WASHINGTON – Foreign nations and their citizens often agree with U.S. policy goals — an Iraq without the brutal Saddam Hussein, a Haiti without the ineffective and increasingly corrupt President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search).
But they often don't agree with the Bush administration's go-in-first and alone, and talk-with-friends later approach to achieving those goals. In short, they agree with the ends, not the means.
Bush officials dismiss the criticism, but Caribbean nations added their voices this week to the earlier chorus of countries that have criticized the United States for high-handed, unilateral actions, from Iraq last year to Haiti this year.
On Thursday, more than a dozen Caribbean nations rejected joining any peacekeeping force for Haiti and called for an international, independent investigation into the ouster of Aristide, a democratically elected leader.
Aristide, who fled into exile in Africa aboard a U.S-provided jet as rebels closed in on the Haitian capital, claimed U.S. troops forced him to leave. Top Bush administration officials strongly denied that the United States, in strong-armed fashion, pushed Aristide out of office.
"The actions taken by the international community in Haiti helped save Haitian constitutional democracy (search), helped save the lives of Mr. Aristide and his family as well as hundreds, if not thousands of Haitians," a senior administration official said. "There will always be criticism of policies."
It's not the actions the administration is taking, Bush critics argue - but the way the administration handles them.
U.S. credibility is being questioned in both Haiti and Iraq, said Rick Barton, who worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development (search) in the 1990s, where he helped to start political development programs in more than 20 wartorn regions, from the Philippines to Rwanda, from Bosnia to Haiti.
The administration was forced to defend itself for the reasons it went into Iraq when weapons of mass destruction were not found - even though critics have never questioned that the world is better without Saddam in power.
This week it had to defend itself against accusations that Aristide was forcefully removed from Haiti.
"In the end, our credibility, once again, is undermined," Barton said.
Speaking for the Caribbean community, Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said the group believes Aristide's exit should have been done under the auspices of some independent body, such as the United Nations.
Aristide's claim that he was forced to step down constituted a "very dangerous precedent not only for Haiti, but also for democratically elected leaders and governments throughout the region," Patterson said.
Added South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: "The suggestion that President Aristide may have been forced out of office, if true, will have serious consequences and ramifications for the respect of the rule of law and democracy the world over."
"I don't necessarily buy into the notion that we kidnapped Aristide, but we certainly did not give him options because we didn't offer to come down and protect him," said Bathsheba Crocker, an expert on Iraqi reconstruction at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "So in essence, he faced possible, likely assassination because the city was going to be overrun - or leaving."
She said Caribbean nations have reason to be concerned about how the United States handled Aristide - especially the once-stable democracy of Venezuela, south of Haiti.
Hundreds of opponents of President Hugo Chavez marched Thursday to demand the release of 350 people they say were arrested in days of rioting. The unrest in Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, was sparked when a national elections council turned down a petition calling for a vote to recall Chavez.
"There is a democratically elected president in Venezuela that I'm not sure the administration likes very much," Crocker said. "And I think they might look at what happened in Haiti and think maybe there is some possibility" that the United States might take the same position in Venezuela.