Haiti: Barbara Lee Doesn’t Speak for Me

It wasn’t very long ago that Congresswoman Barbara Lee, of my district here in Berkeley, California, stood up and cast a single dissenting vote against authorizing the use of military force in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. She was praised by antiwar voices nationwide–mostly leftists–who commended her vote against the Afghanistan invasion, and she was criticized heavily by mainstream groups including conservatives, moderate Democrats, and the NAACP. Ever since then, I’ve seen cars and store windows in Berkeley donning signs that read, “Barbara Lee Speaks for Me.”

Her leftist politics never excited me, but neither do those of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress. Rankin, who among only several dozen others voted against a Declaration of War in World War I, and who cast the only vote against going to war in World War II. I disagree with many of the positions of Lee and Rankin, but I came to consider them both heroic women for their willingness to vote their conscience on the most crucial and difficult issue that ever faces America’s lawmakers–whether to go to war.

In the last few weeks, however, Barbara Lee has been far from a principled voice against U.S. foreign intervention. She has repeatedly urged that Bush intervene in Haiti, to protect the “democratic” presidency of Aristide against rebel forces.

The hypocrisy just leaps off her press releases. “If the U.S. doesn’t want a violent overthrow and a coup d’etat,” she said on February 25, “the Administration must forge a ceasefire, insist that both sides lay down their arms, and ensure that any political decisions made are in accordance with the rule of law and the Haitian constitution.” In solidarity with other lawmakers who insisted on February 26 that President Bush “must act now,” she trumpeted that “Haitians are dying every day, and in response to the bloodshed, the United States must do its part to promote stability in a sovereign nation in our own hemisphere.”

If the United States has a positive obligation to “promote stability” in Haiti, what was wrong in principle with our government “liberating” the Iraqi people? Perhaps she would say that the death and destruction in Iraq, waged by the U.S. military, is not what she has in mind. She simply wants the U.S. government to act as peacemaker in our hemisphere, not go on imperial and bloody nation building expeditions across the globe. But how can she trust the Bush Administration to restore order peacefully in Haiti when she should be well aware of the Orwellian way in which it has “restored order” and “brought peace” to Iraq? If she could not trust George Bush to use force in response to an actual terrorist attack against America, why on earth would she call upon him to “act now” with Haiti?

The reason I’m picking so much on Barbara Lee is that she represents a strain of imperialism, or “soft Wilsonianism,” that many of today’s critics of Bush’s war policies embrace–foolish interventionism masked under humanitarian rhetoric. Even Lee, who is much less a hawk than many in today’s liberal “anyone-but-Bush” movement, supports foreign intervention if it has the ostensible goal of advancing democracy or restoring peace, and so long as it is done diplomatically.

In fact, advancing democracy is the project she has in mind as far as Haiti is concerned. Lee is “outraged that the democratically-elected President of Haiti, a country where a true democracy has recently emerged after decades of autocratic rule, has been pushed out by an Administration anxious to get rid of him.” She accuses Bush of “a campaign of misinformation in order to carry out what is essentially a coup d’etat.” She wanted Bush to actively protect Aristide from rebel opposition, but instead he intervened in the wrong way, so now she wants answers. That’s the precise reason not to “call upon” the government to act in matters like this: there’s no pleasing everyone.

Of course, Lee forgets to mention that the “democratic” regime of Aristide was maintained by Bill Clinton’s deployment of 20,000 troops in 1994 in what was then called an intervention to stop “a threat to international peace.”

If Aristide is such a great leader, he would not have needed the world’s biggest superpower to back him up then, and he would not need such assistance now.

The fact is, Haiti is like dozens of other countries in the world that have endured American intervention in recent decades for the purpose of “restoring order,” “protecting democracy,” or ensuring “international peace.” It would be very hard to cite many successes among them. Some humanitarian interventionists would argue that the United States has an obligation to protect Haiti, because of the errors of its past interventions. But a similar argument could be made for ousting Saddam: the United States helped put him in power, and it is now fulfilling its obligation in cleaning up the mess.

Barbara Lee, like all the do-gooder soft-Wilsonian interventionists, does not speak for me. The U.S. government has no business going around attempting to make the world safe for democracy, any more than it should pursue a policy of regime change against nations that have not threatened us. In both such interventions, America’s freedom, wealth, and honor decline in pursuit of failed, deadly adventures abroad.

It is a depressing fact that if Bush loses the election in November, we have no guarantee that the Democrats will in any way temper the excesses, arrogance, bloodshed, and corruption of the War on Terrorism, but that we can expect to see more Somalias, Kosovos, and Haitis, in the style of Bill Clinton and “peace advocates” such as Barbara Lee.

Author: Anthony Gregory

Anthony Gregory is a former research fellow at the Independent Institute.