Military interventions are always risky, but success looks relatively promising in Liberia. All Liberian factions say they want us on the ground, and ordinary Liberians have been pleading for Mr. Bush to send troops.
Would anybody shoot at us? Probably, but in neighboring Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, local fighters melted away rather than take on European troops. The ragtag Liberian militias, bereft of popular support, would probably collapse even more quickly.
I argued against invading Iraq, but Liberia presents a much more compelling case for intervention. The difference is not that Saddam slaughtered at most 1 percent of his population over the last 14 years, while Liberian warfare has killed more than 6 percent of its population so far. Nor is it that rescuing Liberia would bolster our international stature rather than devastate it.
No, the crucial differences lie elsewhere. First, Liberia has an urgency to it that Iraq did not: people are being hacked apart daily in Liberia, and if we do nothing, the conflict may spread across West Africa. Second, success can be more easily accomplished in Liberia, using just 1 or 2 percent of the number of troops we have in Iraq, mostly because Liberians desperately want us to intervene.
Liberia's warfare has already infected Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast, costing perhaps a half-million lives in all since Charles Taylor grabbed Liberia in 1989. Just as the Rwandan crisis (and Mr. Clinton's failure to respond decisively) led to a catastrophe across central Africa that has cost more than four million lives so far, Liberia's civil war could lead to upheaval across West Africa.
Is U.S. national security at stake in Liberia? Indirectly, yes, for failed states anywhere can threaten us.
A collapsed West Africa could become, like the Taliban's Afghanistan, a haven for terrorists and narcotics, as well as a sanctuary for infectious diseases. Illegal immigrants would pour by the millions out of West Africa into Europe and America. In today's world, as John Donne never wrote, no nation is an island.
Given that Africa is becoming the next breeding ground for religious fanaticism, Liberia and the rest of Africa make as good a case study for the neo-con domino theory as the Middle East.