Oliver North

And if Charles Taylor is the enemy of freedom in Monrovia, who are our friends in Liberia? Once again, we don't seem to know.

What we do know is that there is very little that the president can do about the first four issues that seem to be sticking in the craw of his critics. Either the money already spent to fight AIDS in Africa was well spent or we were ripped off -- an outcome that is now beyond anyone's control. The Iraqis either tried to obtain uranium in Africa or they didn't. Saddam either hid or destroyed his biological and chemical weapons before we got there, and the best we can hope to do is find the proof. The butcher of Baghdad and his two brutal boys are either dead or alive -- and we may never know. Regardless of what he claims, Kim Jung Il may or may not have nuclear weapons.

All of these events are "past tense." They have already happened, and the best we can hope to do now is to find out "who knew what and when did they know it" -- to paraphrase Howard Baker's famous Watergate-era statement.

But Liberia is different. Aside from the 32-man military survey team, we haven't committed significant U.S. resources, personnel or prestige on the outcome. Most of official Washington seems to have decided that for the good of Liberia's 3 million inhabitants, the now-indicted Charles Taylor has to go -- and once he does, we'll send in the Marines. But before they go, we ought to know who it is we want to succeed him -- and how.

Unfortunately, as in the previously cited events, our intelligence is appallingly thin. We're paying the price for decades of denigrating the CIA's clandestine service, for the hubris of thinking we could collect needed information from satellites and listening posts -- and years of counting on "liaison relationships" with other nation's intelligence services.

Given our lack of firsthand information, it cannot be assumed that those who would wrest power from Charles Taylor would necessarily be better. And given what happened the last time we tried booting out an African warlord -- Mohammed Farah Aideed in Somalia -- it would be wise to know a whole lot more about those who would become Liberia's new leaders before they move into Monrovia's presidential palace.

More than 2,000 years ago, Sun Tzu postulated that victory in any military campaign required that you "know your enemy." Before dispatching thousands of Americans to Liberia, we also need to know our friends.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.