorial stance.