Sunday, 25 Jul 2021

Weighing Haiti Intervention, U.S. Again Faces a Torturous Dilemma

Time and again, the world has found that propping up failing states is compelling in the short-term and potentially disastrous in the long-term.


By Max Fisher

Barely a week after withdrawing nearly all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, President Biden faces, in Haiti, a strikingly similar dilemma, now much closer to home.

In Afghanistan, Mr. Biden concluded that American forces could not be expected to prop up the country’s frail government in perpetuity. His critics argue that withdrawing makes Washington culpable for the collapse that seems likely to follow.

There is no threat of insurgent takeover in Haiti. But, with authorities there requesting American troops to help restore order and guard its assets, Mr. Biden faces a similar choice.

Past interventions in Haiti suggest that another could indeed forestall further descent into chaos. But those occupations lasted years, did little to address (and may have worsened) the underlying causes of that chaos, and left the United States responsible for what came after.

Still, after decades of involvement there, the United States is seen as a guarantor of Haiti’s fate, also much as in Afghanistan. Partly because of that involvement, both countries are afflicted with poverty, corruption and institutional weakness that leave their governments barely in control — leading to requests for more American involvement to prop them up.

Refusing Haiti’s request would make Washington partially responsible for the calamity that American forces likely could otherwise hold off. But agreeing would leave it responsible for managing another open-ended crisis of a sort that has long proven resistant to outside resolution.

Time after time, both policy roads — disorder through foreign inaction, or risky foreign intervention — though seemingly distinct, have led to the same destination for Haiti: an eroding political and economic order that many Haitians consider unbearable.

“The state has literally almost completely vanished,” said Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born political scientist at the University of Virginia. “And to some extent this is because of the pattern of assistance that was given to Haiti.”

The White House says it is working with Haitian leaders and the international community to guide Haiti out of crisis and toward deeper reforms. But there is little optimism that this will reverse the country’s trajectory.

Repeating History

The United States has faced versions of this dilemma in Haiti before, and with lessons that cut in both directions.

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