In This Review

The Immaculate Invasion
The Immaculate Invasion
By Bob Shacochis
408 pp, Viking, 1999
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Upholding Democracy
Upholding Democracy
By John R. Ballard and John J. Sheehan
292 pp, Praeger, 1998
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Shacochis has produced an unforgettable mixture of hard journalism and sharp commentary that captures much of the absurdity and futility of the 1994 American-led U.N. invasion of Haiti. Unprepared to act as police in a brutal, anarchic environment, the U.S. military was forced to grapple with an ill-defined mission that revealed volumes about the Clinton administration's chaotic policymaking and the Pentagon's inadequate modus operandi in "operations other than war." To this day, the United States has learned very little from the Haitian experience, which the White House still spins as a "success." This book should become required reading for armchair warriors and White House strategists as a frightening guide to the pitfalls of political wishful thinking, inadequate planning, and the U.S. military's ambivalence about such operations. As Shacochis writes, American soldiers in Haiti "were good at making themselves look busy, but the central operational question that remained unanswered was, Now what?" and his conclusion, lambasting American policymakers as "clumsy sponsors of freedom, proud but graceless and self-subverting," should give all readers pause.

Ballard provides a very different perspective on the Haiti campaign; the reader will find it difficult to remember that he is describing the same country as Shacochis. A detailed and thorough work, the book offers a more upbeat view that focuses on the joint operations. Ballard recounts how the invasion's planners first anticipated a major military landing, then scaled back their plans when Haiti's ruling thugs caved in. General John J. Sheehan's introductory remarks capture the book's spirit when he observes that the Haiti invasion reflected "the U.S. military's capacity to respond to operations across a spectrum of conflict including operations other than war resulting from political and social instability." Ironically, many of those military planners are involved in the Kosovo campaign now -- but the thugs in Belgrade appear to be of tougher mettle. Given Ballard's self-congratulatory tone, one gets a sinking feeling that the Pentagon and White House learned the wrong lessons from Haiti in the end.