Ten years after

In 1994, the Clinton administration sent 20,000 American troops to Haiti to restore a democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to power. Aristide had been elected by a wide margin in 1990 but overthrown by a military junta several months later.

The intervention was the right thing to do, but it wasn’t enough, as events of the past weeks have shown. A miserably impoverished nation with a bloody history of conflict, tyrants and corruption, Haiti simply cannot support democracy on its own.

Today Aristide again has been sent into exile, this time with U.S. approval and perhaps active participation, and the country is in chaos. There is no army, there are no police, and the man designated to succeed Aristide, the former chief justice of the supreme court, cannot take office because he needs the approval of the legislature, which has disappeared altogether. What now?

That will depend entirely on how willing the Bush administration is to help, both to restore order and then to build a democratic system. The signs are not encouraging. During the 2000 campaign George W. Bush often railed against “nation-building,” and he said he wouldn’t have sent troops to Haiti in 1994.

That was before Afghanistan and Iraq, of course, and his supposed adoption of spreading democracy as a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Well, now he has a chance—and, we would argue, the obligation—to help spread democracy in our own hemisphere. But in Haiti, as in Iraq, building democracy will take a long-term commitment, including the deployment of troops to provide security while democratic institutions are being created.

Fortunately, there is no reason to expect the kind of violent opposition in Haiti that we’ve encountered in Iraq. The thugs who rebelled against Aristide are undisciplined and poorly equipped. Even a small number of trained soldiers should be able to maintain order there, and other countries, including France, have already agreed to help out. If the president is serious about spreading democracy, Haiti is a good place to do it.