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No War in Iraq...Just Haiti! By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 12, 2004


On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that the role of American troops patrolling the streets of Haiti would expand. U.S. Marines would not just protect key sites, but move to disarm the general population and intervene whenever violence threatened human life. Marines had returned fire the previous Sunday when a protest rally outside the National Palace in Haiti was shot at by partisans of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. At least four demonstrators and a foreign journalist were killed. The protesters had been demanding that Aristide be tried for his crimes.

On Monday, Aristide held a news conference in the Central African Republic to which he had fled, and called for "peaceful" resistance to what he called the "occupation" of his homeland by American and French troops. Aristide has not been known for "peaceful" responses to political problems in the past. His call for resistance and his claim that he is still the legitimate ruler of the island, will only provoke more attacks which could produce casualties among American peacekeepers, especially now that Washington has supported the appointment of a new interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, a former foreign minister who had been living in Florida.

This raises important questions about what strategic rational motivates some liberal Democrats to be very critical of U.S. pre-emptive military action in Iraq, while at the same time criticizing the Bush administration for not sending American troops into Haiti sooner to pre-empt the revolution that overthrew Aristide. 

A year ago, on March 10, 2003, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-NY, gave an antiwar speech at the Riverside Church, long notorious as a center of left-wing activism. The Riverside Church was the site of the famous April 4, 1967, speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. criticizing U.S. policy in Vietnam. In his speech last year, Rep. Rangel compared the current antiwar movement with the civil rights movement led by King. Rangel's speech was co-sponsored by New Yorkers Say No To War.

A major theme of Rangel's speech was that the Bush administration has been too quick to send Americans into combat without regard to the cost in blood such commitments entail. "There is a strange atmosphere that exists in Washington where people talk about war without talking about the sacrifices of war," declared Rangel. He was at the time still pushing for a resumption of the military draft, not to strengthen overstretched U.S. forces in the global war on terrorism, but to deter politically U.S. leaders from taking military action. As he argued in regard to sending American troops into Iraq, "If you take a look at who is going to put themselves in harms way, it will not be the sons and daughters of members of Congress or the President's cabinet."

On February 29, 2004, Rep. Rangel appeared on ABC's This Week where he attacked the Bush administration for not sending U.S. troops into Haiti sooner to confront and defeat the rebels. Nothing was said about first getting a United Nations resolution before invading. Rangel was repeating the charge he had made three days earlier at a press conference called under the auspices of the Congressional Black Caucus to protest a statement by the administration that the U.S. would only "encourage the international community to provide a security presence" after there was a "political settlement" by the contending parties in Haiti. Washington was justifiably  reluctant to risk troops taking sides in a Haitian civil war where neither side showed much promise of good government.

In contrast, Rangel and other Democrats did have a favorite side, that of deposed President Aristide. Rep. Jose E. Serrano, D-NY, who has long supported every left-wing regime and movement in Latin America including Fidel Castro, criticized Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on March 3 for not intervening to save Aristide. "This was not an overnight crisis, and could we not have better supported the democracy in Haiti if we had been more generous with our assistance?" said Serrano.

On October 16, 2003, Serrano issued a press release explaining his vote against the supplemental spending bill to fund, among other things, military operations and reconstruction in Iraq. "Some might say we have a responsibility - and we do have a responsibility, to end this funding. We should no longer pretend that what we did in Iraq was right. It is time to stop this charade," stated Serrano, "We can no longer afford the cost or loss of life that is accompanying our unilateral approach to Iraq. The only way to end this terrible loss of life in Iraq is to end the funding, and so as an appropriator, I must vote my conscience and vote against supporting this war spending bill."

The contrasting views towards Iraq and Haiti expressed by Rangel, Serrano and others are not just about whether to risk American lives in battle. In Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition sought the removal of a brutal tyrant who had littered his country with mass graves, repeatedly menaced his neighbors, and pursued (and used) weapons of mass destruction. Rangel, Serrano and other liberals opposed overthrowing Saddam Hussein. In Haiti, they wanted U.S. troops to keep Aristide in power. The common thread in both cases is opposition to regime change when the regime in question is of a certain character.

President Bill Clinton has sent 20,000 American soldiers and Marines into Haiti in 1994 to restore Aristide to the Haitian presidency after he had been overthrown by a military coup two years earlier. Forbidden to stand for a second consecutive term as president in 1995, Aristide claimed victory in the tainted 2000 election, which was boycotted by opposition groups and criticized by international observers. The General Assembly of the Organization of American States expressed "its deep concern at the continuing political crisis in Haiti, arising from the elections of May 21, 2000." The OAS Electoral Observation Mission to Haiti had also protested the abduction, murder and "disappearance" of several opposition political leaders during the presidential campaign. The OAS tried in vain to bring Aristide and the opposition together in a why that would promote confidence and democracy.

Faced with an expanding protest movement charging him with election fraud, corruption and abuse of power, Aristide unleashed his private army of street thugs, as he had in his first term. None of these failings have weakened support for Aristide among his liberal supporters in the United States. As a former Catholic priest who had embraced the Marxist-inspired school of liberation theology, Aristide's ideology was of far more interest than how he held power. Thus when Rangel or Serrano talk of supporting democracy in Haiti, it cannot be taken seriously.

As Secretary of State Powell told the House Appropriations Committee March 3, Aristide "was democratically elected by 5 percent of the population participating, and no opposition parties participating because of the flawed nature of the previous election for parliament, and because of the actions of President Aristide over a long period of time that undercut the democracy that he was elected to lead. It's one thing to be elected in a democratic manner, but then you have to govern democratically. And President Aristide, over time, lost that ability and was taking actions that were not consistent with his obligations."

The collapse of Aristide's regime has certain similarities to the fall of Saddam. As rebels closed in on the Haitian capital, Aristide's security forces showed no more stomach for defending their leader than the Iraqi army had shown for defending Saddam. Both Saddam and Aristide fled their presidential palaces when it became apparent that there was no broad base of popular support left for their regimes. Instead, die-hard radicals have been resorting to sniper attacks and roadside ambushes to kill opponents of the former leader in Haiti as in Iraq. With U.S. Marines now in Haiti to restore order, they may find themselves facing the same kind of urban terrorist situation as in Iraq, albeit on a smaller scale.

Rangel, Serrano and others of their ilk are clearly not philosophical pacifists. They favor using military force to achieve particular political ends. The question is what ends are worth the cost? Why does he feel it is worth risking the lives of Americans in Haiti, one of the most unstable and poorest specks on the map, but not in Iraq whose strategic position in the Persian Gulf and regional power potential is obvious? Attempts to portray anarchy in Haiti as a major national security threat to the United States, is ludicrous and disingenuous for those who had earlier dismissed the threat from Iraq as overblown.

When politicians of any persuasion make statements about the merits of U.S. troop deployments, they should be asked to state their foreign policy principles in a rational manner and square their positions across the many crises and contingencies that currently face the United States in a very turbulent and dangerous world.

William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.


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