March 3, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
Sometimes there are no good choices -- just bad, worse and
worst. The easiest choice certainly would surely have been for the
United States to stay out of the awful mess that is Haiti. But,
with a lot of well-founded misgivings and reluctance, we already
have moved beyond that stage.
Right now, we are probably looking at a situation that could be categorized as "bad." On Sunday, the first U.S. Marines started moving back into Haiti to restore peace and calm to the same impoverished island we last invaded under President Clinton in 1994. Who would want to go back to Haiti after $3 billion in U.S. aid wasted and the deployment of 20,000 U.S. troops just a decade ago? Our previous intervention was a totally misguided effort, not to mention an expensive one. The Bush administration's deep reluctance to get deeply involved in what can only be described as Haiti's "quagmire" hopefully indicates that the administration will look for other ways to be involved than sending in thousands of Marines again.
Yet, there are also worse and worst. Worse would be for the United States to go into Haiti alone. Sometimes multilateralism has its uses, and in this case, it is better to let others share the burden, Canadians, possibly Latin and South American nations, even the French and the United Nations. Haiti is a tragic case of a failed state, but it is not a security threat to the United States; this is one case where a coalition approach makes sense. Furthermore, like a lot of other failed states around the world, Haiti was once a French colony; its former dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier remains in exile in France.
Absolutely worst of all would have been for the United States to return to Haiti to restore former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power again, as he was repeatedly pleading for over the past three weeks. After it became clear that he had no support from the United States, France, or Haitian citizens for that matter, the former president left Haiti on Sunday for the Central African Republic. His departure constitutes by far the best chance Haitians have had for years for a decent system of governance. That is indeed a silver lining.
Now, there are plenty of Democrats here in Washington and on the campaign trail that have screamed "racism" and accused the Bush administration of letting Haitian democracy down. Mr. Aristide now claims preposterously he was kidnapped by American soldiers, a charge repeated by Rep. Maxime Waters, TransAfrica funder Randall Robinson and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "Shattered Democracy in Haiti" ran the headline on New York Times editorial. "President Bush's delay in sending the Marines to Haiti has left democratic institutions there on shaky ground," said the newspaper. Actually, we actually just gave Haiti a second or a third chance.
Anyone who has watched Haiti under Mr. Aristide will know his tenure in the presidency - before and after his gilded exile in Georgetown from 1990 to 1994 -- was characterized by political violence and corruption. He even endorsed the practice of "necklacing" of political opponents, that is, hanging a gasoline-filled fire around a person's neck and setting it on fire with a gruesome death to follow.
Mr. Aristide was re-elected to the presidency in 2000 with 92 percent of the vote and his party, the Fanmi Lavalas party, swept into power in parliament. This was after an election campaign that sought to intimidate and silence the opposition, which finally refused to take part.
Anyone that still calls Mr. Aristide a "democrat" should consult the 2003 "Freedom in the World" published by Freedom House. The following is what that human rights organization had to say about Haiti last year:
"Haiti is a nation under siege, beset by extreme levels of political and criminal violence, lawlessness, and corruption. The past year saw no progress in stemming the absolute decline of the political and economic conditions that, for most Haitians, make life extremely difficult. Haiti has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates of the Western Hemisphere." Such was the state of the nation over which Mr. Aristide presided, and which rebel leaders eventually rose up against.
Our best hope now is to allow Haitians to forge a peace settlement of their own and help guide them towards a responsible government. Rebel leaders, who halted their advance outside Port-au-Prince, showed unusual restraint and called off the fighting once Mr. Aristide had agreed to leave. According to Haiti's constitution, Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre will assume the presidency and may help guide Haiti towards new elections. It is a process the United States and the international community can support and guide, but Haitians need to take the lead.
First appeared in The Washington Times