- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Bill Clinton never stops. Last week while he and Hillary were in Iowa, Mr. Clinton continued his nonstop campaign to sell his unique take on his own accomplishments.

This time it was Haiti. Politicians and their minions practice spinning the facts to fit their campaign and governing narratives, and when they leave office, many of them spend their retirement years making sure that as many people as possible buy into their version of history.

They do it because, at the end of the day, it’s not what happened that’s as important as what people “think” happened while they were in office. Former presidents write memoirs and hawk them not just for the money, but to justify their service and to blame others for any failures that may have occurred on their watch.

Mr. Clinton doesn’t let a day go by without reminding people of his accomplishments as president (and former president). On university campuses, late-night talk shows and international conferences, Mr. Clinton peddles his version of history. The admittedly brilliant but flawed politician who squandered his White House years has morphed into a giant who somehow knew how to govern better than anyone — Republican or Democrat — since and who could charm the pants off anyone. Barack Obama tries, but as often as he blames George W. Bush, the Koch brothers and an insufficiently grateful public for his troubles, he can’t seem to do it with the style of the master.

Sometimes, though, even the master oversells, as he did last week recalling his efforts to lift the poor people of Haiti out of poverty and grant them the blessings of democracy.

Few Americans pay much attention to what goes on in Haiti. We know that it has a violent past, was run for not decades, but generations by thieving dictators, is the poorest nation in the Americas, and when its inhabitants aren’t being conned, beaten or killed by their rulers, they are fighting killer hurricanes and earthquakes.

This was going to change when “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled for the French Riviera, leaving his country in the hands of a defrocked and possibly psychotic Catholic priest who promised the nation’s poor a quasi-Marxist day of reckoning. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president in 1991, but after a year was forced to decamp to Georgetown to be wined and dined by Washington’s Democratic elite, and he became quickly addicted to the finer things in life.

Washington Democrats, led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus and eventually Mr. Clinton, adopted him. The United States dispatched 20,000 troops to Haiti and returned Mr. Aristide to Port au Prince, where he emulated his predecessors by eliminating opponents, outlawing rival political parties, cowing the press, doing business with drug cartels and creating the sort of crony capitalist economy that allowed him to reward his friends and supporters in Haiti and the United States.

As he became more high-handed, he suggested first that his term should be extended for two years to cover the time he had suffered in exile in Georgetown and then that the Haitian Constitution be amended to allow a true leader to serve for, well, life.

Even he couldn’t force these ideas through, however, and he was forced to put a crony in until he could run again in 2000. By then, his opponents were organized and following his earlier example by seeking assistance in Washington. They formed something called the “Democratic Convergence,” which consisted of more than a dozen political parties united by a desire to put the Aristide years behind them.

I visited Haiti during the man’s second attempt to loot his country and was treated to a lunch by leaders of the “Convergence,” a diverse bunch of civil society and religious leaders as well as politicians. On my right sat the head of the old Duvalier party and on my left the chairman of the Communist Party. Most were early, but completely disillusioned, Aristide supporters. I couldn’t resist observing that they had obviously been wrong about Mr. Aristide, as they were proof that he had indeed been able to unite his countrymen as he promised.

Mr. Clinton had named a new ambassador in the spring of 2000 who stayed around for some time until the new President Bush focused on Haiti. The ambassador was an Aristide cheerleader of the first rank. When we met in Port au Prince in 2001, I suggested that the economic situation in the country was worse than ever. He disagreed and said some sectors were doing quite well. I asked him to name one. He didn’t hesitate. “Banking,” he said. I looked at him in amazement and said simply, “Can you spell laundry?” By that time, Haiti’s bankers were serving not the collapsed domestic economy, but drug lords who were channeling cash through Mr. Aristide’s friends.

Mr. Aristide was finally ousted again, but his legacy lives on. Much of the public and private money our former president sent to Port au Prince resides today not in Haiti, but in U.S. and Swiss banks while the long-suffering people of Haiti continue to live desperate lives. So much for the Clinton legacy.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.

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