Return to Transcripts main page

Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview With General David Petraeus About Afghanistan Withdrawal; Cuba Cracks Down Anti-Government Protests; Interview With Gary Ginsberg, Author Of "First Friends". Aired 10-11a ET

Aired July 18, 2021 - 10:00   ET



FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Today on the show --

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: On my orders, the United States Military has begun strikes in Afghanistan.

ZAKARIA: The president who got us into Afghanistan now says it's the wrong time to get out. George W. Bush thinks the American withdrawal now close to complete is a mistake.

BUSH: I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad.

ZAKARIA: Is Biden moving too many troops out too fast?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan.

ZAKARIA: I will ask General David Petraeus, who once commanded U.S. and Allied troops in Afghanistan.

Also, thousands of Cubans take to the streets, marking the most significant unrest there in decades. Cries for freedom rang out as did demands for regime change. Is that likely to happen after 60 years of Castros and communism? I'll ask an expert.

Then, surely you've heard of President Harry Truman, but what about Eddie Jacobson? Everybody knows of Richard Nixon, of course, but do they know of Bebe Rebozo? These unsung characters were the closest confidants of the man in the Oval Office. I'll talk to the author Gary Ginsberg about his terrific new book, "First Friends."


ZAKARIA: But first, here's my take. We're now a year and a half into the pandemic, which is enough time to start looking back and drawing real lessons, especially when comparing it to the last great jolt to the international system, the global financial crisis. Did we learn any lessons from 2008? Have we handled this one any

better? At first glance, the comparison would seem to favor the present. About 18 months into the 2008 crisis, say, by the middle of 2009, U.S. unemployment was still climbing to its highest numbers in decades. The stock market was struggling out of one of the worst collapses in history. Housing foreclosures were spiraling to their worst levels ever.

By contrast, today, with half the population vaccinated, the American economy is roaring. Growth rates rival the Reagan boom. The stock market is at new highs. Even wages show signs of rising. While the U.S. is doing better than most, other major industrial countries are also on the road to recovery. And the chief reason is everyone learned the lesson of 2008. In systemic collapses, governments need to go big and fast, spending money and providing liquidity.

The voices of austerity in the United States and Europe, which were extremely powerful during the 2008 crisis, have been largely silent this time around. That's where the good news ends. Back in 2008, policy makers quickly recognized the need for fundamental change. The financial system was risky, poorly regulated and unstable.

In 2010, just two years later, the United States enacted sweeping reforms to banks, higher capital requirements, lower leverage, less speculation, stress tests, all of which the banks lobbied hard against. But the banks were wrong. In this pandemic, the financial system has performed remarkably well, a testament to those reforms. Despite the near shutdown of the entire global economy in 2020, banks almost everywhere weathered the storm.

That's because central banks supported them but also because they were well capitalized and more tightly regulated. Yet in the current crisis, despite our many failures in fighting the disease, we're talking very little about structural reforms. During the pandemic we watched as governments in many countries failed on basic public health functions such as testing, tracing, quarantining and clear public communication.

Some learned and recovered, but many have simply been saved by the early arrival of vaccines. Almost none have begun to ask how to genuinely reorganize their public health bureaucracies to learn from countries that got it right and to put in place new policies, procedures, frameworks, to ensure better performance during the next pandemic which will surely come.


The divergence between the last crisis and this one has been most stark on the global level. As Daniel Drezner wrote in his excellent book "The System Worked," people used to think of global governance the way Woody Allen joked about food at Catskills Resorts, so bad and yet such small portions. In fact as Drezner documents global governance functions surprisingly well during the financial crisis.

Countries cooperated, central banks worked together, and a downward spiral was averted. He notes that even China was remarkably willing to go along with major international initiatives. Washington played the central role, of course, nudging countries to get in line, but also acting in ways that helped other. The economic historian Adam Tooze points out that about half of all the liquidity provided by the federal reserve was actually used by European banks.

