Violence, bloodshed, bombs, and coups — my goodness, how disorderly is the world. Might US foreign policy have something to do with it? Many people seem to presume that the disorder is somehow preexisting and that US intervention is necessary to stop it. I submit that a slight reflection on the nature of the beast in question would yield a different answer.
Just about every person in the US over the age of 30 has a story to tell about government malpractice. It might concern how HUD wrecked a perfectly nice community with public housing, or how a local developer got rich on federal contracts for some worthless undertaking. It could be about a disastrous regulation that felled a productive enterprise and broke the owner’s heart, or how some harmless pot smoker got hauled away to prison and prison rape for nothing. Reflect on these cases enough and you can become rather bitter.
Now, I ask you to imagine the worst case of federal malpractice that you can think of. I propose this one: the federal government installs a mayor to manage your town and props this person up with armed troops (while claiming it is backing democracy). That mayor proceeds to loot and wreck with impunity and invites all his friends and acquaintances to do the same. When you and others in your community can’t stand it anymore, you take to the streets. At the last possible minute, the feds take the side of residents, whisk away the mayor, and install a new one.
Yes, you might be rather bitter over such a thing. Consider that this is roughly the position in which Haiti now finds itself. The socialist voodoo priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was beloved by the Clinton administration, and the permanent bureaucrats administering US foreign policy, for his devotion to democracy and freedom, in contrast to the junta that was running Haiti in 1994. The US installed Aristide by force in the name of restoring democracy — indeed we know that the US never does anything abroad that doesn’t advance democracy.
The installation of Aristide was cheered especially by the US left (though the right went along, just because the military was doing the installing). For decades, the left blamed US foreign policy for the poverty and chaos in Haiti because the country was ruled by despotic representatives of Haiti’s elite. Aristide was supposed to be different because he embraced socialism and came from the proletarian class.
But how the sainted Aristide must have changed, because his rule of the country ended up pretty much like the rule of the country by all his predecessors: dictatorial and plundering. Interesting how the US only began to take notice once he was hours away from being tossed out by angry protestors. A few weeks back, the protestors against Aristide were widely dismissed as light-skinned property owners who resented the democratic power of the dark-skinned majority. Now this same group is insinuating a very close relationship to the US.
Is Aristide a dictator or democrat? Democrat or dictator? The US had to decide quickly because the masses were headed toward the palace with pitchforks, destroying productive enterprises as they went. In actual fact, there doesn’t have to be that much difference. What does it matter if tyrannical despotism starts, ends, and starts with vote counting versus a straight-out seizure of power?
Aristide now claims that he was the victim of a US-led coup d’tat. And yet, it’s rather disingenuous since he never would have been ruling the country but for the previous coup by which his benefactors in the US installed him. The US claims he left willingly; Aristide says he was forced out. But when relationships are built on complex exchanges involving stolen money, guns, drugs, and power, it is next to impossible to sort out the difference between choice and coercion. This is typical in cases of vast government mismanagement. It isn’t just a case of imposition. There are those who benefit and those who cooperate. But what one can know for sure is this: the victims are plenty, and they have no official connections.
No one believes that Haiti would be as peaceful and prosperous as Des Moines were it not for US intervention. But what we do know is that the US is responsible for vast amounts of mismanagement, stretching all the way back to the 18th century. Every time there is a US-backed regime change, we hear the same promises that peace and prosperity are just around the corner. Sure enough, Colin Powell now says that the US will install a “responsive, functioning, noncorrupt” government.
The analogy doesn’t apply only to Haiti. It applies to every country in which the US presumes to decide who should and should not rule, and what form that rule should take. The unrelenting violence and death in Iraq underscore what a crazy mess the US has made of the place, and there seems to be no way out. It is not enough to merely announce a date on which there will be self-government (by a hand-picked junta). The US has made a horrible wreck of the place and now has no real way out.
Why does the US keep being surprised by events? Because the government, whether at home or abroad, acts like an irresponsible teenager driving a fast car. The decision calculus is myopic in the extreme. No thought is given to the effect of its decisions on others, and no uncertainties are ever presumed. When the crash occurs, there are fleeting moments of regret, but no actual learning. Ultimately, the US knows it can always flee the scene of the crime.
There are many people who think that Iraq or Haiti or a hundred other countries benefit from the presence of the US government telling these countries what to do. Think about whether you would want the US military in your hometown telling you what to do, and then apply the Golden Rule. That thought process is a good beginning to thinking clearly about foreign policy.