One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that
the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the
fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in
Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology
hold a monopoly of power in Washington.
Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues
hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what
is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple,
their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind.
And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious
to the facts.
Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first secretary
of the interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the
ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told
the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant
in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony
he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come
Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he
was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots
out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible
is literally true -- one-third of the American electorate, if
a recent Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several
million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in
the rapture index.
That's right -- the rapture index. Google it and you will find
that the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes
of the "Left Behind" series written by the Christian
fundamentalist and religious-right warrior Timothy LaHaye. These
true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in
the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate
passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has
captivated the imagination of millions of Americans.
Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British writer
George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I
am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding): Once Israel
has occupied the rest of its "biblical lands," legions
of the antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown
in the valley of Armageddon.
As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah
will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out
of their clothes and transported to Heaven, where, seated next
to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and
religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and
frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.
I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the literature.
I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas
to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they
tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment
of biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity
with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support
with money and volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them
was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations where
four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates
will be released to slay the third part of man." A war with
Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed
-- an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last
time I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144 -- just one
point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow,
the son of God will return, the righteous will enter Heaven and
sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.
So what does this mean for public policy and the environment?
Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist
Glenn Scherer -- "The Road to Environmental Apocalypse."
Read it and you will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists
may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded
but actually welcomed -- even hastened -- as a sign of the coming
As Grist makes clear, we're not talking about a handful of fringe
lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half
the U.S. Congress before the recent election -- 231 legislators
in total and more since the election -- are backed by the religious
Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned
80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential
Christian right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,
Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon
Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip
Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian
coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted
from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor: "The
days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine
in the land." He seemed to be relishing the thought.
And why not? There's a constituency for it. A 2002 Time-CNN poll
found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies
found in the book of Revelations are going to come true. Nearly
one-quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Drive
across the country with your radio tuned to the more than 1,600
Christian radio stations, or in the motel turn on some of the
250 Christian TV stations, and you can hear some of this end-time
gospel. And you will come to understand why people under the spell
of such potent prophecies cannot be expected, as Grist puts it,
"to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth,
when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological
collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why
care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued
in the rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar
when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and
fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a
Because these people believe that until Christ does return, the
Lord will provide. One of their texts is a high school history
book, "America's Providential History." You'll find
there these words: "The secular or socialist has a limited-resource
mentality and views the world as a pie ... that needs to be cut
up so everyone can get a piece." However, "[t]he Christian
knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that there is
no shortage of resources in God's earth ... while many secularists
view the world as overpopulated, Christians know that God has
made the earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to
accommodate all of the people."
No wonder Karl Rove goes around the White House whistling that
militant hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers." He turned
out millions of the foot soldiers on Nov. 2, including many who
have made the apocalypse a powerful driving force in modern American
It is hard for the journalist to report a story like this with
any credibility. So let me put it on a personal level. I myself
don't know how to be in this world without expecting a confident
future and getting up every morning to do what I can to bring
it about. So I have always been an optimist. Now, however, I think
of my friend on Wall Street whom I once asked: "What do you
think of the market?"I'm optimistic," he answered. "Then
why do you look so worried?" And he answered: "Because
I am not sure my optimism is justified."
I'm not, either. Once upon a time I agreed with Eric Chivian
and the Center for Health and the Global Environment that people
will protect the natural environment when they realize its importance
to their health and to the health and lives of their children.
Now I am not so sure. It's not that I don't want to believe that
-- it's just that I read the news and connect the dots.
I read that the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency has declared the election a mandate for President Bush
on the environment. This for an administration:
That wants to rewrite the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water
Act and the Endangered Species Act protecting rare plant and animal
species and their habitats, as well as the National Environmental
Policy Act, which requires the government to judge beforehand
whether actions might damage natural resources.
That wants to relax pollution limits for ozone; eliminate
vehicle tailpipe inspections, and ease pollution standards for
cars, sport-utility vehicles and diesel-powered big trucks and
That wants a new international audit law to allow corporations
to keep certain information about environmental problems secret
from the public.
That wants to drop all its new-source review suits against
polluting, coal-fired power plants and weaken consent decrees
reached earlier with coal companies.