Now this wasn't done out of blind generosity, former Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner told me recently, "We recognized that it was in our enlightened self-interest to save the dollar-based international financial system, and that required helping others, not just ourselves." He acknowledged that much of the global cooperation happened because many of the key players around the world were instinctive multilateralists.

"We all knew that we wanted to prevent the naturalism and protectionism that caused so much damage in the 1930s."

Alas, while the response to 2008 succeeded economically, it failed politically. It unleashed a wave of populism and anti-elitism that crippled the response to today's crisis. Men like Donald Trump, Victor Orbon, Jair Bolsonaro reacted to the pandemic by hunkering down, consolidating power and blaming foreigners. Even liberal-minded politicians enacted protectionist measures, blocked the export of vaccines.

In China, the epicenter of the pandemic, Xi Jinping proved to be less open, less cooperative and less multilateral than his predecessors during the last global crisis. President Biden has made a new start, but Washington needs to lead the world in a fundamentally different direction.

Unless we push hard to vaccinate the whole planet, this pandemic will linger and morph and perhaps even grow. The only way to restore and sustain global economic growth is to help developing countries that are saddled with huge debt burdens. And the best way to prepare for future crises, whether they involve pandemics, extreme weather or cybercrime is collectively, multilaterally.

This is not dewy-eyed idealism, the system worked just a decade ago. It can again.

Go to for a link to my "Washington Post" column, and let's get started.

Let's now turn to Afghanistan. On October 7th, 2001, President George W. Bush announced the American invasion of that country. This week he was interviewed about the American withdrawal, which is now more than 90 percent complete. When asked if it's a mistake, Bush said I think it is.

Now let us get the opinion of General David Petraeus, who managed the war effort in Afghanistan first as the CENTCOM commander then as commander of U.S. and Allied Forces on the ground. He of course later also led the CIA.

General Petraeus, welcome. Always a pleasure to have you on, sir. First, what is your assessment of the situation right now? You hear these claims that the Taliban controls 85 percent of the country, but as you and I know, that's geography. They don't control the major cities where most of the people live. So give us a lay of the land. How likely is it that they will control the entire country?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, COALITION FORCES IN IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN: Well, I'm not sure that they'll take the entire country, Fareed, but the situation on the ground has become increasingly dire with each passing week. You see them now on the outskirts fighting in some of the outer areas of Kandahar City, arguably the second most important city in all of Afghanistan.

And let me say up front if I could, in addition to just it's great to be with you again, that no one wants to see endless wars ended more than those who have actually served in them, but we are not ending this endless war, we are ending U.S. involvement in it. Because we end the involvement of the 3500 U.S. troops, we're also seeing over 8,000 NATO troops leave and we're seeing some 15,000 or so contractors leave as well.


And they're critical to maintaining the Afghan Air Force, which is essential to ensure that Afghan soldiers realize that someone is coming to the rescue with additional troops and with close air support. Gradually that air force is already being degraded in its operational readiness. It's flying at an astronomical tempo in a country that is very vast with very high mountains and I fear that we will look back and regret the decision to withdraw.

And I think sadly, we may regret that sooner than I had originally thought when I said that right after the decision was announced. Beyond that, I think we will also look back and regret the hasty way in which we seem to be doing this, with no plan yet, although there's now something announced that we're going to take care of those -- you know, we have a moral obligation to thousands of the battlefield interpreters who shared risk and hardship with our soldiers on the ground for at least two years to qualify for the special immigrant visa and for their families, all of whose safety now is in jeopardy.

And it's just recently that we've announced a plan that at the end of this month we'll start flying those out that have an SIV visa already and then the others that are at least partway through the process to a third country where they can go through the rest of that process. But what I see now, sadly, is the onset of what is going to be quite a brutal civil war, considerable ethnic and sectarian displacement, assassination of government officials, millions of refugees flooding into other countries, particularly Pakistan.

