LYNDEN, Wash. — One of the arguments advanced for electing John F. Kerry this November is that the senator from Massachusetts would be able to steady our ship of state. By refusing to take decisive action until he has built world consensus, the senator and his surrogates argue, the former Swift boat captain would steer us clear of the foreign policy recklessness of the Bush administration.
The only problem with this argument is that there is precious little evidence to support it. To state the bleeding obvious: Kerry voted against the first Gulf War, which was a model of a limited engagement that accomplished the country’s goals without requiring a protracted troop presence, and in favor of the second one, which he now runs against.
That’s all water under the bridge or oil under the sand to Kerry supporters. And I’ll give them this: It’s understandable that they would rather take their chances with a candidate who made his name protesting a war than with one who has prosecuted a couple of them during his first term. But their support is badly misplaced. The Democratic nominee is likely to be the peace candidate in about the same way Woodrow Wilson was the peace candidate.
There was a lot of guffawing last Monday when Kerry spoke French on the stump (apparently badly) but the thing that caught my attention was the content of the message. At a rally in Orlando, Florida, he noticed some foreigners in attendance and said what translates to “You are from Haiti? All right! I’m going to help the Haitians!”
But, as this publication has noted in the past, very few Haitians are going to want what Kerry has to offer. After a military coup deposed ruler Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, Kerry was one of the loudest voices for the U.S. to intervene and forcefully reinstall the president. For an op-ed in the New York Times, Kerry went so far as to argue that the United States’ “credibility as a world leader is at stake” if the U.S. government didn’t huff and puff some more and then “seek international approval to use military force.”
SENATOR KERRY ARGUED IN the May 1994 op-ed that though “Father Aristide” (Don’t. Ask.) might have been a bit unsavory, the real issue was the “restoration of the democratic process in Haiti.” Kerry called the Haitian army an “undisciplined collection of gun-wielding bullies” and then marched readers through a guided tour of recent crushing victories by U.S. forces. An international coalition led by U.S. troops, he wrote, could make quick work of the “junta” and then pull out, having made the world safe for democracy.
Later that year President Bill Clinton, who was normally allergic to such things, ordered the invasion of Haiti. The Haitian military leaders went quietly, so the invasion and brief occupation was largely bloodless. Aristide returned from exile and served out the remainder of his term and then proceeded to undermine Haiti’s democracy. Threats and intimidation were the normal way of things, as was vote-rigging and outright violence. One component of Aristide’s goon squads was a group with the cute nickname the “Cannibal Army.”
Readers might think that Kerry would have learned from this experience but they would be very wrong. When Aristide was driven from the country this February by armed opposition, Kerry entertained charges that the Bush administration had orchestrated it. Though he admitted that Aristide “had a lot of problems,” the candidate charged that the White House was “very ideologically colored in their approach,” and had a “theological” axe to grind with the president cum dictator.
Flash forward to the present: Wracked by recent hurricanes and tropical storms, Haiti is even more of a shambles than usual. The flooding in some places has been nearly ten feet of water. Thousands drowned and food and sanitary water are in short supply. The massive erosion of topsoil may mean a sharp drop in crops from farming next year.
About the worst thing that could happen in this environment would be for rich foreigners to be driven away, and yet that is precisely what is occurring. Violent forces are killing all kinds of people — political opponents, cops, foreigners — and often in brutal ways. Over 50 people have been killed so far and, given the lack of decent coverage in Haiti, that number is sure to be revised upward with time.
ONE SUCH EVACUEE is Bernie Bovenkamp, founder of Starfish Ministries, which funds and runs an orphanage in Tricotte, in northern Haiti. Though he lives in Lynden, Washington, he tries to spend a week or two out of every two months in Haiti, and has extensive ties with the locals. On his last visit, Bovenkamp was delayed from getting to the orphanage by floods and then decided to get out of Dodge when reports of decapitations started to fill the news.
In an interview Sunday, Bovenkamp acknowledged that the timing was awful. The orphanage has had to take in more children after the flooding, and it’s no mean feat to supply over 100 kids with food and clean water while the normal channels of distribution have broken down. For a cause of the unrest, Bovenkamp fingered Kerry’s support for Aristide and the possibility that the Democrat will win in November: “The word is — in Haiti and other parts of the world — that if Kerry is elected, Aristide will go home.” In this interpretation, pro-Aristide forces are “keeping the heat up” to destabilize the current regime and invite the intervention of a President Kerry.
Bovenkamp’s account is consistent with several news reports and it makes a sort of gruesome sense. After all, the U.S. has a long history of intervening in Haiti and Kerry did play a large role in bringing Aristide back to power last time. Would local Aristide supporters be loco to think the senator might be nudged into doing it again?
Now follow the plumb line all the way down. Kerry is not yet elected and his candidacy is helping to destabilize a country that was already precariously perched. He played a big part in installing a politician who turned out to be a tyrant and when that strong man was removed he insisted that the guy was misunderstood, accusing the White House of ideological rigidity, which very likely contributed to political intimidation and bloodshed. This is the man who will bring sanity to our country’s foreign policy?
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