Bringing peace to Haiti turned out to be easier than it seemed. Just threaten to put the Reverend Al Sharpton on a plane over there and, voila, the guns are coming down. That's right; in the closing moments of the Aristide regime, the dictator called on Reverend Al Sharpton to come up with a peace plan.
Sharpton’s self-anointed role of peacemaker stands in stark contrast to his reputation as a rabble-rouser, whose social disturbances in America have left numerous people dead. Many only know “the Rev” as the wisecracking engine-that-couldn’t from the recent Democratic primary. New Yorkers, however, know him as the tracksuit-wearing inciter of riots who takes to the streets whenever the Jews and “white interlopers” get out of line. Or even when they don’t, as the police officers he falsely accused of raping black teenager Tawana Brawley can attest. The coffers at his National Action Network don’t fill themselves with cash, after all. In Vieques, Puerto Rico, folks know him as the obese living target down at the Navy bombing range. Sharpton’s girth was so impressive, in fact, police staged an intervention and sent him to prison for 90 days, where the rotund demagogue emerged moderately slimmer after a for-the-cameras “hunger strike.”
Sharpton’s actions might be amusing if the human toll weren’t so real.
With Aristide in exile and relative peace at hand, it would seen those stories have made it to Haiti. To be fair, one does wonders exactly how Sharpton would have broken the impasse in that island hell. After all, he is an enthusiastic supporter of Aristide’s murderous rule, and the opposition leaders would accept nothing less than the removal of Aristide. This is why the last minute U.S.-backed peace proposal arrived DOA. It is difficult to talk to rebels about sharing power with Aristide when they are taking city after city with ease.
This is not to paint the rebels as obstructionists. Aristide’s supporters were equally firm in their opinions. “Aristide, cut off the heads and burn down the houses of the bourgeoisie!” was a popular slogan spray-painted on walls throughout the government-controlled territories. Al Sharpton surely has a soft spot in his heart for such sentiments. Who can forget the destruction of that capitalist tool Freddy’s Fashion Mart in 1995 (Body Count: Eight White Interlopers), egged on by Sharpton even if he’s too humble to admit it? Other popular rebel slogans, such as “Down with Bill Clinton!” and “Down with Jesse Jackson!” might be a bit less endearing to Sharpton, but, then again, what good are permanent alliances to an iconoclast, right?
Nevertheless, Sharpton hoped to prevail upon the rebels the inner light of Aristide was worth letting shine on.
“Obviously, I have some disappointments in what he [Aristide] has done,” Sharpton said of the former Catholic priest’s police state tactics and the economic policies that have left Haiti the poorest nation in the Americas. Sharpton, ignoring P.J. O’Rourke’s adage that “you can't get rid of poverty by giving people money,” believes everything will be groovy in Haiti if only the U.S. would release $500-million dollars in World Bank loans it has so far blocked. Corrupt leaders always go straight when offered millions of dollars. Sharpton chatted enough with Yassir Arafat during the 1990s enough to have learned that.
But it was all torn away from him. Aristide is gone, and despite all the marches and “stab in the back” conspiracy theories, he’s unlikely to be returned to power. Election year bloodbaths are not winning issues. Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, is also making noises about returning to the helm of the country he was exiled from in 1986, although he told reporters actually running for president is not, “on my agenda.” That seems a non-starter, as well.
None of which has discouraged Sharpton from calling for an independent commission to investigate U.S. actions in Haiti. Does Sharpton really believe such an investigation is in the best interests of the Haitian people? While a new government tries to hold back anarchy in advance of truly democratic elections, Sharpton can’t bring himself to come down on the side of the people and work towards stability. Instead he would rather fan the flames of anti-Americanism and indulge the conspiracy theories of the remnants of Aristide’s thugocracy. Perhaps Sharpton sees U.S. Marines in the streets of Haiti as the same “white interlopers” who once dared to try and expand Freddy’s Fashion Mart.
The whole debacle sheds light on the danger eccentrics like Sharpton can pose when they work as freelance diplomats, or “agents of peace.” Like it or not, people living in countries without an governmental infrastructure or a free media could very well consider loudmouth publicity hogs like Sharpton as true representatives of America.
Dictators are always happy to see such lackeys show up on their doorstep. In 2001, for example, Israeli officials welcomed Sharpton to the Jewish state on the premise that he was there to show “solidarity” with victims of terrorism. But on the second day, Sharpton’s motorcade veered into Gaza, where he was welcomed heartily by none other than Yasser Arafat. After a private meeting, the two emerged smiling, arm-in-arm. “The most striking thing to me was that Mr. Peres, Shamir and Mr. Arafat all agreed on the sanctity of human life,” Rev. Al told reporters. Some show of solidarity. Why not just stand in Crown Heights with the murder who stabbed Yankel Rosenbaum, a Hasidic Jew (or “diamond merchant“ in Sharptonspeak), to death over an car accident he had nothing to do with in 1991.
But Sharpton is not alone. When the Taliban recognized the trouble they were in after Sept. 11 they called upon Sharpton’s old mentor Jesse Jackson to negotiate a peace deal. “We are thankful to God that there exist people who are willing and ready to pursue peace as an alternative to war and bloodshed, and we welcome their cooperation,” Taliban representatives wrote to Jackson, who told the press he felt striking a deal with the Taliban would be better than “seeing more innocent people killed.” Such concern for the suffering of the innocent has led Jackson to deal with Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in Serbia, as well as those in Syria, Iraq, Cuba and now Haiti. Not a promising line-up for a human rights resume. When you become the go-to guy for the Taliban, it might be wise to rethink your moral compass.
The king of wrongheaded meddling in international diplomacy without a doubt, however, is former president Jimmy Carter. Carter has been a solid friend to the enemies of human dignity and democracy. Carter granted legitimacy to the fraudulent 1990 Dominican Republic election and publicly expressing doubt – in the face of overwhelming evidence – that Haiti’s military was guilty of human rights violations. He famously brokered the deal that gave American aid to North Korea while they put the finishing touches on their nuclear bombs. For his peace rhetoric, of course, he received a Nobel Peace Prize, proving, as Mr. Arafat did before him, that reality counts for nearly nothing and sound bites nearly everything.
The worse thing about the Carters, Sharptons and Jacksons of the world is that they’re like cockroaches: Just when you think you’ve finally cleaned them out – poof! – they appear again. This week Sharpton ended his presidential campaign and endorsed John Kerry, a relationship he hopes to exploit should Kerry topple President Bush. One can’t help feeling as if we might not all be better off if Sharpton were to continue his run for the presidency – in Haiti.