That wants to open the Arctic [National] Wildlife Refuge
to drilling and increase drilling in Padre Island National Seashore,
the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world
and the last great coastal wild land in America.
I read the news just this week and learned how the Environmental
Protection Agency had planned to spend $9 million -- $2 million
of it from the administration's friends at the American Chemistry
Council -- to pay poor families to continue to use pesticides
in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to neurological
damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use,
the government and the industry were going to offer the families
$970 each, as well as a camcorder and children's clothing, to
serve as guinea pigs for the study.
I read all this in the news.
I read the news just last night and learned that the administration's
friends at the International Policy Network, which is supported
by Exxon Mobil and others of like mind, have issued a new report
that climate change is "a myth, sea levels are not rising"
[and] scientists who believe catastrophe is possible are "an
I not only read the news but the fine print of the recent appropriations
bill passed by Congress, with the obscure (and obscene) riders
attached to it: a clause removing all endangered species protections
from pesticides; language prohibiting judicial review for a forest
in Oregon; a waiver of environmental review for grazing permits
on public lands; a rider pressed by developers to weaken protection
for crucial habitats in California.
I read all this and look up at the pictures on my desk, next
to the computer -- pictures of my grandchildren. I see the future
looking back at me from those photographs and I say, "Father,
forgive us, for we know not what we do." And then I am stopped
short by the thought: "That's not right. We do know what
we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust.
Despoiling their world."
And I ask myself: Why? Is it because we don't care? Because we
are greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our
ability to sustain indignation at injustice?
What has happened to our moral imagination?
On the heath Lear asks Gloucester: "How do you see the world?"
And Gloucester, who is blind, answers: "I see it feelingly.'"
I see it feelingly.
The news is not good these days. I can tell you, though, that
as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story.
The news can be the truth that sets us free -- not only to feel
but to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is
the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer
to those faces looking back at me from those photographs on my
desk. What we need is what the ancient Israelites called hochma
-- the science of the heart ... the capacity to see, to feel and
then to act as if the future depended on you.
Believe me, it does.
Bill Moyers was host until recently of the weekly public affairs
series "NOW with Bill Moyers" on PBS. This article is
adapted from AlterNet, where it first appeared. The text is taken
from Moyers' remarks upon receiving the Global Environmental Citizen
Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at
Harvard Medical School.
Our president asks for "determination" in Iraq. Our
sons and daughters continue to die. The Iraqi people resent and
resist our occupation. And we are seeing photographs of American
soldiers torturing prisoners.
When I returned from Vietnam in 1969 and began to speak out against
that misbegotten war, I was often paired on talk shows with some
representative of the government to present an "alternative
view." Photographs of the My Lai massacre had appeared in
the pages of Life magazine so that no one could plausibly deny
that our soldiers had committed atrocities. We were an army of
occupation and a determined indigenous enemy was bleeding us dry.
And yet the smug argument that I heard was, "Exactly how
do you propose leaving?" How can we abandon our POWs in Hanoi?
There will be a bloodbath if we leave. The dominoes will fall
and all of Southeast Asia will become Communist. No government
will ever trust our word again.
And so we persisted for four more years. Twenty-five thousand
additional Americans died along with countless Vietnamese. What
did this buy us? South Vietnam, as predicted, collapsed without
us. Now we return there as tourists and trade with our former
Determination in the pursuit of folly is the indulgence of fools.
We cannot persist without further incalculable harm to our place
in the world and our sense of ourselves as a humane and decent
people. We must not be intimidated by the cabal who took us there
and who now stand on the ash heap of their mistakes and try to
shift the onus to come up with a plan of disengagement.
We cannot win this war. What will follow our departure may well
be an unfriendly Islamic state. We may leave behind "Afghanistan
on steroids," a terrorist haven. We have sown the wind.
The answer to how we leave, now as with Vietnam, is the same
way we came: ships and trucks and planes.
Gordon Livingston is a psychiatrist in Columbia, Md., who
writes frequently for Insight.
Nine viewpoints on whether America should stay the course or
bring our troops home and let the Iraqi people try to rebuild
their own country.