We will see the return of al Qaeda and the Islamic State, although I don't see an immediate domestic security threat for the U.S. in that regard. It will take certainly many years to re-establish the kind of capability that they had when they had a sanctuary in Afghanistan in which they planned the 9/11 attacks under Taliban control of the country. And we will see the reestablishment of the kind of medieval ultra conservative Islamist regime that was the Taliban, that did rule much of the country, again, when al Qaeda did plan the 9/11 attacks on Afghan soil.

And again, I hope that we can do some assessment, try to help the Afghan National Security Forces and government stabilize the situation, keep their air force in the fight. Again, the crucial element for a soldier on the ground. And at least manage what is a rapidly deteriorating security situation at this particular time.

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you, General, what would you say to those Americans who would say, look, we have been in Afghanistan for 20 years. We have spent by some accounts $2 trillion. We have tried to train the Afghan National Army. We have trained the Afghan police force. We have paid for the entire Afghan government's budget for 20 years. And yet when Kandahar fell or the parts of it that fell to the Taliban, the Afghan Army did not really fight.

There have been efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and to build a proper nation and state for decades now by the United States. When you were at CENTCOM, we had 65,000 U.S. and allied troops. You and the other generals asked for 30,000 more. You got them for 18 months. It didn't seem to make much difference. We've been trying for 20 years to do this. The Taliban, as you know, have a sanctuary in Pakistan which makes it very hard to completely eliminate them.

And so in that circumstance, is it fair for President Biden to say, look, somebody had to pull the band-aid off here. You know, we have been trying to do this. We have achieved some gains. Many of these al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations are crushed. But we're going to have to do it in other ways now, using counterterrorism and the like?

PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, those are all understandable points. And again, no one understands the frustration of endless wars more than those who have actually served in them, in many cases repetitively. Our son also served there. In fact he was a second lieutenant on the ground, a rifle platoon leader when I was the commander in Afghanistan. Our daughter-in-law served there. All of this is understandable.

But we had what was I would argue a way of managing this. And you cannot -- you can't win in Afghanistan. I said that all the way back in my confirmation hearing. I said we're not going to be able to do in Afghanistan what we did in Iraq during the surge where we completely reversed the security situation, pulled the country back from a civil war. And with respect, we did accomplish quite a bit during that period of additional forces.

We halted the momentum of the Taliban. We rolled it back in key areas, including definitely in Kandahar and Helmand in the east. We accelerated the training of the Afghan National Security Forces, and we began the process of transition of tasks slowly from our forces to Afghan forces, and that worked well for a number of years.


We were at a point where we had 3500 troops on the ground. Surely that is sustainable in terms of the expenditure of our blood and treasure. That brought us 8,000 coalition forces and enabled all the contractors who enabled the Afghan Air Force and all many of their other weapons systems to stay operational readily and in the fight. And again, I think we have to accept --

ZAKARIA: General, I've got -- I've got to take -- I've got to take a break.

PETRAEUS: I think we have to accept --

ZAKARIA: We will be back.


ZAKARIA: We will be back. I'll let you close out that thought when we come back and then I've got to ask you about Haiti as well, when we come back.

PETRAEUS: You bet.



ZAKARIA: And we are back with General David Petraeus, talking about Afghanistan and then Haiti.

General, let me ask you about -- with respect to Afghanistan, I really did want to get to Haiti, would it be fair to say that Donald Trump in some ways created a circumstance in which it was hard to then reverse his policy because about two and a half years ago he essentially draws down U.S. troops, orders them to be drawn down to about 3500 and begins negotiating with the Taliban, who therefore stopped fighting the United States. And there you have this period of kind of relative peace, particularly for Americans.

But at that -- you know, at this point for the Biden administration, would they have had to expand that number of 3500 to really make gains and recapture territory held by the Taliban? What people on the ground tell me was that we have an illusionary peace for the last two or three years because the Taliban wasn't fighting. Once they were to fight again against U.S. forces, we would have had to go up.

PETRAEUS: No, I don't agree with that, Fareed, with respect. The Taliban have been fighting all through this. There have been very brief cease-fires periodically, but they have been attacking the Afghan National Security Forces relentlessly.

