The Haiti Trap

September 14, 1994|By GARRY WILLS

Chicago -- The language being used about our prospective invasion of Haiti is peculiarly hangdog and defeatist. It is a bad thing, we are told, but inevitable. We are being forced into it. We have no choice. All other options have been sealed off.

Is this any way to wage a war? We are told we must do what we do not want to do. It is the burden of being a great power. We show our power by a powerlessness to resist this choice.

There is little or no talk, here, of our national interest; just of national duty. We cannot let tinhorn dictators get their way ''in our back yard.'' We must support a validly elected president, even if Jean-Bertrand Aristide was unable to maintain his own position in his own country.

That means we must change his country so that it will accept him -- and country-changing is even harder than people-changing (a bad enough assignment, as people can tell you who try to modify an individual's destructive behavior).

One change is guaranteed. We change a situation just by our entering it. I am not talking vague Heisenberg Principle effects of the experimenter upon the experiment. We have a long and troubled history with Haiti, and with the whole region. Our very presence awakens old and bitter memories of gunboat diplomacy.

If Father Aristide could not stay in office without us, what do we have to do to change the situation so that he can stay in office? Whatever we do will be tainted, and will taint him further. If he is seen as our puppet, he will be even less acceptable than he was the first time he failed. We help him and hinder him by the same act.

If Father Aristide fails again, what do we do? Find another puppet? Having accrued some responsibility for the mess, we will hear that we owe it to the Haitians to stay till we have straightened it out. We are caught again in the nation-building trap. Trapped into invading, we will be trapped into staying -- unless we walk away, leaving chaos behind us, and being blamed for that.

We shall, in the process, have sacrificed some of our own young soldiers to a cause in which America has no real national interest. Some proof that we are a great power.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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