- Haiti is this week's failed state.
- "It has been a failed state for 200 years"
(National Review). "For the second time in a year the United States
is sending troops to a failed state" (Newsday). It joins "all
the other poorer, weaker countries that could become failed states"
(New York Times). Like Afghanistan: "We are talking about a failed
state" (Toronto Star). Liberia: "now considered a failed state"
(Times again). Or the "Arab world": "These failed states
will continue to export trouble" (Margaret Wente).
- You'd hardly know the term emerged a mere decade ago,
as "a disturbing new trend," in Foreign Policy magazine. It has
such a solid ring, like "empire" or "delegation." But
it is really more a sign to cheer or boo, smile or shudder than a way to
describe a real society.
- Talk about patronizing. Why not just call them losers?
(And do it quickly, before they call you a name first.) It puts someone
in their place while absolving the user of any blame for the failure, and
simultaneously justifying either intervention (poor things) or abstention
(they're hopeless). Neat trick.
- So I want to suggest that "failed" could also
be used the way "disappeared" is now used in Latin America: as
an active verb. Countries can "fail" other countries, the way
the police or army "disappear" protesters.
- Diana Johnstone, a fine U.S. journalist who has reported
from Europe for decades, recently wrote: "The great lesson of Vietnam
drawn by American strategists was that it was easier to arm a guerrilla
movement than to combat one, and easier to destroy an unfriendly state
than to build a friendly one. Nation-building was abandoned in favour of
destruction pure and simple." She applies this stunning, revisionist
model to Afghanistan.
- There the U.S. supported guerrillas like Osama bin Laden
in order to humiliate the Soviet Union and undermine it. Once that plan
succeeded, the U.S. abandoned Afghanistan.
- This is often attributed to the fecklessness of America,
or its short attention span, making U.S. policy sound klutzy yet endearing.
But what if leaving the country to the chaos of its warlords was deliberate?
If a troublesome lot, like the Taliban, then took power, the U.S. could
go back in, rebuild the guerrillas, change regimes, and buzz off again
ó as it has ó leaving more chaos till the next round. Nothing
is perfect, or forever. It's a matter of a failed state sometimes being
the best option.
- Now try this with Haiti. The U.S. navy intervened 24
times between 1849 and 1913 to support American business. In 1915, the
U.S. invaded and ruled for 19 years. It backed the brutal Duvaliers from
1956 to 1986. After its candidate lost to Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti's
first democratic election ever, in 1990, the U.S. supported a 1991 coup
that led to thousands massacred.
- It returned M. Aristide to power in 1994, but only after
he agreed to economic concessions that made social instability inevitable.
When he was re-elected massively in 1999, the U.S. forced the withholding
of $500-million in economic aid ó in a country whose yearly budget
- Why? Perhaps to warn against the kind of bad example
Haiti almost set in the Caribbean ó and so close to Cuba. This week
the U.S. backed the coup and insisted the president leave, though he was
ready to compromise. To the extent that Haiti has often "failed,"
it hardly did so on its own. In the real world ó personal or political
ó almost no one fails by themselves.
- Or take Iraq. Shia leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani blamed
the U.S. for failing to take security measures before this week's grisly
bombings. We warned them, he said. Is he just being an ingrate? The rational
people in the Bush government knew, before the war, that the likely outcome
of overthrowing Saddam would be civil war and chaos. (The fanatics among
them believed a miraculous, U.S.ñstyle, democratic transformation
would occur.) The question is: Did they find such an outcome acceptable?
- I know it seems counterintuitive. Globalizing business
leaders and foreign-policy wonks are supposed to value stability. But there
may be cases where it's unavailable, or its price is too high. In that
case, "failing" a state might offer its own perks. At the least,
it sounds pretty far outside the box.
- But I recently watched the 1969 film, Burn, with Marlon
Brando. It's vaguely modelled on Haiti's original revolution. The Brando
character, a British secret agent, first eggs the island's black slaves
into revolt against their European masters, then goads the light-skinned
urban merchant class into seizing control of the rebellion out of fear.
(Those merchants are dead ringers for the Haitian businessmen we saw on
CNN a lot last week.)
- The island itself ends up burned to the ground, its economy
destroyed. Don't worry, says the Brando character. It's happened before.
It's all for the best.
- © 2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights