Whittling away American power on Haiti policies

July 08, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Washington -- SPECIAL White House adviser on Haiti William H. Gray III made a quintessentially Clintonesque statement this week. The president's newest Haiti policy -- actually the sixth policy for that benighted island -- is to be duly known as "evolution to meet the crisis."

And what a curious, revealing comment that was. Those five words express all the pride (in the supposedly rational administration thinking), all the arrogance (in pointing out to the world that, hey, we don't do anything without trying just about everything), and all the willfulness (not only to not use force in virtually any situation, but also to constantly tell your enemy exactly when, and why, you will not use force).

If, as the old song has it, the "second time around" is the best time for love, the Clinton folk apparently believe that the sixth time around is a sure winner in diplomacy. Such suppositions are probably far from true in love, and are wildly untrue in diplomacy.

Indeed, as we face this sixth round, it is really time to call time out. What we need to do now is to look at the corner Mr. Clinton's foreign policy has boxed us into.

Let us look first at the power lineup. To the north (unless directions also have changed under this administration), is the United States. With 240 million people, it is the greatest military and economic power on earth. To the south droops Haiti. With 7 million people, it is the most impoverished nation in the hemisphere.

One has to put this in context to understand how impoverished the American thinking over the use of force in the world is today.

There is something very wrong when the leaders of a powerful country such as the United States cannot come to a decision about what to do over a miserable little orphan such as Haiti.

Please don't misunderstand. I am not advocating a particular policy. It would be, I believe, a reasoned decision not to do anything in Haiti ("not our responsibility . . . not in our interest . . . don't want to get drawn into any more quicksand"). Indeed, that same decision would have been an equally respectable one in Bosnia or Somalia.

What is not respectable is to whittle away American power -- and the appearance of that power -- in the name of "evolutions" of policy.

Why do they do this? What worries many analysts here is that we are dealing with a bureaucratic mind-set in many members of the Clinton team, who, mainly want to do the legalistic thing. They want to "try" (the word used repeatedly) everything. Having tried everything, even if nothing ever works out or could work out, they can feel satisfied, even virtuous.

Add to those qualities the president's own apparent passion to avoid conflict at all costs (that quality has again been remarked ,, upon by many reviewers of Bob Woodward's new book on the administration), and we're all tied up in this dangerous foreign policy package.

All right, you ask: What should be our policy toward Haiti? Don't you remember that the Marines were there for 300 years?

Well, actually, the Marines ruled Haiti for only 19 years -- from 1915 to 1934 -- but it is exactly those kinds of exaggerated analogies that are at the base of our Haitian policies. For Haiti today is certainly not the Haiti of 1915 or 1934.

Here are two possible policy decisions, both of which would unseat the military regime there if carried through in an effective manner:

1) Have the American military lend support to a landing of Haitian exiles on the north of the island, then move deliberately and forcefully down on Port-au-Prince (there are several noncorrupt Haitian generals who could be tapped to lead such an insurrection); and 2) if exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is really as unreliable a choice as many think, support new elections under a special council and force both sides to acknowledge the results.

The problem with Haiti is not just its future, as woeful as that looms. In the end, the Clinton policy is advertising to the world that America is helpless -- not against the world but against its own self.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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