The administration's Iraq policy is in shambles. Iraq has become
a geopolitical Humpty Dumpty that America cannot put back together,
and the time has come for the United States to withdraw.
Where does U.S. policy go from here? There are three options:
internationalizing the occupation, increasing U.S. troop strength
and cracking down hard on the insurgency, or withdrawal. Internationalizing
the occupation by bringing in the United Nations is a nonstarter
-- pure political grandstanding. Iraq now is so dangerous and
chaotic it is doubtful that the United Nations wants to step in
and take responsibility for trying to fix things.
Increasing American troop levels and suppressing the insurgency
is not a viable option, either. Although the United States has
enough firepower to dampen down the insurrection -- at least for
a while -- this would be a self-defeating policy because there
no longer is a military solution in Iraq.
The United States has no good options in Iraq, but the least
bad is this: Washington should transfer real sovereignty to the
Iraqis on June 30. It should tell the Iraqis to work out their
own political future among themselves, and it should turn over
full responsibility for Iraq's external and internal security
to the new regime in Baghdad.
Simultaneously, the United States also should suspend all offensive
military operations in Iraq, pull its forces back to defensive
enclaves well away from Iraq's cities, and commence a withdrawal
of U.S. forces from Iraq that will be completed on Dec. 31 or
There is no point in being Pollyannaish. In the long run, the
United States will be better off leaving Iraq. In the short-term,
however, there will be consequences -- not all of which are foreseeable
-- if the United States withdraws. But that misses the point.
Sooner or later, the United States is going to end up leaving
Iraq without having attained its goals. Washington's real choice
is akin to that posed in an old oil filter commercial that used
to run on television: America can pay now, or it can pay later
when the costs will be even higher.
Christopher Layne is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic
Foreign Policy and a visiting fellow in international politics.
This piece was excerpted from American Conservative magazine.
It is ironic that the policy on which George Bush and John Kerry
most strongly agree -- "staying the course" in Iraq
-- is a wrongheaded idea whose political and military costs and
consequences are spiraling out of control. Continued occupation
of Iraq will only lead to more death and suffering in that tortured
land, and to greater resentment of the United States throughout
the world. We may win all the firefights, but every new encounter
reinforces the point that we are losing the "battle of the
story." Fewer and fewer people, anywhere in the world, see
this as "liberation."
Staying in Iraq also means that our military continues to keep
its focus on nation-states rather than terror networks -- a fatal
distraction that al Qaeda and its affiliates take advantage of
to their great benefit. Last year saw 98 sizable terrorist attacks,
the greatest number ever, and 2004 will easily beat that grim
Terror is metastasizing. We need to shift strategic focus back
to al Qaeda.
For those who worry about "loss of face," remember
that great powers often make strategic adjustments that entail
embarrassment. The United States military retreated from Vietnam
in 1973, Lebanon after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing there
and Somalia after the 1993 Ranger debacle in Mogadishu. Yet we
won the Cold War and enjoy unparalleled power and prosperity today.
The sooner we withdraw from Iraq, the better. Withdrawing now
makes ethical, diplomatic and military sense. But this good idea
is a hostage of our presidential politics in which two bitter
rivals can only agree on doing the wrong thing.
John Arquilla is co-director of the Center on Terrorism at
the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
In rush to defend White House, Rice trips over
Walter Pincus, Dana Milbank, Washington Post
Friday, March 26, 2004
Washington -- This week's testimony and media blitz by former
White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke has returned
unwanted attention to his former boss, national security adviser
The refusal by President Bush's top security aide to testify
publicly before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks
elicited rebukes by commission members as they held open hearings
this week. Thomas Kean, the former New Jersey governor Bush named
to be chairman of the commission, said: "I think this administration
shot itself in the foot by not letting her testify in public."
At the same time, some of Rice's rebuttals of Clarke's broadside
against Bush, which she delivered in a flurry of media interviews
and statements rather than in testimony, contradicted other administration
officials and her own previous statements.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage contradicted Rice's
claim that the White House had a strategy before Sept. 11 for
military operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The CIA
contradicted Rice's earlier assertion that Bush had requested
a CIA briefing in the summer of 2001 because of elevated terrorist
threats. And Rice's assertion this week that Bush had told her
on Sept. 16, 2001, that "Iraq is to the side" appeared
to be contradicted by an order signed by Bush on Sept. 17 directing
the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion
Rice, in turn, has contradicted Vice President Dick Cheney's
assertion that Clarke was "out of the loop" and his
intimation that Clarke had been demoted. Rice has also given various
conflicting accounts. She criticized Clarke for being the architect
of failed Clinton administration policies, but also said she had
retained Clarke so the Bush administration could continue to pursue
Clinton's terrorism policies.
