- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

Rep. Charles Rangel, New York Democrat, was absolutely furious over the weekend. The ostensible reason for his rage was the Bush administration’s refusal to intervene in Haiti’s latest crisis until after its corrupt, despotic ruler, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was removed from power.

To be sure, Mr. Rangel and his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus have been the most steadfast of former President Aristide’s supporters. They and like-minded members of the Clinton administration were, in no small measure, responsible for the 1994 U.S. power play that forcibly restored Mr. Aristide to the post to which he had been elected.

The anger being expressed by Rangel and Company seems curiously misplaced, however. Their man in Haiti proved to be everything critics of the Clinton putsch had said he was: brutally thuggish, irremediably corrupt and mentally and behaviorally erratic. In fact, it was Mr. Aristide’s subsequent tyrannical misconduct, and not a lack of American political and financial support, that was most responsible for his country’s current slide into anarchy and despair — behavior that dissipated Mr. Aristide’s once considerable popular support in Haiti and contributed to his swift overthrow.

By refusing to prop up Mr. Aristide, President Bush has given Haiti what it was denied when Bill Clinton engaged in the sort of “nation-building” that gave the process a bad name: a chance to establish the institutions essential to representative, accountable governance. Rather than repeat the earlier mistake of investing (in the form of well more than a billion in U.S. tax dollars) in one man — without regard to his antidemocratic track record — on the grounds he won a vote, the United States must now invest the energy and resources needed to promote institutionalized checks and balances that alone can protect against future misrule by his successor.

Mr. Rangel may be angry for one other reason, however. The crisis in Haiti is a sobering reminder of a larger point he and other Democrats seem to hope American voters will miss this November: The world is a turbulent, disorderly and increasingly dangerous place for U.S. interests.

When the clear hope in Democratic circles is that the electorate will focus once again exclusively on “the economy, stupid,” it is inconvenient, to put it mildly, to have still more foreign entanglements develop — especially in our back yard. [That this particular problem in Haiti was unmistakably a legacy of the misspent Clinton years simply underscores the foolishness of engaging in such myopia once again.]

Worse yet, Haiti is hardly the only indication that things are going seriously south south of our border. Consider the following sampler:

• In Venezuela, another elected autocrat, Hugo Chavez, is turning his oil-rich nation into an engine for regional instability and anti-American policies. Schooled and abetted by Fidel Castro, whose Cuban dictatorship Mr. Chavez unabashedly admires and props up, the Venezuelan despot is resorting increasingly to coercion and even force to suppress mounting popular opposition. Having strung out legal efforts to remove him from power, he now appears determined to prevent them from going forward at all — raising the distinct possibility of bloodshed and mayhem in a country that supplies much of the United States’ imported oil.

• Unfortunately, Mr. Chavez has a soul mate and willing partner not only in Mr. Castro but in Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (universally known as Lula). Brazil’s Lula has been assiduously courting terrorist groups (reportedly, Colombia’s FARC and Peru’s Shining Path) and regimes that sponsor terror (notably, those of North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and the Palestinian Authority). Not coincidentally, the so-called “Triborder Area” — where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet — has become a breeding ground for Islamist terrorists seeking safe havens from which to recruit, train and launch operatives on destructive missions elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere.

• With materiel and political life support from Venezuela’s Mr. Chavez and Brazil’s Lula, Mr. Castro has a new lease on life. His repression at home has intensified and his efforts to export subversion to the mainland have resumed in earnest.

• The hemisphere’s anti-American axis is working assiduously to develop and exploit targets of opportunity for their destabilization campaign in Colombia and Peru. Pro-axis regimes have already taken power in Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia. Curiously, there was no perceptible outcry from Democratic circles when Bolivia’s elected president was forced from power by Andean-Indian political movements enjoying the strong support of Mr. Chavez and his ilk.

• This turmoil offers opportunities for penetration of our backyard not only by Islamists and their Middle Eastern sponsors. The future prospect for genuine and pro-Western democracies in this hemisphere are being further clouded by Chinese political, economic and strategic inroads being made from the Panama Canal to Brazil.

One thing is certain: The next president of the United States will confront trouble south of our border — trouble that will probably make the present turmoil in Haiti pale by comparison. It will take a great and visionary commander in chief to contend with the myriad implications of such trouble if, as seems entirely possible, it emerges as the next and most proximate front in the war on terror.

It will be a grave disservice to the voters if these unpleasant facts are concealed from them. The electorate will be even worse served, however, if they are not made fully aware of two others: One of the candidates for commander in chief, John Kerry, was a pre-eminent opponent of efforts to counter Latin America’s last generation of anti-U.S. leftists. And he routinely voted to cut our defense capabilities and force structure in ways that would have left us still less prepared to deal with the next one.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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