World's thugs look on while U.S. plays Mr. Nice Guy

Georgie Anne Geyer

October 19, 1993|By Georgie Anne Geyer

WHEN I was in benighted Haiti last spring, I kept looking at the oafish thugs and killers who make up the police and military and asking myself: Why would they leave power?

That question haunted me for good reason. The United States, following the U.N. plan, was playing Mr. Nice Guy. Carrot, no stick, please; this is your new world. You armed guys in Haiti, leave power so that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide can return, and we'll get you posts abroad and retrain you so you can no longer be what you like to be and no longer make hundreds of millions on drug trafficking and smuggling.

What's more (you're going to love this!), we're going to send unarmed or lightly armed Seabees and others to build schools nTC and hospitals for all those poor Haitians you've struggled for years to keep in misery so you can control them.

We -- the U.S. and the U.N. -- were offering them an old moldy carrot and no stick at all. Why would they give up power when there was no cost to hanging onto it?

In Chicago, where I come from, we would call that an "offer you could all too easily refuse," and that of course is what they did. On the South Side of Chicago, our mothers early on taught us where to kick threatening men long before we knew why.

Right there you have the "power problem" of the administration and of the United Nations. A few days ago, American ships, deliberately unthreatening, carrying all those Seabees and other well-meaning troops, were turned back by Haitian goons orchestrated by the police and military who in July had "accepted" the U.N.-brokered truce. American diplomats on the ground were directly threatened, which is a clear breach of international law.

Only two days before, the American position had been outlined to me by a responsible, intelligent diplomat, who told me that, yes, there was a "permissive environment" in Haiti for the landing of these new-style troops of the world's new peaceable kingdoms. "Permissive environment," in case you were wondering, now becomes part of the Orwellian language of the "new multilateralism": along with "peacekeeping . . . peacemaking . . . peace-imposing . . . mission creep . . ."

In this new world of Third Worldish international civil servants who shun the use of force, there is no room for the old words, such as "killers . . . chaos . . . rage . . . stupidity."

Oh, our charge d'affaires in Port-au-Prince did angrily regress and call them "thugs," after they nearly killed her, but soon our military men on the spot were praising the Haitian military as the ones to take charge (indeed, they already had).

This strange policy option for Haiti was designed by the United Nations to deal with a small, desperately poor, overpopulated, land-destroyed, eating-itself-alive republic of 6 million whose popularly elected president, Mr. Aristide, had been exiled by the military.

To ameliorate this standoff, the United Nations, with the United States behind it, designed an innocuous "civic assistance mission" or "nation's assistance mission" that eschewed any use of outside force for convincing both sides to go along. The two sides ostensibly did this when they signed an agreement last July that the military would allow Aristide to return Oct. 30 with these international advisers who would refashion the miserable country.

Meanwhile, things changed. In only the last week, the Haitian police and military were reported to be glued to their television sets watching American troops being massacred in Somalia, with no backup. For months they had watched President Clinton waffle, threaten, then change his mind again on saving Bosnia.

Again the old question: Why should they leave power?

These thugs, barely 7,000 of them and lightly armed, are the direct descendants of the bestial "Papa Doc" Duvalier's feared Tonton Macoutes of the 1960s. After Duvalier died, and the military academy was reopened in 1971, only children of Macoutes or proven Duvalierists were admitted, and the "army" became simply another gang brazenly out for power and money.

Meanwhile, other forces are filling this power vacuum. Just last week in Haiti, the voodoo hierarchy met ("voodoo" is the African religion of Haitians) and the "houngans," or priests, decided to be against the embargo, because it was hurting the poor, but also against the military and Mr. Aristide. (Apparently, they too have learned policy logic from the U.N. and U.S.)

Meanwhile, the Clinton administration has not learned that power exists only insomuch as you project it, and that prestige in foreign affairs is dependent upon people around the world knowing that you will use it.

And so, around the world there are other thugs and goons watching the events in Haiti and coming to their own conclusions.

One can bet that they were seeing that scene on the dock as one great "permissive environment" for just the things they have in mind!

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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