E o Haiti?
In revolutions the people take centre stage and the leaders follow - the popular will outpaces and overpowers the established institutions and moulds something essentially new from the old. But over the past week the Haitian people have been not actors but spectators in their own destiny, watching one band of armed thugs, who supported a leader with diminishing democratic legitimacy, replaced by another band of armed thugs, who support a movement with none at all, with the help of foreign governments. The death squad leaders, army officials and US marines are back. There are no longer any democratic violations to criticise because there is no longer any democracy. What happened was not a revolution but a coup. And no simple domestic overthrow either. This was the kind of regime change that the French and the US could sign up to.
The circumstances of Aristide's departure remain under dispute. Aristide says a huge number of US and Haitian "agents" came to his house and forced him on to a plane that eventually landed in the Central African Republic. The US says Aristide was resigned to exile once it was understood that he could no longer hold on to power, his life was in danger and bloodshed was inevitable.
You do not have to be an apologist for Aristide or an anti-American conspiracy theorist to grasp this. Just follow the quotes from the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, over the past month and the policy shifts are clear. On February 12, Powell told the Senate foreign relations committee: "The policy of the administration is not regime change [this will come as news to the Iraqis], President Aristide is the elected president of Haiti."
On February 17, he said. "We cannot buy into a proposition that says the elected president must be forced out of office by thugs and those who do not respect law and are bringing terrible violence to the Haitian people." By February 26, after a week of shopping around, he decided to buy into it after all. "[Aristide] is the democratically elected president, but he has had difficulties in his presidency, and I think ... whether or not he is able to effectively continue as president is something that he will have to examine." A day later he was selling it, arguing that Aristide, having "the interests of the Haitian people at heart", should "examine the situation he is in and make a careful examination of how best to serve the Haitian people at this time".
Just 48 hours later, after the coup, he was asking the rest of the world to wear it. He explained why the US had not been prepared to go into Haiti and support "an individual who may have been elected democratically but was not governing effectively or democratically".
Two key lessons emerge from this, which go beyond Haiti. The first is that military force is not just the most important element in US foreign policy, it is the beginning and the end of that policy. For the past 10 years, since the US restored Aristide to power, it could have trained the Haitian police and judiciary, invested in projects that shore up civil society and help create a democratic culture, increased aid and encouraged fair trade - all of which would have given Haiti a fighting chance of building a sustainable democracy. Instead, it imposed conditions by the IMF and the World Bank, followed it up with an embargo on the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and when none of that worked, sent in the marines against a nation with no army.
The second is that the US supports democracy when democracy supports the US. When it is inconvenient, as in Aristide's case, Washington will turn its back on it in a heartbeat. Faced with a clear choice of either sending the marines in to protect an elected president, however flawed, or an armed insurrection, they chose the insurrection because they didn't like the president.
"We can't be called upon, expected or required to intervene every time there is violence against a failed leader," said the State Department spokesperson, Richard Boucher, last week. "We can't spend our time running around the world and the hemisphere saving people who botched their chance at leadership."
However, the US can be called upon not to intervene to promote violence against elected leaders. This latest intervention did not prevent a bloodbath - more people were killed on the day Aristide left than on any other - and crushed what was left of democracy. Instead of breaking the spiral of violence, it has given it a new lease of life. Given that kind of legacy, the US should indeed stop "running around the world" to "save people". The Bush administration is doing a good job of botching leadership at home. There is no need to export it.