Clinton looks at plans to invade Haiti

September 07, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A series of possible scenarios for an invasion of Haiti will be presented to President Clinton as early as today, officials said last night.

Although top administration officials consider military action inevitable, important questions must be resolved by Mr. Clinton after he returns today from vacation, officials said.

Aides will "review the bidding" and tell him "here's three or four things he's got to be resolving," an official said.

Besides the issue of timing, the president must decide how to consult with Congress, whether to seek advance authorization and whether to send an emissary with a last-ditch warning to Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and his military colleagues, Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, the army chief of staff; and Col. Joseph Michel Francois, the police chief in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Consultations with Congress are especially delicate because the administration so far has failed to build strong support for an invasion. And with the Cuban refugee crisis unresolved, strong opposition is expected over the cost of an invasion, coming on top of the millions of dollars now being spent to handle the Cuban boat people.

Mr. Clinton's top national security advisers met yesterday to try to pave the way for the decisions by the president.

At the meeting were Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, Defense Secretary William J. Perry, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, Deputy National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger, special adviser on Haiti William Gray, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch and counselor to the president David R. Gergen.

Stepping up rhetorical pressure on Haiti's military leaders, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince warned that a U.S.-led international military force would arrive soon in Haiti -- either to topple the three-man military leadership or to stabilize the country if the leaders already have left voluntarily.

"American and international troops will be in Haiti, and they will be in Haiti soon," spokesman Stanley Schrager told reporters. "They will be here either subsequent to the departure of General Cedras or prior to the departure of General Cedras, but they will be here."

The only difference between entering Haiti to topple the military leadership or to restore stability after the junta leaves, one official said, is whether the force will have to fight its way in.

"The question is whether [the force] arrives with bands and fanfare or hits the beaches," the official said.

Mr. Talbott warned last week that if General Cedras and his cohorts are still in Port-au-Prince when the force arrives, they would be apprehended and turned over to the government of the democratically elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted nearly three years ago.

These administration statements have served to put Mr. Clinton into a box: Either he launches an invasion or he commits an embarrassing reversal.

But the absence of a specific date for an invasion has, in the view of some analysts, undercut the attempts to build pressure on the military to step down and make way for the return of Father Aristide.

Within the administration, there is concern that the momentum building toward an invasion might be allowed to lapse, particularly if the president decides to put off military action until October to avoid interfering with the meeting in Washington with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Mr. Clinton's appearance at the end of this month before the United Nations General Assembly.

It already has been several weeks since the U.N. Security Council authorized an invasion to restore democracy in Haiti.

One factor complicating the timing is the preparation needed for other countries to participate in a military operation. Argentina, Britain and several Caribbean nations have offered to take part, and training is now under way in Puerto Rico. None of these countries is necessary for the "first wave" of an invasion force, likely to involve more than 10,000 U.S. troops.

Although officials describe the dispatch of a U.S-led force as a certainty, they still hope the military leaders will be persuaded to leave beforehand so that the entry can be "voluntary," as one official put it.

The administration hopes to limit fighting by convincing mid- and low-ranking military personnel in Haiti that they're not considered part of the problem and that they should cooperate with the multinational force.

Under current plans, there would be an initial entry by the U.S.-led force that would stabilize the country and pave the way for a U.N. force intended to start rebuilding Haiti's shattered economy and institutions.

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