Monday, March 01, 2004

This weekend, Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country, for temporary exile in the Central African Republic. (That a deposed leader who was arguably democratically-elected, but thoroughly undemocratic went into exile in the CAR is an irony surely not lost on anyone familiar with the central African country’s recent history)

Not surprisingly, the events provoked a firestorm of criticism by those with an axe to grind with President Bush. Though I am hardly a fan of the president, he is not to blame for everything and the bad weather. His critics need to beware of the ‘boy who cried wolf’ syndrome.

Predictably, Democrats were at the president’s throat. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi insisted that “actions should have been taken to end the violence before it spread to Port-au-Prince." [Always beware when politicians use the passive voice].

Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. John Kerry surprised no one by stating, "This president always makes decisions late after things have happened that could have been different had the president made a different decision earlier.”

More pap! Rep. Pelosi and Sen. Kerry are suggesting that international troops should’ve been sent to Haiti while the uprising was in full swing. History has shown that international peacekeepers work only when there’s a peace to keep. They work only when both/all warring parties consent to outside intervention. If they go into a situation where’s not even a cease-fire, then they are almost always adding to the problem, rather than solving it.

This is why the president was right not to intervene earlier in Haiti and why, as much as I wished otherwise, he was right not to intervene in Liberia while the fighting was still going on. Such intervention should only be done if it’s likely to actually improve the situation. Intervention must never be done solely to assuage our conscience. “We must do something,” scream some. “Not if it will make things worse,” I maintain.

Essentially, the administration’s position was to not take sides. This was the right position considering the situation. Which side were they supposed to support? The rebel thugs or government thugs? Aristide ran an administration that was corrupt, autocratic and that increasingly promoted a cult of personality around him.

Take the comment by Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland. He said in a statement, ""By the inaction of the United States government and our allies over the last several years, the democratically elected president of Haiti has been undermined and forced to leave his country,"

Many people, like Rep. Cummings, fetishize elections. 'Democratically-elected' is the highest praise they can lavish, one that offers immunity from all other crimes. (That the phrase 'democratically elected' even applied to Aristide’s second term is highly questionable)

Democratic elections are essential, but they are not the be all and end all. Rule of law, constitutionalism and respect for institutions are just as important as the actual exercise of holding an election. Without these things, you’re simply electing an autocrat. The complaints of Rep. Cummings and others do not recognize the simple fact that 'democratically-elected' and 'democratic acting' are not synonymous.

Some leftists claim that the events in Haiti constitute US sponsored regime change. Their essential argument is that the US in general, and the Bush administration in particular, never liked Aristide, therefore the attempt to get rid of him MUST have been US-backed. This argument panders to anti-Americanism and anti-Bushism. It's plausible and conforms to pre-conceived notions about the administration's motives. It COULD be true, according to these folks, so it MUST be true.

Their other argument is that the rebels are a bunch of bad guys so, by extension, Aristide must be wonderful. Their contention seems to be that there was absolutely no popular discontent in Haiti against Aristide’s rule except from malevolent interests. Artiside’s clique claimed that that US was evening arming the rebels.

California Rep. Barbara Lee wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, "Our failure to support the democratic process and help restore order looks like a covert effort to overthrow a government.” Aristide was an autocrat, not a democratic president. When Washington pressured him to reform, it was accused of meddling then too. Aristide’s successor and close friend (and some would say puppet) Rene Préval suspended Haiti’s democratically-elected (there’s that phrase again) parliament in 1999 and started ruling by decree. Aristide continued ruling by decree when he took over again in 2000 and did not hold parliamentary elections until December 2003. Are these democratic actions?

Even the Montreal daily Le Devoir, a normally reliable assailant of American foreign policy, welcomed Aristide’s departure.

The organization Human Rights Watch, hardly a popular group in neo-conservative circles, assessed Aristide’s rule as follows:

President Aristide, who returned to office for a second term in February 2001 (following the presidency of René Préval), is credibly accused of responsibility for serious human rights abuses. During his tenure, police and pro-government thugs have committed numerous forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions; the Haitian National Police have lost their residual political independence; judges and prosecutors have been threatened, and a network of government-linked political gangs has used violence to repress demonstrations by the political opposition and intimidate the independent press... The opposition has also been the target of violent attacks, notably in December 2001, in which buildings associated with opposition parties and leaders were burnt down by pro-government gangs. Witnesses reported that the police refused to intervene to prevent the attacks.


The third factor in the political opposition are organizations that are generally to the left of the G-184 [a coalition of civil society and business organizations], including anti-globalization groups, feminists, and a national peasant movement. It was only in December 2003, after government-sponsored attacks on protesting students, that these groups endorsed calls for Aristide’s resignation

and for the elections’ fetishists:

The November 2000 presidential election that returned Aristide to office was boycotted by credible opposition candidates. The opposition boycott resulted from the government’s failure to remedy the deeply flawed results of legislative and local elections held in May 2000, a factor that also led the Organization of American States (OAS) to refuse to monitor the balloting

and for those who think that all we needed to do was to “get” Aristide to reform:

During meetings with U.S. Special Envoy Anthony Lake in December 2000, then President-elect Aristide committed to addressing the country’s problems. The reforms he promised—which included remedying the results of the May 2000 elections, professionalizing the police and judiciary, and strengthening democratic institutions—were urgently needed. But while Aristide repeated these promises, in varying form, during later negotiations with the OAS, he has made little serious effort to follow through on them. In response, the international community suspended direct aid to the Haitian government.

This is the regime some would’ve had us send troops to prop up. Why is it some people are quick to assail pro-American despots, allegedly in the name of human rights, but seem happy to act as apologists for dictators perceived to be anti-American? I find this contemptuous.

The answer is pretty simple. Bush didn't like Aristide therefore, by these people's definition, Aristide must've been the second-coming of Mandela. They are so eager to bash President Bush that they are more than willing to toss their human rights' advocacy and supposedly liberal ideology out the window

Opponents of President Bush need to avoid two-faced nonsense like this that's so easily discredited. Otherwise, no one will take them seriously when they offer legitimate criticism. The president was right not to intervene in Haiti while the war was raging simply to appease the 'do something, damn the consequences' crowd. Even if he'd done what these folks wanted, they still would've found reason to attack him.

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