From a certain perspective it could be tempting in certain circles in Washington to intervene in this latest crisis in Haiti. Prudence, experience and a realistic assessment of what the United States is likely to be able to accomplish there, however, argue in favor of restraint. It’s not that the Haitians themselves are likely to come up with an ideal solution, but that a U.S. effort is unlikely to do any better.
The recent troubles certainly arouse one’s humanitarian impulses. Over the past several weeks a rebellion against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide — begun by former supporters — has led to chaotic conditions and the death of at least 60 people. Without outside intervention more people are likely to die before the situation settles down and, as Cato Institute vice president for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies Ted Carpenter said, “the next thug takes power.”
The impulse to want to help — even though there is no vital U.S. national security interest at stake — should be tempered by an understanding of Haitian history and memories of the last time the United States tried to “fix” Haiti.
Under the Clinton administration the United States intervened in Haiti in 1994, seeking to restore Aristide — who had been elected president in 1990 but ousted in a coup — to power and to restore (or impose) a measure of stability. Unfortunately the nation-building didn’t work.
Meanwhile, Aristide, a defrocked priest with neo-Marxist sympathies, demonstrated and continues to demonstrate that a leader brought to power by democratic means can be brutal, repressive and dictatorial. The election that brought him back to power in 2000 was suspect in its integrity (to put it mildly) and his misrule has aroused opposition.
Aristide’s opponents are undoubtedly no prizes. It is hardly an overstatement to say that Haiti has not had a decent government since it became independent from France in 1804.
The United States is participating in an effort among several hemispheric countries to mediate the crisis. Let’s hope that succeeds in inducing an interval of peace. If it doesn’t, there will still be no compelling reason to intervene with U.S. force.