Look, we aren't on the front lines anymore. So there's not a great deal, and I guess they could rocket our bases a bit more. But again, what we are doing is enabling the Afghan National Security Forces with advice, assistance, close air support, lots of drones. All of these were made possible by bases in Afghanistan. And I think that we could have reached a sustainable -- sustained commitment somewhere around the 3500 with lots of stuff in the air.

That's what General Miller was pioneering and it's all made possible by the advent of this armada of drones which we also used in Iraq and Syria where we didn't fight on the front lines, we allowed the host nation forces to do that and we enabled them. And the Afghan National Security Forces had been fighting and dying in very large numbers. And they still are. The problem now is they're not sure if someone is coming to the rescue, and that injects a very considerable amount of uncertainty into the battlefield.

I think the reality that we should have learned --

ZAKARIA: All right, I do want --


PETRAEUS: Let me finish if I could, because we have to recognize, we have to continue to combat the Islamist extremist with a sustained sustainable commitment and that should be the way we go at these. You can't win them. You can manage them.

ZAKARIA: So let me ask you about Haiti because you actually in the mid-1990s were the head of operations for a U.N. force that was in Haiti. There are people saying we should go in now, that, you know, we've been protecting -- we've been supporting strongmen in Haiti too much. Do you believe there is a viable military option here?

PETRAEUS: Well, I haven't heard it if there is one. And again I understand fully the reticence of the administration in this case to put U.S. Military into the center of what is essentially a political tug of war, a struggle, almost a political civil war, if you will, because after all the previous president was assassinated, as they're trying to determine who is going to lead Haiti going forward.

Certainly there's a role for diplomats, for those that can try to advise and assist and move the political process forward, but that's the heart of the issue here, noting that Haiti has every other conceivable challenge that one could imagine. But I just don't see the military mission. I don't see the task and the associated purpose that would be a reason to put our forces on the ground, again, in the center of what is a very, very big struggle for political power that has included the force of arms and the fact of the assassination of the previous president.

ZAKARIA: General Petraeus, always a pleasure to have you on.

PETRAEUS: The pleasure is mine, Fareed, thank you.

ZAKARIA: Next on GPS, from Haiti to its neighbor to the northwest, Cuba. Will the protests there lead to any real changes? When we come back.



ZAKARIA: Last Sunday thousands came out in Cuba to protest against the government. It was the biggest such demonstration in decades. Yesterday the government responded with what it called a revolutionary reaffirmation rally held near the U.S. embassy. Government supporters were heard chanting, "down with the Yankees."

What happens next in Cuba? Will anything change?

Ada Ferrer joins me now. She's a Cuban American historian and a professor at NYU.

Welcome. So the first question, Professor, is will this lead to anything more than a further crackdown and more repression?

ADA FERRER, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, NYU: Thanks, Fareed, for having me. First of all, as a historian, I always have to start off by warning you that it's just way too soon to tell what the result and what the legacy of these unprecedented protests will be. I think there are three things that we have to watch for.


As I said, nothing like this has happened in I would say in almost -- in 60 years since -- since 1960 or so.

FERRER: So we'll have to see if the fact that these protests happened, that they were extended across the island in more than 30 cities and towns, whether the fact that it happened makes the prospect of anti- government mobilization, anti-government protest more thinkable, more imaginable for average citizens. So we'll have to wait and see if that translates, again, for ordinary Cubans, into participating in and -- and heeding the calls to protest. So that's one thing we have to watch for.

The second thing we have to watch for, as you mentioned, is government repression. The government came -- came out very quickly and began arresting -- well, dissidents, definitely, independent journalists, but also the protesters on the streets.

And we saw videos of plain-clothes security forces, of uniformed security forces arresting people, beating people. And one of the things that I found most interesting in watching the videos of that is that you could see the -- the people, the eyewitnesses, express their disgust and their repudiation of those strong-arm tactics.

