Haiti for the short haul only

September 20, 1994

President Clinton correctly warns that although U.S. troops have entered Haiti peacefully, the situation there is difficult, uncertain and risky. Two questions loom large: When does President Jean-Bertrand Aristide return to his country? When does Gen. Raoul Cedras leave?

The Sunday night agreement that averted a military invasion failed to mention either of these principal players in the Haitian drama. At this stage, President Clinton doesn't even know if General Cedras will leave. And the silence of Mr. Aristide is ominous, especially when his attorney labels the accord "highly imperfect."

While Americans are relieved that U.S. armed forces did not have to suffer casualties in moving into Haiti, they have been reminded that the last time the Marines landed there, in 1915, they stayed for 19 years. This time the administration hopes to turn matters over to a United Nations peace-keeping operation (half staffed by Americans) in a matter of months. But don't count on it.

The fear of a prolonged involvement is one reason most Americans opposed armed intervention and are decidedly uneasy that our forces are in Haiti even on what the Pentagon calls a "permissive" basis. After the sour experience in Somalia, this country is unlikely to have its head turned by the joyful welcome given the first troops or the initial businesslike talks between U.S. military commanders and the Cedras clique. Too well remembered is the gunfire that followed the flowers in Somalia.

Very soon, U.S. forces will have to face the task of trying to disarm or buy the weapons of the various para-military factions that abound in Haiti. This very tough mission will have to be carried out with the Haitian forces still intact, the negotiations seeking General Cedras' departure tied to his pledge to give up power Oct. 15 and President Aristide's followers being whipped up to be suspicious of the whole arrangement. In such a vacuum of authority, the U.S. will have to act as a force for law and order to prevent Haitian-on-Haitian violence.

No nonsense should be the touchstone of U.S. policy in Haiti from this day onward. Mr. Clinton should make it clear to Messrs. Aristide and Cedras that no nonsense will be tolerated from either. The general should be pushed into exile, whether he likes it or not, and the president should return from exile not when he wishes but when it is safest for U.S. troops and the success of this mission to create a democratic Haiti.

The U.S. is now committed to putting Haiti back on its feet at a probable cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. But the mission will be quickly in jeopardy if it starts to resemble another Somalia.

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