James Traub's article in today's New York Times Magazine is an interesting treatment of the problems facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Alas, a number of factors (including the corrupt government, a lack of international interest, inaction by locally-based diplomats) cause him to take a gloomy outlook toward the country's future. However, I found his suggestion that the citizens of the Congo want more intervention thought-provoking.

The Congolese I talked to want to be saved from themselves, or at least from their desperate predicament. Even those who accuse Monuc of spinelessness or complicity add immediately that of course the U.N. troops mustn't leave. They want more troops, not fewer, and more insistent political engagement. They want to see Kabila brought to heel, even if they aren't sure how.

With Live 8 and the upcoming G-8 summit in Scotland, a lot is being said about the proper way to help Africa's developing nations. However, not as much as being said about the continent's failed and failing states. Somalia, for example, has been without a functioning government for over a decade. But since the Battle of Mogadishu, the United States has completely ignored the area, to the detriment of regional stability.

Think of the billions of dollars and thousands of lives that have been consumed by the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Prior to the invasion, Iraq was a stable, if undemocratic country. Due to UN economic sanctions, the former regional power was but a shadow of itself, and not a significant threat to its neighbors, much less the United States. However, in 2003, both the DRC and Somalia were suffering from the same problems that they face today. Like Iraq, the people in these nations did not (and still do not) have democratic freedoms. Unlike Iraq, these two countries already experienced significant levels of violence and anarchy in 2003.

Had Bush chosen to divert the United States' military resources toward peacekeeping operations in either the DRC or Somalia, the United Nations would have been strengthened, not weakened. While it is unlikely that we would have been lauded as the paragon for democratic virtue, it is certain that the world's population would not think of us as imperialistic hypocritical warmongerers. With some democratic wrangling, it is likely that we could have convinced our European allies of the justness of intervention, hence providing the material and financial support that has been missing from our military operations in Iraq.

But most importantly, these African interventions would have achieved the goal that Bush claimed a victory in Iraq would. The rose-colored neoconservative vision of an autocratic Iraq magically becoming democratic and creating reform in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Syria is too ridiculous to be given credence, but it is clear that the instability in the DRC affects its neighbors. While I still disagree with the assertion that an unstable Congo will kill Africa, it should be obvious that a functioning Congolese state is in both Africa's and the United States' interest. Similarly, the existence of an actual Somalian government (the current one cannot even safely enter the Somali capital) could be a pivotal event for East Africa.