And it's interesting -- as a historian, you know, I can think back to the 1950s and the original Cuban revolution. In that movement against the Batista dictatorship, young people were very mobilized. Students were very mobilized. And one of the things that turned a more general public opinion against the government was watching the government repress and beat and enact physical violence on young protesters.

So it will be interesting to see whether that happens in this case. Government repression can be a very, very effective tool. The Cuban government knows that. But it could also feed sources and the forces of discontent on the island.

Finally, the third thing to watch for, in terms of...

ZAKARIA: What... FERRER: Well, just quickly, one last thing to watch for is that the protesters are very diverse ideologically. There's not one -- all want change, but not all agree on what that change should be or how it should be achieved. So we'll have to watch in the coming months or so whether a consensus develops among the opposition.

ZAKARIA: So what should the Biden administration do?

This is, in some ways, coming at an interesting moment because Barack Obama had opened up ties to Cuba. He had allowed a lot more travel and trade, remittances from Cuban-Americans, and the U.S. was going to Cuba. Trump reversed all that, tightened the sanctions. What should Biden do?

BIDEN: Yeah. Well, that -- it's a huge question. First of all, I -- you know, I've been studying Cuba for 30 years. I was in -- for over 30 years. I was in Cuba when -- when President Obama visited. I've never seen a sense of hope in the future feel so palpable among the Cuban people, right?

And now they're in the midst of this economic crisis made worse by many things, Trump's tightening of the embargo, the COVID pandemic, decisions by its own government, an economic reform that's going very, very badly -- all that, right?

And I think that, a lot of times in history, crises and frustrations feel deeper and feel more -- yeah, that much more painful if they come after a period of heightened expectations. And I think that's what we have here.

So now what does -- what does Biden do? I don't think there are calls for him to end the embargo. I don't think that he will do that. He didn't run on that as part of his platform. And -- and the situation in Cuba now makes it more difficult for him to do something like that because it will be seen as rewarding the Cuban government.

He did run, however, on ending parts of the Trump restrictions that made life more difficult for the Cuban people. And many expected him, for example, to allow remittances again. As you know, remittances, you know, is the money that -- that family in the U.S. sends to relatives and friends back on the island. And that was stopped completely under the Trump administration.

So there have been -- you know, people expected Biden to start those again. He said this week he wouldn't. And I think that was really unfortunate. Cubans depend on help from their family. We know, and Cuban-Americans certainly know, that the Cuban government taxes those remittances.

Still, Cuban-Americans, if given the choice, many would continue to send the money. So over 50 percent of Cubans in Miami, under normal circumstances, send money and goods and other things to their family on the island, right?


That would be happening now, certainly, under this crisis.

And my sense is that Cuban-Americans should have that choice. You know, my -- my mother, who died last year, used to send -- hated the Cuban government but used to send $100 every three months to her sister in Havana. And Cuban-Americans should have the choice to do that if they want. They should make the decision whether the taxes taken by the Cuban government, you know, trump the help they're going to give their family, right?

Neither the U.S. government nor the Cuban government should stand in the way...

ZAKARIA: Professor Ferrer...

FERRER: ... of family helping family.

ZAKARIA: Professor Ferrer, that -- that was very useful and helpful. Thank you so much.

We will be back with the first friends of American presidents through history.



ZAKARIA: The American presidency has often been called the loneliest job in the world. Indeed, this image of JFK is titled "The Loneliest Job" and is one of the most famous pictures ever taken in the Oval Office.

Of course, the president has hundreds of people at his beck and call and a family just upstairs, too. But when the immense pressures of the office take their toll, who are the oft-forgotten heroes who help, the best buddies?

That is, according to a terrific new book, "First Friends: The Powerful Unsung and Unelected People Who Shaped Our Presidents." This is going to be the book you want to read this summer. Author Gary Ginsberg joins me now.

So first explain what got you interested in this? You were working on Gary Hart's presidential campaign and you saw something that made you think about this -- well, what eventually led to this book. What was it?

