The current situation in Haiti would qualify as a crisis among U.S. foreign policy issues if others — Iraq, Afghanistan and the dead Middle East peace process — weren’t in a worse state.
The United States placed 2,000 troops in Haiti in March to deal with civil unrest. Armed popular opposition to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had risen to the degree that most of the country was outside of government control and Mr. Aristide was forced into exile.
Given the limitations imposed on the deployment of significant numbers of U.S. forces anywhere new in light of the needs in Iraq, the stay of the American troops in Haiti is scheduled to end Tuesday. The French, Canadians and Chileans chipped in another 1,500 troops; the Caribbean states declined, claiming the United States had forced Mr. Aristide to leave.
The United Nations pledged to provide an 8,322-strong force to relieve the current group there, but has had substantial difficulty in finding countries that are willing to ante up troops.
In the meantime, the interim government has been heavy-handed in its rule and has brought into its ranks some of the more sinister elements from previous Haitian regimes, including those of the deposed “Papa Doc” and “Baby Doc” Duvalier family. Drug trafficking is playing an increasingly important role in the country’s economy.
Former President Aristide — he resigned when he left — has been bellyaching that the Americans made him leave. The United States maintains that it helped save his life from the advancing rebels. In exile he has bounced around like a ping-pong ball from the Central African Republic to Jamaica to South Africa, at last word.
Elections are foreseen for next year, although getting there will not be easy, given the political and economic disarray in the country. The disorder is enhanced by what looks like an especially severe rainy season that has already killed nearly 2,000 on the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
It would probably make sense to leave the U.S. forces there until the place stabilizes a bit more and U.N. troops arrive. But the Americans are needed in Iraq, so Tuesday’s deadline will probably be respected.
The Bush administration has to realize that the United States can’t do everything, including things that perhaps it ought to do. Others — Canadians, French and Latin American and Caribbean countries — are going to have to pick up the slack in Haiti.