Neoconservative hawk Max Boot, after reviewing the history of US military occupation of Haiti, claims that holding elections in Iraq will accomplish little and that nothing short of a sustained occupation of Iraq lasting decades will transform it into a democracy. (LA Times requires free registration)
Applying those lessons to Iraq today, it's obvious that holding an election — whether through direct balloting, as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani insists, or through caucuses, as U.S. proconsul L. Paul Bremer III prefers — has to be a secondary concern. The top priorities must be to create a constitution that upholds basic freedoms and an apolitical security force that upholds the constitution.
And it's vital that the U.S. not rush for the exits. Long-term imperial control, à la Haiti in the 1920s, is no longer acceptable. But American troops have to remain in Iraq for the long haul — probably decades, as in West Germany or in South Korea — to nurture that country's democratic development. If they leave prematurely, Iraq will turn into a Haiti with oil wells.
Would it take decades of occupation to transform Iraq into a semi-liberal democracy? Yes, of course. But here's the twist: A US occupation of Iraq for decades is not by itself enough to transform Iraq into a sustainable democracy. It seems unlikely that the Bush Administration has either the willingness or the understanding needed to start pursuing the kinds of transformations of Iraqi society it would take to make Iraq into a sustainable semi-liberal democracy. One of the practices in Iraqi society that must be changed in order to make Iraq into a nation-state with a limited amount of corruption and some loyalty on the part of the people toward their government is a great decline in the practice of cousin marriage. Don't expect the Bush Administration to tackle that one. Therefore do not expect US occupation of Iraq to cause much in the way of lasting changes.
Given that the US already has enough "nation-building" responsibility on its plate with troops on the ground dying daily there fortunately seems little chance that US troops will go into Haiti to deal with the increasing violence and breakdown of basic law and order there. Writing for the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Peter Bunce wrote a report in 1995 about the 20 year US occupation of Haiti.
Thesis: The first United States Occupation of Haiti, after a slow start, made a great variety of capital improvements for Haiti, made changes in the Haitian political system, and refinanced the Haitian economy, none of which had much lasting impact on the Haiti people once the occupation was terminated.
Background: The United States occupied Haiti originally to restore public order in 1915. It's self-imposed mandate quickly expanded to reestablishing Haitian credit in the international credit system, establishing good government and public order, and promoting investment in Haitian agriculture and industry. After a slow start, marred by a brutal revolt in 1918-20, the United States Occupation of Haiti was reorganized and began to address many of the perceived shortcomings of Haitian society. Its international and internal debt was refinanced, substantial public works projects completed, a comprehensive hospital system established, a national constabulary (the Gendarmerie [later Garde] d'Haiti) officered and trained by Marines, and several peaceful transitions of national authority were accomplished under American tutelage. After new civil unrest in 1929, the United States came to an agreement to end the Occupation before its Treaty-mandated termination in 1936. Once the Americans departed in 1934, Haiti reverted to its former state of various groups competing for national power to enrich themselves. Almost all changes the American Occupation attempted to accomplish failed in Haiti because they did not take into consideration the Haitian political and social culture. Recommendation: Before the United States intervenes in foreign countries, particularly in those where nation-building improvements are to be attempted, the political and social cultures of those countries must be taken into consideration.
Bill Clinton's later shorter occupation of Haiti was similarly naive and even more destined to fail due to its more limited scope. Now the French are discussing sending troops to Haiti. But unless the French want to stay for decades they will accomplish nothing lasting as well.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2004 February 17 10:48 AM Mideast Iraq|