March 2, 2004
The fall of Jean-Bertand Aristide does not represent the dawn of a new era in Haiti, which was a lawless, dangerous mess before he became its president and which in all likelihood will remain so into the forseeable future. Still, few people will mourn his departure into exile.
Shortly after Mr. Aristide had fled on Sunday morning, the United Nations Security Council agreed to send in a euphemistically named “stabilization force” to Haiti. But Haiti has never been stable. It’s like calling soldiers “peacekeepers” when we send them to places where there’s no peace to keep.
Still, the UN did the right thing. As drugged-up rebels circled the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince last week, there was legitimate fear of a major bloodbath in our hemisphere. The lesson of the 1994 Rwanda genocide is that a determined militia can slaughter a huge number of people in a short period of time. The clock on Haiti was ticking when the Security Council recorded its unanimous vote late Sunday night.
Of course, one can’t help but detect the rank hypocrisy. Iraq under Saddam Hussein represented a far worse humanitarian tragedy, yet when the United States wanted the UN to sanction collective enforcement of its own resolutions, some other Security Council members stonewalled until finally the U.S. felt compelled to assemble a coalition on its own and go in.
It seems that for many governments, intervention is permitted only in cases where Western countries — notably the U.S. — have little national interest. The United States has economic and security interests in Iraq, so the UN and its supporters — Canada among them — opposed intervention, even if that meant more suffering for Iraqis. The U.S. has almost no interests in Haiti, so the UN and its supporters — including Canada — call for intervention.
Meanwhile, some of the voices that denounced American “unilateralism” in Iraq have this time denounced the U.S. for waiting around for UN authorization rather than sending the marines into Haiti earlier. Some leftist websites say racism explains U.S. inaction in Haiti — that the U.S. doesn’t care when blacks kill blacks — just as they suggested racism explains U.S. action in Iraq (Arabs can’t solve their own problems, so let’s do it for them). Amazingly, for some critics, the U.S. is both too isolationist and too imperialist.
Ironically, in Haiti itself there appears to be an absence of political consciousness. The approaching mobs who forced Mr. Aristide to flee his palace cannot be classified as pro-democracy or, frankly, pro-anything — except perhaps pro-looting. Unlike other uprisings — Romania in 1989, Serbia in 2000 — the violence in Haiti seems almost apolitical, with the crowds prepared to support whomever emerges as the next strong man.
Canada has correctly promised to join the multinational force, though with our depleted military it’s unclear whether the Canadian contribution will amount to much. The good news is that, with Haiti being a weak country, only a few hundred UN-approved troops may be needed to restore order. The bigger question is: When will they leave? Right now, the stabilization force appears to have no obvious exit strategy.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2004