Good Riddance, Mr. Taylor

The situation in Liberia has calmed down. Charles Taylor is in exile in Nigeria. That doesn’t mean it’s all better there, or that there’s not going to be more ugliness in the future. But the current crisis has been defused, and that has occurred as a direct result of international intervention.

I wrote earlier that I would have much preferred American and not Nigerian troops on the ground. What we actually got was something of a compromise — West African forces, mostly Nigerian, with the U.S. watching over their shoulder, to be followed by a U.N. mission. Better than nothing. Actual U.S. troops would have been preferable, not least because it would go a little ways toward creating the impression that the U.S. government gives a damn about what happens in Liberia. (I’d prefer that they actually did give a damn, but again — better than nothing.)

I never bought the argument that sending Marines into Liberia would further tax the resources of a military that’s already spread thin. The U.S. already had three warships off the coast — total crew about 1800, with capacity for 1800 Marines. Keeping them there has got to be plenty expensive by itself — how much more of a dent would sending 1300 Marines into Monrovia have made? That’s how many ECOMIL troops arrived at first, leading to an immediate cessation of hostilities. Their casualties? None. Had there been anyone inclined to attack peacekeepers, which apparently there weren�t, they’d be even less inclined to attack U.S. troops than Nigerian ones.

What has struck me most about the whole conflict, even more than combatants in drag, is the way the fighting stopped immediately as soon as ECOMIL forces arrived at the airport. There was wide reporting of the scene of rebel and government forces embracing at the scene of a bridge they had just been fighting over. It seemed a very Liberian moment to me, not because it fit some neat definition of “Liberian-ness,” but precisely because it was such an unpredictable relief. Living there, surreal surprises of horror and delight were constant fixtures.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I’m not suggesting that intervention is always or even often the right solution — just that it was right for Liberia right now.