July 09, 2003

Shrink the Gap

I haven't blogged on the Liberia issue yet, mainly because I hadn't made up my mind. I now tentatively support intervention, with a caveat which I'll get to in a minute.

James S. Robbins makes a convincing argument for intervention on strategic grounds. Robbins invokes Thomas Barnett's framework: the world is roughly divided between a "Functioning Core," those countries that are interconnected and pacified by globalization, and a "Non-Integrating Gap," the other countries: the seamier side of Latin America, most of Africa and the Middle East, and part of South-East Asia. As security threats are likely to come from within the Gap, our strategic goals, according to Barnett, should focus on expanding and protecting the Core, and shrinking the Gap.

This strikes me as a fundamentally sound framework. The strategic benefits that Robbins outlines weigh heavily on the side of potential benefits of an intervention.

What about potential costs? Nation-building isn't an easy thing. But Bill Buckley seems to imply that "Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq" have all yielded equally awful results. Does he really believe that? Tell it to the Kosovars and the Afghans. The chance of a failure can't be ruled out, but the Liberian Americophilia that Robbins discusses makes it less likely.

The Wall Street Journal suggests that the US facilitate a Frence intervention. Though they may be right that we can't afford a troop commitment for a merely humanitarian intervention, Robbins makes a good argument that the US has a strategic interest-- and that leaving the region, as it is, "mostly up to France... is hardly an acceptable part of our risk calculus."

Now, the caveat: If this seems too much like charity, and too little like the cultivation of an ally in a region that will become important in the war on terror, public support will not withstand much bloodshed; a nasty incident or two will trigger political pressure for a premature withdrawal. That could leave Liberia, like Somalia, no better than it was when we found it. If the President decides to intervene, I'll be paying close attention to his salesmanship. If it doesn't emphasize American interest enough, that's a bad sign.

Posted by John Tabin at July 9, 2003 05:23 PM