Agreement brings relief in Congress

September 20, 1994|By Karen Hosler and Michael A. Fletcher | Karen Hosler and Michael A. Fletcher,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The last-minute diplomatic mission that averted a U.S. invasion of Haiti drew a bipartisan sigh of relief yesterday in Congress, where a majority of lawmakers had opposed intervention.

The House moved quickly to commend the efforts of the negotiating team led by former President Jimmy Carter while shelving proposals to condemn the prospective invasion.

A bipartisan resolution that also calls for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops as soon as possible was adopted 353 to 45. All negative votes were cast by Republicans; all members of the Maryland delegation supported the bill.

The Senate is expected to consider a similar measure today.

"I'm just really happy we didn't have to invade," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican who had been critical of the potential military action. "This whole thing worked out with a lot of loose strings and a lot of luck. But it happened that it was successful. Now, we all have to build on that success."

Despite their relief, many lawmakers noted that the occupation of the Caribbean nation, while U.S. troops oversee the restoration of a civilian government there, threatens to be a costly venture that could result in the loss of U.S. lives.

"Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. America -- you are now the proud parents of another dependent," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., who called President Clinton's Haiti policy "a fiasco."

Legislators who had been urging Mr. Clinton to take strong action to topple Haiti's military dictators were among the most relieved that bloodshed has been avoided so far.

But Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the congressional Black Caucus who had been leading the calls for more aggressive U.S. action in Haiti, fended off criticism that the caucus alone had pushed the president to the brink of invasion.

"The American public understands that it is not a matter of the tail wagging the dog," Mr. Mfume said. "It's a matter of a president having to come to grips, after months and months of exhaustive negotiations, to reach a conclusion."

Members of the House and Senate were briefed by the two other major members of the Carter team: Gen. Colin L. Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Several lawmakers questioned why Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, Haiti's de facto leader, and his top allies would be allowed to stay in power until Oct. 15, after Mr. Clinton had insisted last week that they must leave immediately.

General Powell responded, the lawmakers said, by asking whether any of them believed that the difference of a few weeks was worth risking U.S. lives. None believed that it was worth it.

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri defended Mr. Clinton's decision to launch the invasion force.

"It was the threat of force, and the real threat of force, that brought this agreement about," he said.

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