Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

What “Operation Restore Democracy” Restored

- Abstract

The election of René Préval to the presidency of Haiti last December, followed by the staged departure of American troops after a year-long occupation, is being hailed as a major foreign-policy success for the United States, and for the Clinton administration in particular. Not only (it is said) did we restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power three years after his overthrow by a military junta; we also engineered an orderly transition from one civilian-elected president to another, virtually the only such transition in Haitian history, and we effectively demobilized and disarmed the Haitian armed forces, a major source of political instability. We did all this, moreover, in concert with the United Nations, thus conferring international authority on our actions.

In brief, a victory for democracy, and a rebuke to those who predicted a Haitian quagmire. But is it, in fact, democracy the Clinton administration brought to Haiti in its “Operation Restore Democracy”? True, we did engineer the return of Aristide; and, true, two election cycles (one for parliament, one to select Aristide’s successor) were held during the U.S.-UN military occupation. By almost any other standard, however, Haiti remains light years away from our stated political objectives, and, what is more to the point, shows few signs of moving in the right direction.

About the Author

Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.