GARY GINSBERG, AUTHOR, "FIRST FRIENDS": I did. Well, actually, even before I worked for Gary Hart, since grade school I've just been endlessly fascinated by the American presidency. And then, as you say, I worked on Gary Hart's campaign. I later worked in the Clinton administration. And I came to watch some really remarkable close friendships between leaders and their best friends.

And with Hart, I saw the Hollywood actor Warren Beatty. I watched his friendship with Gary Hart during the 1984 campaign when Beatty would parachute in from major campaign events and was the only one around Hart who could talk to him in a really blunt way.

He'd say to Hart, "Stop talking and acting like a politician," in a way that nobody else could, and Hart would actually listen to him.

I saw Vernon Jordan in the role that he played with Bill Clinton in the 1990s, when he was the only one around him who could -- actually had equal stature and could speak to him in a way that nobody else could.

So I saw an entirely different kind of relationship between a leader and anybody else around them. And I saw how this best friend could speak more bluntly, act more naturally to any staffer or aide and, in some cases, as I write in my book, actually affect important policy.

So I went to look at presidential literature and I saw books about first wives, first chefs, first butlers, but there was nothing about this dynamic, so I thought, why not write it?

ZAKARIA: And you begin with an extraordinary pair, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. And the reason I find them so fascinating is this is really a case of opposites attracting. They were so different in so many ways, yet you describe this really close and deep bond that was both intellectual and personal.

GINSBERG: Yeah. Well, I actually think it's the most important friendship in American history in the sense of all that flowed from it. It was for me really a joining of two force fields, two brilliant men fused by mutual interests, shared values, that basically shaped the contours of the country that we live in today.

I don't think it's an overstatement to say that, because of this 50- year friendship -- and we understand it so much through the 1,250 letters that they exchanged between them -- we have today such durable structures that we almost take for granted, like our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, the two-party system, even the public university system that so many students enjoy.

But, as you said, what makes it all the more remarkable, Fareed, is how different these two men were, physically, for sure, but even temperamentally.

Jefferson was this tall, dashing, optimistic guy. Madison was tiny. He was 5'4". He was reserved. He worried all the time. But somehow it worked in combination. Jefferson needed Madison's precise mind, his very practical nature, as much as Madison needed Jefferson's bold ideas, large personality.

You know, I write in the book that it was almost like the human equivalent of checks and balances. I think, without the other, frankly, neither would have become president. And, frankly, I don't think it's an overstatement to say either wouldn't have accomplished as much as each did.

ZAKARIA: You also have what to me is a really fascinating story, the story of Franklin Roosevelt and Daisy Suckley. And this is interesting because Roosevelt, you know, the most important president of the 20th Century by far, is this enigma, because he was a very outwardly directed person, very rarely -- not introspective. You rarely got a sense of who he was. And of course he died before he wrote any memoirs.

So his -- his letters to Daisy Suckley, which were discovered only recently, are the window into him. What did you learn about that relationship?

GINSBERG: Well, first of all, as you know from reading a lot of biographies of FDR, he loved to be around women, and he had powerful women surrounding him his whole life, Missy LeHand, Frances Perkins.

But the reason why I put Daisy Suckley in there is that I think that she earned the distinction of first friend not by advising him on a critical policy decision or speaking hard truths to him like so many other friends in my book did but just by being his constant and loyal companion.


And what I found so surprising about FDR -- and you allude to this in your opening -- is how lonely he felt in the White House. You know, it's hard to believe. He's fighting a Depression. He's fighting a world war. But he had no home life. He had no real emotional relationship with his wife, Eleanor, who was out of D.C. most of the time crusading for her causes.

So he says to Daisy one time, "I'm either Exhibit A or left entirely alone." And Daisy was the antidote to that loneliness. She gave him the emotional comfort that he most needed in his most trying and lonely moments. And she could read his emotions better than anybody else. She was the favorite person to relax with after long days of work.

And I mention in the book that, one day in 1944, he has 22 separate meetings. Afterward, I would have wanted to crawl in a hole. What did he want to do? He wanted to have dinner alone with Daisy Suckley.