National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack defended many
of Rice's assertions, saying that she had been more consistent
Rice so far has refused to provide testimony under oath to the
commission that could possibly resolve the contradictions. Wednesday
night, she told reporters, "I would like nothing better in
a sense than to be able to go up and do this, but I have a responsibility
to maintain what is a long-standing constitutional separation
between the executive and the legislative branch."
The White House, reacting to the public relations difficulties
caused by the refusal to allow Rice's testimony, asked the commission
Thursday to give Rice another opportunity to speak privately with
panel members to address "mischaracterizations of Dr. Rice's
statements and positions."
Democratic commission member Richard Ben-Veniste disclosed this
week that Rice had asked, in her private meetings with the commission,
to revise a statement she made publicly that "I don't think
anybody could have predicted that those people could have taken
an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center ... that they
would try to use an airplane as a missile." Rice told the
commission that she had misspoken; the commission has received
information that prior to Sept. 11, U.S. intelligence agencies,
and Clarke, had talked about terrorists using airplanes as missiles.
In an op-ed essay Monday in the Washington Post, Rice wrote that
"through the spring and summer of 2001, the national security
team developed a strategy to eliminate" al Qaeda that included
"sufficient military options to remove the Taliban regime"
including the use of ground forces.
But Armitage, testifying this week as the White House representative,
said the military part was not in the plan before Sept. 11. "I
think that was amended after the horror of 9/11," he said.
McCormack said Rice's statement was accurate because the team
had discussed including orders for such military plans to be drawn
In the same article, Rice belittled Clarke's proposals by writing:
"The president wanted more than a laundry list of ideas simply
to contain al Qaeda or 'roll back' the threat. Once in office,
we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to 'eliminate'
the al Qaeda network." Rice asserted that while Clarke and
others provided ideas, "No al Qaeda plan was turned over
to the new administration." That same day, she said most
of Clarke's ideas "had been already tried or rejected in
the Clinton administration."
But in her interview with NBC two days later, Rice appeared to
take a different view of Clarke's proposals. "He sent us
a set of ideas that would perhaps help to roll back al Qaeda over
a three- to five-year period; we acted on those ideas very quickly.
And what's very interesting is that ... Dick Clarke now says that
we ignored his ideas, or we didn't follow them up."
Asked about this apparent discrepancy, McCormack pointed a reporter
to a Clarke background briefing in 2002 in which the then-White
House aide was defending the president's efforts in fighting terrorism.
Rebels Threatened to Attack Capital Unless Leader Resigned
By Tim Weiner and Lydia Polgreen
Published: February 29, 2004
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 29 President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide left Haiti at dawn today, resigning under intense pressure
from the United States, according to Haitian and American officials.
Mr. Aristide was the first democratically elected president in
Haiti's 200 years of independence, following a long line of dictators,
despots and military men. His presidency crumbled as armed rebels
seized Haiti's north this month and Bush administration officials
announced an "Aristide must go" stance this weekend.
The rebels, led by veterans of Haiti's army, disbanded by Mr.
Aristide, had threatened to attack the capital unless the president
Mr. Aristide flew from Haiti on a small jet that left Port-au-Prince
about 6:45 a.m, according to a United States official here. There
were conflicting reports on where Mr. Aristide was headed.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Boniface Alexandre, was
sworn in as the head of a transitional government until elections
"The task will not be an easy one," Mr. Alexandre said
at a news conference. "Haiti is in crisis."
He added that the country "needs all its sons and daughters.
No one should take justice into their own hands."
In the wake of Mr. Aristide's departure, gunfire was heard in
the capital and smoke was seen rising from the city center.
