- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

After two weeks of bloody rebellion, Haiti is on the verge of civil war. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has asked for international help, but no foreign government can figure out what it can do to alleviate the problems. This should sound familiar. Political instability has been a permanent state of affairs for most of the 200 years that Haiti has been independent, and the brief periods of peace have been the result of either foreign occupation or the rule of iron-fisted dictators. Chaos again will most likely be quelled by one of these two options.

The uncomfortable truth about Haiti is that not many people care what happens there. Independence and self-determination carry some risks, and the rest of the world allows nations to make a mess of their own affairs — up to a point. Following a 1991 coup, Bill Clinton dispatched 20,000 troops to return the Marxist-leaning president to power, despite recognizing the regime’s corruption and strong-arm tactics. That things have gotten progressively more corrupt and thuggish under his leadership warns against further intervention on his behalf.

The two persuasive reasons to help Haiti are humanitarian. Without some kind of intervention, a massacre is likely. Amid mayhem and murder, a flood of refugees is sure to set sail for Florida. This must be prevented because boat people perish in great numbers on the open seas, and Floridians want to prevent the political and social turmoil thousands of refugees would cause. The inevitable call for new U.S. aid should be rejected in light of wanton corruption that has prevented previous such efforts to accomplish very much.

There is no practical solution to the crisis short of American administration — which would be opposed by Haitians and Americans alike. Mr. Aristide promised reforms before and didn’t deliver. Now that exiled paramilitary leaders from the former junta are returning to the country and Mr. Aristide is on the verge of being overthrown, he promises, again, to crack down on cronyism and open up to the opposition. There is no reason to believe him, and it appears that the Bush administration isn’t. “There is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday.

A short-term solution may be on hand, as the French said Monday they might send peacekeepers to their former colony. This could keep the peace long enough to allow for the corrupt and ineffective Mr. Aristide to exit the stage. Then, a power-sharing compromise in which opposing parties have stakes in government could be attempted. New England townhall democracy isn’t likely to emerge in Haiti soon, if ever, but foreign soldiers can minimize murder for awhile. That is probably the most that an outside force can accomplish.

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