The Marines have landed, and the situation is not well in hand, nor will it ever be. I am speaking, of course, of Haiti, that boil on the Western Hemisphere’s posterior which no plaster can ever cure. In the 18th century, Haiti was so rich, thanks to the sugar trade, that it alone provided two-thirds of the value of France’s overseas commerce. Today, Haiti is so poor that the average American dog probably lives better than the average Haitian.
But I forget: just ten years ago, we solved all of Haiti’s problems. Applying the neo-cons’ prescription for the whole world, we sent in thousands of American troops, overthrew the "undemocratic" Haitian government and installed Haiti’s Mr. Chalabi, Monsieur Aristide — the same savior who just departed, with Washington’s encouragement, to the universal anthem of the Third World’s elite, "I’m Leavin’ on a Jet Plane." For some incomprehensible reason, democracy backed by American bayonets failed to turn Haiti into Switzerland. It’s probably because we forgot to teach them how to make cuckoo clocks and put holes in cheese.
Haiti is in fact a fair test of the neo-cons’ thesis, a thesis we are now putting to further trials in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their core argument is that history and culture simply don’t matter. Everyone in the world wants American-style "democratic capitalism," and everyone is also capable of it. To think otherwise is to commit the sin of "historicism."
The argument is absurd on the face of it. History and culture don’t matter? Not only do the failed cultures and disastrous histories of most of the world argue the contrary, so does our own history and culture. Democratic capitalism first developed in one place, England, over an historical course that goes back almost a thousand years, to the Magna Carta. America was born as an independent country to guarantee the rights of Englishmen. If England had possessed the culture of, say Mongolia, can anyone with the slightest grasp on reality think we would be what we are today?
While the neo-cons’ thesis says nothing about reality, it says a great deal about the neo-cons themselves. First, it tells us that they are ideologues. All ideologies posit that certain things must be true, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. That evidence is to be suppressed, along with the people who insist on pointing to it. Sadly, the neo-cons have been able to do exactly that within the Bush Administration, and the mess in Iraq is the price.
Second, it reveals the nature of the neo-con ideology, which has nothing whatsoever to do with conservatism (as Russell Kirk wrote, conservatism is the negation of ideology). The neo-cons in fact are Jacobins, les ultras of the French Revolution who also tried to export "human rights" (which are very different from the concrete, specific rights of Englishmen) on bayonets. Then, the effort eventually united all of Europe against France. Today, it is uniting the rest of the world against America.
Finally it reveals the neo-cons as fools, lightweights who can dismiss history and culture because they know nothing of history or culture. The first generation of neo-cons were serious intellectuals, Trotskyites but serious Trotskyites. The generation now in power in Washington is made up of poseurs who happen to have the infighting skills of the Sopranos. If you don’t believe me, look at Mr. Wolfowitz’s book. Or, more precisely, look for Mr. Wolfowitz’s book (hint: he never wrote one).
Perhaps it was America’s turn to have its foreign policy captured by a gang of ignorant and reckless adventurers. It has happened to others: Russia before the Russo-Japanese War, Japan in the 1930’s. The results are seldom happy.
Before we get ourselves into any more neo-con led follies, we should apply their thesis to a simple test: send them to Haiti and see if they can make a go of it, after the U.S. Marines pull out. If they can, I’ll put my money in a Haitian bank.
William Lind [send him mail] is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.