Mr. Aristide was a radical Catholic priest when he rose to prominence
in the 1980's as an opponent of military rule and political dictatorship
in Haiti. He was expelled from his order for his politics in 1988
and became the leader of a political coalition seeking democracy.
Elected president overwhelmingly in 1990, he was overthrown in
a violent military coup in 1991 and fled into exile, first to
Venezuela, then the United States.
He was returned to power in 1994 by a military invasion led by
the United States. Haiti's constitution barred him from succeeding
himself as president, but he won a second five-year term in 2000.
Over the next three years, his power eroded as political corruption
in his government and political anger in the street grew out of
Many of his former supporters became his sworn enemies. An armed
rebellion erupted in Haiti's north on Feb. 5, and several hundred
of the rebels quickly seized half the nation and threatened to
storm the capital, sparking fear and havoc.
Roughly 100 Haitians have been killed in battles among rebels,
police and Aristide supporters this month. Hundreds more have
tried to flee in boats bound for Florida; most have been intercepted
by the United States Coast Guard and shipped back to Haiti.
Mr. Aristide's fall was sudden. Barely 32 hours before he left,
in his last address to the nation as president, he said, "I
will be at my desk on Monday."
American policy toward Mr. Aristide shifted swiftly, too.
In July, Brian Dean Curran, then the United States ambassador
here, said, "The United States accepts President Aristide
as the constitutional president of Haiti for his term of office
ending in 2006."
The Bush administration decided in the past three days, as a
senior administration official said Saturday, that "Aristide
must go," regardless of his constitutional authority. That
message was communicated directly to Mr. Aristide hours before
he left this morning. France, Haiti's colonial occupier, also
called for the president to step down.
In a statement issued Saturday night and authorized by President
Bush, the White House blamed Mr. Aristide for "the deep polarization
and violent unrest that we are witnessing in Haiti today."
His departure enables a proposed international peacekeeping force
to land in Port-au-Prince, secure the capital and enable desperately
needed food and economic assistance to flow to Haiti, the poorest
nation in the Western hemisphere.
That force would try to stabilize Haiti a task that could
take years and prevent a fresh flood of desperate refugees
trying to reach Florida.
Luigi Einaudi, assistant secretary general of the Organization
of American States and the group's point man on Haiti, who met
often with Mr. Aristide and his opponents, trying to resolve Haiti's
deepening political crisis, said in a telephone interview this
morning that Mr. Aristide "did what he felt was right for
his country, which is in a very polarized state."
"I hope that a succession can be handled constitutionally
and peacefully, without excessive turmoil," Mr. Einaudi said.
"I'm very concerned that the situation has so already undermined
any state authority that things will be difficult in Haiti for
a long time."
Robert Fatton Jr., a native of Haiti and chairman of the politics
department at the University of Virginia, agreed.
"There are no functioning institutions in Haiti," he
said. "Things could very easily unravel. I think we are in
for a long crisis. You are going to have a hellish situation without
an international peacekeeping force. The armed gangs could go
wild. It looks to be a vacuum of power in the short term and that's
very dangerous, if there is no center and the country cannot hold."
In Haiti, a paramilitary group has been making coordinated attacks
on towns and cities, overwhelming understaffed, underequipped
and ill-trained members of the national police force. The group
has been burning police stations and setting free prisoners, both
ordinary criminals and people convicted of involvement in massacres.
It has been looting and rounding up supporters of the elected
government and, apparently, killing anyone who tries to oppose
This group seems to be operating with the tacit approval of some
of the politicians who oppose Haiti's government. But many of
these rebels, as news reports call them, have unsavory records.
Some are former soldiers from the disbanded Haitian Army, which
in 1991 deposed Haiti's first democratically elected president,
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and ruled the country with cruelty and
corruption for three years. Another was a ranking member of an
organization that aided the army in terrorizing the country during
that period. This rebel group seems to enjoy sanctuary within
the Dominican Republic and free passage across the border between
that country and Haiti.
For several years, the rebels have been making raids into Haiti,
including a commando-style assault on the presidential palace
in 2001 and, in 2003, an attack on a hydroelectric dam, during
which they burned the control station, murdered two security guards
and stole an ambulance. Clearly, they were just getting warmed
up. Their leaders now boast that they will soon be in control
of the entire country.
