Winning the Haiti Gamble

September 19, 1994

In sending former President Jimmy Carter to Haiti on a successful, last-ditch effort to avert the need for a military invasion, President Clinton tapped the nation's best-known peace-maker, a man whose persistence became the hallmark of his single White House term when he brokered the Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt.

It was a wise move politically because Mr. Clinton's determination to overthrow the Haitian junta by force if necessary and return President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power was widely opposed in Congress and by most Americans.

When the ruling Haitian generals finally accepted a Carter-brokered deal for their departure Oct. 15 and the arrival of U.S. peace-keeping forces today, Mr. Clinton won the biggest gamble of his presidency. And he did so by taking the moral high ground on the kind of human rights issue Mr. Carter in the late 1970s made a driving force in U.S. diplomacy. By enlisting the aid of Mr. Carter, Gen. Colin Powell and Sen. Sam Nunn, the president also went the extra mile with envoys who had criticized his Haiti policy from various angles.

For Jimmy Carter, his hours and hours of negotiations with Haitian Gen. Raoul Cedras beyond the tentative deadline set by Washington could well be a significant element in his consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize. Just last June, he went to North Korea and secured an agreement to freeze Pyongyang's suspected development of a nuclear arsenal by conferring with the late strongman Kim il Sung.

Mr. Carter's trip on that occasion was pretty much a free-lance affair that initially irritated the Clinton administration and was widely criticized. But in the end, Mr. Carter's initiative succeeded in defusing a crisis which, unlike the Haiti affair, posed a real threat to vital U.S. security interests.

This time Mr. Carter went to Haiti as the president's official representative. And this time, his ace in the hole was the %J presence in sight of Port-au-Prince of 15,000 troops poised for attack last night.

President Clinton rightly warned there are still great risks to U.S. troops as they oversee a transfer of power in a land wracked by violence. A key will be if Mr. Aristide carries out his no-retribution pledge and his promise to retire after one term.

These are problems for the future. Mr. Carter has done his job. Now more than ever, he is a diplomatic fireman, ever ready to use his good offices and good intentions to put out threatened conflagrations and work for peace. He has promoted settlements or observed elections in troubled nations as far away as Ethiopia and as near as Mexico. Mr. Clinton may at last have found the diplomatic trouble-shooter he so obviously needs. But Mr. Carter's special brand of service lies in being outside the government; by no means should he be brought inside.

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