Everybody on both sides of the Iraq debate now seems to be agreed that the war wasn’t about weapons, and most people seem to be agreed that it wasn’t about terrorism. What’s left of the overt case put up before the war is the humanitarian argument that Saddam’s regime was so murderous that it needed to be ended, even if thousands of civilians and thousands more Iraqi soldiers died in the process. This was a minor element in the case put up by Bush and Howard, but a fairly major argument for Blair.
The latest tragic turn of events in Liberia gives us a good test of the extent to which Bush takes this argument seriously. The humanitarian payoff to intervention in Liberia would be far higher than in Iraq, and the cost far lower. Moreover, having been in effect the colonial power, the US could be expected to intervene even under the Cold War era rules where national sovereignty was supposed to preclude intervention except in cases, like the present one, of state failure.
When Bush went to Africa, he seemed set to announce a commitment, but now he looks to be going cold on the idea. A decision to do nothing would be a disaster for the US as well as for the Liberian people, especially if things turn really bad as they did when the French sat on their hands in Rwanda.
By comparison, Howard is looking relatively good. The decision to duck out of reconstruction in Iraq, about which I was pretty scathing at the time, can be justified in the light of the commitment to the Solomons.