Bill Clinton’s Second Chance in Haiti

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The former President–in a development first broken by Laura Rozen–has accepted an appointment to become a United Nations special envoy to Haiti.

Clinton notes that Haiti is a country that he first fell in love with when he and Hillary traveled there 35 years ago. From his account of that visit in his memoir, it would seem that it was a remarkable trip indeed. At the time, he was a defeated congressional candidate, who had gone to Haiti on something of a lark, as he pondered whether he wanted to take another stab at politics by making a bid for the open Arkansas attorney general job. While in Haiti, Clinton became fascinated by the voodoo religion and culture; he saw a ceremony in which a man rubbed a burning torch all over his body without getting burned, and a woman bit the head off a live chicken. “I’ve always been fascinated by the way different cultures try to make sense of life, nature and the virtually universal belief that there is a nonphysical spirit force at work in the world that existed before humanity and will be here when we all are long gone.”

More significant is the fact that Haiti was the first place that Bill Clinton intervened abroad as President. Reading his memoir, you get the sense that he considered it an unfinished piece of business for his administration — and his legacy. He had sent the U.S. military into Haiti to put President Jean-Bertrand Aristide back in power, and later handed that operation over to a UN multilateral force. But it was far from an unblemished success. Aristide stumbled. Clinton also blamed Republicans in Congress for refusing to give Haiti the financial assistance that he believed could have made a difference. After Aristide was sent into exile amid renewed strife in 2004, Clinton reflected on the words of Hugh Shelton, the commander of the American forces: The Haitians are good people and they deserve a chance.

He took a lesson from that experience. “The Haitian intervention also provided strong evidence of the wisdom of multilateral responses in the world’s trouble spots,” Clinton wrote. “Nations working together, and through the UN, spread the responsibilities and costs of such operations, reduce resentment against the United States, and build invaluable habits of cooperation. In an increasingly interdependent world, we should work this way whenever we can.” Now, Bill Clinton gets another chance to do just that.