The last thing Haiti needs is a foreign military intervention
The Biden administration is throwing its support behind a misguided push for international intervention in Haiti.
The United States has drafted a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for an armed multinational force to be sent to the Caribbean country over the express opposition of most Haitians and the bulk of Haitian civil society.
The unelected and widely despised Haitian authorities under acting prime minister Ariel Henry have appealed for outside forces to restore order, but the people of Haiti have made it as clear as they can that Henry and his allies do not speak for them and that their request has no legitimacy. The United States has meddled too often and caused too much harm to Haiti over the decades, and it is time that our government stop its habit of baleful interference and let the people of Haiti chart their own course.
The long history of failed and destructive outside interference in Haitian affairs shows that neither the United States nor the U.N. has the solution to Haiti’s political problems. Each time that outside forces have meddled in the name of helping Haiti, they have reliably made things worse. The current crisis is itself the product of ongoing interference on the part of the U.S. government, which backed former President Jovenel Moïse when he was alive and has been instrumental in keeping Henry in power despite his lack of democratic legitimacy and the broad coalition of Haitians opposed to his continued rule. That is a continuation of a destructive pattern of U.S. backing for abusive Haitian leaders that goes back to the Cold War and an even longer tradition of U.S. domination that goes back centuries.
The United States and other outside powers have consistently refused to let Haitians decide their own political future, and now they propose to send troops once again regardless of what the population wants.
It is true that Haiti has been suffering from a deteriorating security situation that has grown worse since Moïse’sassassination in 2021, but sending in foreign troops isn’t the answer.
The last U.N. mission in Haiti was a debacle marred by extensive human rights abuses, including sexual assault of young women and girls, and the spread of cholera. In his book, “The Big Truck That Went By,” journalist Jonathan Katz summed up the legacy of the international relief effort after the 2010 earthquake this way: “Having sought above all to prevent riots, ensure stability, and prevent disease, the responders helped spark the first, undermine the second, and by all evidence caused the third.” That awful experience has understandably soured most Haitians on a repeat performance. As Chantal Ismé of Maison d’Haïti, a Montreal-based non-profit Haitian community organization, put it, “Why now would we trust these people?”
Interventionists have no good answers for this question.
Haitian civil society leaders have been unequivocal that foreign intervention is not needed or wanted. An umbrella coalition of Haitian organizations, The Commission for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis, also known as the Montana Accord, rejected the government’s call for outside military assistance, and they have been joined by other Haitian organizations in their opposition to an outside imposed solution. Respect for Haitian sovereignty and independence requires that the United States and its international partners defer to the wishes of the Haitian people no matter what their current unelected de facto leaders may want.
Reflexive interventionists in Washington have been banging the drum to send foreign forces into the country ever since the last president was killed. The Washington Post has been leading the charge for outside intervention, and the paper’s editors welcomed the news that the administration was coming around to their view. This drift towards reckless interference must not be allowed to continue. It is time for members of Congress and the public to speak up and say plainly that the United States should not support or participate in a military intervention in Haiti, because it is not in the interests of our country or theirs. As Mario Joseph and Brian Concannon wrote earlier this year, “Haitians insist—with history and local knowledge on their side—that another foreign military mission would be an expensive, brutal failure.”
Advocates for outside intervention have failed to recognize the deep popular hostility to another international mission, and they are seriously underestimating the dangers of sending unprepared foreign soldiers into a political situation as explosive as this one. The former U.S. special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, has been warning anyone who will listen that outside intervention is risking a catastrophe. Foote resigned from his post last year out of disgust with U.S. policy, including the deportations of Haitians at the U.S. border. He told Ryan Grim of The Intercept that military intervention is no solution at all:
“But the major reason I resigned is because I saw U.S. policy moving in exactly this direction, toward intervention, which is, as Einstein said—and I’ll paraphrase—trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity. And in Haiti, each time the international community has intervened without Haitian and popular support, the situation is stabilized temporarily, and then it becomes much worse over time.”
There is good reason to fear that introducing foreign troops into Haiti would exacerbate the country’s security problems over the longer term rather than bring them under control. There is a strong possibility that Haiti’s armed gangs would resist a foreign military presence, but beyond that there is a danger of provoking a popular uprising against outside forces that are not wanted there. If foreign forces are seen as propping up a government hated by most of the people, they will naturally become the target of the population’s ire. It will not be possible for any would-be stabilization force to maintain order if it is seen as an illegitimate occupation keeping an illegitimate leadership in power.
Military intervention would be a risky proposition even if it enjoyed broad popular support, but to pursue it when there is so much vocal opposition to it inside the country is inexcusable arrogance. As Foote told The Intercept, “It’s almost unfathomable that all Haitians are calling for a different solution, yet the U.S and the U.N and international [institutions] are blindly stumbling through with Ariel Henry.”
It is not too late for the Biden administration to change course and avoid making a terrible blunder, but to do that it must abandon this idea of backing a multinational force and begin listening to what most Haitians are saying about how to address their country’s crisis.
The right course of action is to withdraw U.S. backing for a de facto government that has no legitimacy, assist in determining who was responsible for the assassination of Moïse, and support Haitian civil society organizations as they prepare the way for new elections on a timetable of their choosing. That will only be the beginning, and it will not quickly or easily solve Haiti’s problems, but it will have the advantage of not making things worse.