Refusing to learn lessons from the nascent quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush is likely to risk the lives of U.S. armed forces again in a Clintonesque “humanitarian” intervention in Liberia. The president’s pledge to take an active role in Liberia is a response to pressure from domestic groups and foreign countries making the curious claim that the founding of that country by freed American slaves over 150 years ago morally obligates the United States to bail out a nation that has long been in turmoil.

Slavery was a terrible stain on the past of many countries and particularly so on an American nation founded on the ideal of freedom. But like reparations for slavery, military intervention in Liberia to somehow atone for this monstrous chapter in our history foists costs on the current generation, which had nothing to do with the sins of past generations. In any intervention, those costs—that is, potential loss of life and limb—would fall on U.S. enlisted forces, which ironically have a higher percentage of African-Americans than the general population.

In addition, whether Liberia will actually be helped by U.S. intervention is questionable. The domestic political opposition to President Charles Taylor is also tainted by human rights violations and corruption. And the U.S. record in “nation-building” in the developing world is abysmal. Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq all were, are or are becoming disasters. Either the countries are no better off (and sometimes worse off ) than before U.S. involvement, or violence would likely resume when the United States tried to withdraw from the morass.

And when things don’t go well, the U.S. stake in a country’s future leads to pressure to stay longer or commit more forces. Although the administration insists that U.S. forces will remain in Liberia only a short time, then-President Clinton—eight years ago and counting—promised that U.S. troops would remain in Bosnia only a year. With two-thirds of U.S. army brigades already deployed around the world, a Liberian neocolonial adventure—not vital to U.S. security—would further overstretch the U.S. military and might tie up forces that would be needed for a real security emergency.