I first went to Haiti in 1994, for research on an article about
some of the American soldiers sent to restore the country's elected
government. I have spent parts of the past several years there,
working on a book about an American doctor and a public health
system that he helped to create in an impoverished rural region.
The Haiti that I experienced was very different from the Haiti
that I had read about back in the United States, and this disconnection
is even stronger for me today.
Recent news reports, for example, perhaps in laudable pursuit
of evenhandedness, have taken pains to assert that President Aristide
and his Lavalas Party have been using armed thugs of their own
to enforce their will on the country. The articles imply that
the current crisis in Haiti is an incipient war between two factions
roughly equal in illegitimacy. But I have interviewed leaders
of the opposition, and can say with certainty that theirs is an
extremely disparate group, which includes members of the disbanded
army and former officials of the repressive regime of Jean-Claude
Duvalier and also people who were persecuted by both these
This is an opposition that has so far shown itself unable to
agree on much of anything except its determination to get rid
of Mr. Aristide. Most important, the various leaders of this opposition
have enjoyed little in the way of electoral success, the true
measure of legitimacy in any country that calls itself a democracy.
Mr. Aristide, by contrast, has been elected president twice, by
overwhelming margins, and his party won the vast majority of seats
in Parliament in the last legislative elections, held in May 2000.
Press reports generally date the current crisis to those elections,
which they describe as flawed. In fact, they were flawed, but
less flawed than we have been led to believe. Eight candidates,
seven of them from Lavalas, were awarded seats in the Senate,
even though they had won only pluralities. Consequently, many
foreign diplomats expressed concern, and some went so far as to
call the election "fraudulent."
But to a great extent, the proceedings were financed, managed
and overseen by foreigners, and in the immediate aftermath many
monitors declared a victory for Haiti's nascent democracy. Sixty
percent of the country's eligible voters went to polling stations,
many trudging for miles along mountain paths, then waiting for
hours in the hot sun to vote. Moreover, those eight contested
Senate seats didn't affect the balance of power in Parliament.
Even if it had lost them all, Mr. Aristide's party would still
have had a clear majority.
Citing the flaws in those elections, the United States and other
foreign governments refused to monitor the presidential election
that followed, later in 2000, which Mr. Aristide won handily.
The opposition boycotted the affair and still claims that the
election was illegitimate, but it does so against the weight of
the evidence. This includes a Gallup poll commissioned by the
United States government but never made public. (I obtained a
copy last year.) It shows that as of 2002 Mr. Aristide remained
far and away the most popular political figure in Haiti.
Again citing the flawed elections as its reason, the Bush administration
also led a near total embargo on foreign aid to the Haitian government
even blocking loans from the Inter-American Development
Bank for improvements in education, roads, health care and water
supplies. Meanwhile, the administration has supported the political
opposition. This is hardly a destructive act, unless, as Mr. Aristide's
supporters believe, the aim has been to make room for an opposition
by weakening the elected government.
They have a point. Over the past several years, the United States
and the Organization of American States have placed increasingly
onerous demands on Mr. Aristide. Foreign diplomats insisted that
the senators in the contested seats resign; all did so several
months after Mr. Aristide's re-election. Though Mr. Aristide called
for new elections, the opposition demanded that he himself step
down before it would cooperate. Last year, a State Department
official in Haiti, speaking on condition of anonymity, told me
that the United States wouldn't tolerate that kind of intransigence
but also said that no support for new elections would be forthcoming
until President Aristide improved "security." And yet
by the time the diplomat said this, the administration had long
since withdrawn support from Haiti's fledgling police force, with
predictable and now obvious results.
Mr. Aristide has been accused of many things. A few days ago,
a news report described him as "uncompromising." For
more than a week now, American and other diplomats have been trying
to broker a deal whereby the president would appoint a new prime
minister acceptable to the opposition. Mr. Aristide has agreed.
So far the opposition has refused, insisting again that the president
It was the United States that restored Mr. Aristide to power
in 1994, but since his re-election our government has made rather
brazen attempts to undermine his presidency. One could speculate
endlessly on American motives, but the plain fact is that American
policy in Haiti has not served American interests, not if those
include the establishment of democracy in Haiti, or the prevention
of the kind of chaos and bloodletting that has led in the past
to boatloads of refugees heading for Florida.