And I think, you know, it's -- she has this -- she could intuit his mind in a way that nobody else could. She could relax him in a way that nobody else could.

And I asked the historian Jon Alter, "Why was she so important?"

And he said to me, "He would have been a less settled and natural president without Daisy."

ZAKARIA: Gary, this is such a terrific book because there's so many more stories we didn't get to, Clinton and Vernon -- Vernon Jordan, Franklin Pierce and Hawthorne, the novelist. So all I can say to people is buy the book and -- this is your summer read.

GINSBERG: Thank you very much, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Next on "GPS," the shocking assassination of the president of Haiti is just the latest bloody chapter in a long politically volatile history. Why is Haiti so troubled? We have the answer. I'll tell you when we come back.



ZAKARIA (voice over): And now for the last look. It's been a week and a half since the assassination of Haiti's president, Jovenel Moise, and we have little clarity about how exactly it came to be that the nation's leader was gunned down in his home outside Port-au-Prince.

But the assassination comes against a backdrop of chronic instability in that island nation.

For almost its entire 217-year history, Haiti has had a revolving door of leaders, many of whom used violence to enforce their rule. Dictators, army officers turned heads of state, and only relatively recently democratically elected presidents.

The troubles at the top have only added to Haiti's other problem. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. On a host of indicators, from literacy to life expectancy to infant mortality, Haiti is by far the worst-off country in Latin America. Its neighbor to the east with whom it shares the island, the Dominican Republic, has more than six times Haiti's per capita GDP.

So how did Haiti get here?

The answer, like most, lies in history. Haiti was once Saint-Domingue, the richest colony in the Caribbean. It was the jewel in France's imperial crown. And by the late 18th Century, it supplied half the world's coffee and 40 percent of its sugar, according to the historian David Bell.

The French shipped a huge number of slaves to the colony to work its plantations. They were literally worked to death. According to The Guardian, these slaves had an average life expectancy of just 21 years. In 1791, the slaves, who outnumbered white men on the colony 16-1, revolted. For 12 years, led by the former slave-turned-rebel- leader Toussaint L'Ouverture, they fought against the French settlers, eventually defeating Napoleon's army.

On January 1st, 1804, the rebels founded the world's first free black republic. Far before the rest of the world, Haiti's founders took the lessons of the French Revolution, the articulation of the universal rights of man, across the Atlantic, to their logical conclusion. The country established freedom for black people, not just white men.

Because this was a radical idea at the time, Western countries, including the United States, shunned Haiti. World leaders traded minimally with it. They didn't want to contribute to the wealth of a nation born of a slave rebellion.

France even demanded a massive sum in reparations in part to compensate for the "loss of human property," meaning slaves, from the war. In 1825 the Haitian president agreed and the debt crippled the

country, which could only pay it back in full by 1947. In 1914, Washington decided to intervene in the country's affairs, largely to stabilize its finances and debt payments. That occupation lasted until 1934, but Washington effectively controlled the country for years after that.

All this foreign domination marked Haiti's political culture indelibly. Understandably suspicious of Western countries, Haiti did not try to get much by way of foreign investment or trade.

As Peter Dailey wrote in The New York Review Books, in the years after independence, the merchant class and the army joined together to extract revenues from Haiti's majority, its rural peasants, the only productive members of Haitian society.


Farmers growing coffee were taxed at 40 percent of their incomes.

And this created a pattern for rulers to come, in the entire political class, a sadly familiar pattern in resource-rich countries.

Haiti's leadership never invested seriously in industry. Politics was the main avenue to amass wealth. Violence became necessary to silence complaints.

As the Haitian-American anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot wrote in 1991, "The Haitian state is inherently predatory. It has always operated against the nation it claims to represent."

These leaders can and should be the subjects of our critique. But they must also be understood in the context of a history marked by slavery and foreign domination. Haiti, more than any country, shows us the crippling power of history.

Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week.