1994: U.S. Invasion of Haiti

Joe Biden faced questions about why he didn’t believe the U.S. had an obligation to stop mass killings of Haitians and reverse a right-wing coup.

U.S. troops arrive in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to insure a peaceful transition of government from General Raoul Cedras to Jean-Bertrand Aristide.   (Photo by Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
U.S. troops arrive in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to ensure a peaceful transition of government from Gen. Raoul Cédras to Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Jan. 1, 1994. Photo: Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

From 1993 to 1994, Joe Biden’s foreign policy agenda was almost solely focused on agitating for more U.S. military involvement in Bosnia. Meanwhile, the Caribbean island-nation of Haiti was experiencing a brutal campaign of mass killings at the hands of a murderous military regime that had overthrown the democratically elected government of leftist Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide’s landslide election in February 1991 was viewed as the end of decades of brutal CIA-backed military dictatorship. After just seven months in office, Aristide was overthrown and was forced to flee the country. Following the defeat of George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democrats pressed the new Clinton administration to intervene and restore Aristide to power. Biden opposed these efforts, once again citing the War Powers Act. “I don’t think he has authority — constitutional authority,” Biden said, adding that he believed no president would have the legal right “absent congressional authority to go into Haiti.” President Bill Clinton ultimately moved forward with an invasion, and Aristide was restored to the presidency in October 1994, albeit with sweeping U.S. conditions on his powers.

Biden faced questions about the perceived double standard in his positions on Bosnia and Haiti. He recalled how a newspaper in Delaware “asked their reporters to come down and talk to me and said, ‘Why is Biden so concerned about Bosnia and not about Haiti? Is it because Blacks are involved in Haiti — Blacks are what are at stake in Haiti, and in Bosnia, they are Europeans, whites?’” Biden offered an incoherent answer to the question and suggested that Haitians, like other immigrant communities in the U.S., were pushing for action and that it was part of a phenomenon where a “multi-ethnic community looks to things happening in a constituency that they are from, represent, or feel, having a stake in.” Biden also asserted that the crisis in Bosnia had the potential to spread to countries around Eastern Europe, including those with nuclear weapons, and therefore Bosnia was a war essential to U.S. security. “If Haiti, a God-awful thing to say, if Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interest,” Biden said in 1994. Within days of the Haiti operation beginning, Biden voted for an overwhelmingly bipartisan Senate resolution calling for a “prompt and orderly withdrawal … as soon as possible.” In an interview in September 1994, Biden declared, “Our armed forces are not equipped for nation-building, a task that must be turned over to multinational forces and international observers.”

Join The Conversation