One could also argue about the failings and sins of all the quarreling
factions inside Haiti. But there are more important considerations.
Haitians have endured centuries of horror: first slavery under
the French, and then, since their revolution, nearly two centuries
of corrupt, repressive misrule, aided and abetted by foreign powers,
including the United States. All this has helped to make Haiti
one of the world's poorest countries, and its people, according
to the World Bank, among the most malnourished on earth.
The majority of Haitians have been struggling for nearly two
decades to establish a democratic political system. It is important
to this effort that Haiti's current elected president leave office
constitutionally, not through what would be the country's 33rd
coup d'état. Progress toward this difficult goal may still
be possible, if the warring politicians within the country and
the various foreign nations that have involved themselves in Haiti's
affairs pull together now and put a stop to the growing incursions
of terrorists. If this does not happen, there is little hope for
Haiti. The result, I fear, will be a new civil war, one that will
likely lead back to dictatorship and spill enough blood to cover
Tracy Kidder is the author, most recently, of "Mountains
In his annual report on the state of the economy, President Bush
predicted that the economy would create 2.6 million jobs in 2004.
As Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., quickly commented, this jobs number
must have come from the people who said that Saddam Hussein possessed
weapons of mass destruction.
It is not that creating 2.6 million jobs is an especially impressive
performance. The economy created 3 million jobs a year from 1996
to 2000. Furthermore, after three years in which the economy lost
jobs, it would be reasonable to expect that there would be a sharp
But the Bush economy continues to defy expectations, always surprising
on the low side. To hit the 2.6 million jobs target, the economy
would have to create 215,000 jobs a month. The average over the
last two months has been just 115,000. If there was evidence that
the economy was picking up steam, then it would be reasonable
to believe that the economy would make up for some months of weak
job growth at the beginning of the year.
Unfortunately, the evidence points in the opposite direction:
The economy appears to be running out of gas. It went into the
second half of 2003 turbocharged by the third round of Bush tax
cuts, coupled with an unprecedented boom in mortgage refinancing.
Mortgage debt increased by an incredible $940 billion annual rate
in the third quarter of last year, as families rushed to take
advantage of the lowest mortgage rates in almost 50 years.
Families didn't only use cheap mortgages to buy homes, they also
borrowed against their homes to buy cars and appliances, or to
pay for remodeling and vacations. This spurt of consumption led
to the extraordinary 8.4 percent GDP growth in the third quarter.
But in spite of this growth, few jobs were created. With the
fuel of the tax cuts and the mortgage refinancing boom past, the
economy seems certain to slow in the months ahead. The economy
was still growing at a healthy 4 percent at the end of 2004, but
with minimal job growth and wages barely keeping pace with inflation,
workers are running out of money to spend. Nevertheless, some
economic analysts are banking on a big boost from tax rebate checks
in the spring. This would be a sort of rebound from the tax cuts.
The cuts were passed in June, but applied retroactively to the
beginning of the year, so many workers had too much money withheld
from their checks in the first six months of 2003.
While getting this money refunded will put some extra dollars
in taxpayers' pockets, these refunds will be almost completely
offset by higher capital-gains taxes. For the first time since
2000, many investors had stock gains in 2003 on which they will
have to pay taxes. If capital gains tax collections rise just
halfway to their pre-crash levels, it will mean an additional
$40 billion in tax payments in the spring of 2004 compared to
2003. Without a boost from tax cuts, most other factors are likely
to push the economy down.
Continuing budget shortfalls are forcing state and local governments
to lay off workers and raise taxes. Huge overbuilding in commercial
real estate has been pushing nonresidential construction downward
for the last three years. It is only a matter of time before the
bursting of the housing bubble brings residential construction
down from its record highs.
Equipment investment may remain strong, but this will give more
of a boost to the economies of East Asia than the U.S. economy.
In short, it is hard to see how President Bush is going to reach
his target of 2.6 million jobs this year. It seems all but certain
that Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to
lose jobs on his watch. In setting goals for its economic policies,
particularly as they affect jobs, this is an administration that
strives for mediocrity and comes up short.
Dean Baker is co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy
Research in Washington.
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