Sunday, May 01, 2005

The U.S. backs most of the wrong horses

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, Indonesia
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

By Thang D. Nguyen, Program, Coordinator, United in Diversity Forum, JAKARTA

Finally, Jean-Bertrand Aristide gave up and fled Haiti under pressure from the U.S., which sent a batch of its marines to Port-au-Prince last Sunday as part of an international peacekeeping force authorized by the UN Security Council.

No applause, please! For one thing, the U.S. response was belated, after a month of rebellion in this violence-torn former French colony. The other, and more important, thing is that the U.S. should not have supported Aristide from the beginning.

America's relationship with Aristide has turned from sweet to sour in the past decade. Back in 1991, a military coup in Haiti brought Ltg. Cedras to power, and Aristide fled to the U.S. In 1994, as an effort to restore democracy in Haiti, former President Jimmy Carter and Gen. Colin Powell struck a deal with Ltg. Cedras and President Jonaissant for Aristide to come back to power. In the same year then President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 troops to back him up, and Aristide was back in power.

On the surface, the late response from the U.S. in the past few weeks in Haiti displays its distrust of Aristide in the recent years and desire to disassociate itself from him. Deep down inside, however, the US must regret -- though unwilling to admit -- that it has backed yet another wrong horse.

Post-Cold War U.S. foreign policy is marked by a shift from sending American troops overseas to stop Communism from spreading itself to playing the role of an international policeman, and recently to the so-called "regime change" paradigm.

In a nutshell, regime change means democratizing the world by selecting and backing local leaders that it deems suitable, willing, and able. By the same token, any national leader--democratically elected or otherwise -- that the U.S. considers non-democratic is likely to be pressured to resign or forced out of power by a U.S.-backed coup d'etat or, in the case of Saddam Hussein, a U.S. invasion.

The fact remains, most of the national leaders that the U.S. supports turn out to be corrupt dictators who, in the end, are forced out of power by their own peoples. Southeast Asia is a case in point. The US-backed regimes of the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos and Indonesia's Soeharto ended in turmoil.

Worse than being forced out of power and costing American taxpayers a dear sum of money, some of the U.S.-chosen national leaders become enemies of the states. Only about a decade ago, Osama bin Ladin was an American hero, who got tons of U.S. aids to fight the Russians.
But what is absurd is that, after its failures in globalizing democracy or regime change, the U.S. often goes back the UN and asks for its involvement. Let's take the Iraq War as an illustration of this point. After bypassing the UN Security Council, which opposed the war, the U.S. took a unilateral decision to invade Iraq and, thereby, diminished the relevance of the UN as the body of the international community.

As more coalition troops died in Iraq -- and this number is increasing everyday -- the U.S. went to the UN seeking its peacekeeping force. Luckily for the U.S., the bombing of the UN headquarter in Baghdad that killed UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello -- who was one of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's finest staffs and close friends -- left the UN no choice but to get involved.

The very fact that the U.S. goes back to the UN for help shows that the latter, despite its shortcomings and problems, still matters. Until we find something better, the UN is the only collective body that the international society has. So, until then, don't disregard or disrespect the UN yet because, as the U.S. has done many a time, you may need it before you realize it.
Back to the Aristide coup, the lesson for the U.S. is that it is not good at democratization, nor should it select and support national leaders for other peoples based on what it deems to be good for them. Let the peoples choose for themselves by whom they want to be governed. After all, "democracy is," said Abraham Lincoln, "the government of the people, by the people, for the people."

These are his personal views and, therefore, do not represent those of the Forum.


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