Haitian Fallout on Clinton ,,TC

September 21, 1994

President Clinton's Haiti-related boost in his poll ratings is destined to be short-lived. Already, U.S. troops have been reluctant near-participants in clashes between the Haitian military and civilian supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Already, the differences between Mr. Clinton and former President Jimmy Carter have become a public embarrassment for the administration. Already, Mr. Aristide has signaled his displeasure with the Carter-negotiated agreement that leaves his enemies in effective control of the Haitian government and negotiating partners with the U.S. military in maintaining law and order.

These and many other complications are likely to be compounded before the Nov. 8 congressional elections, a period encompassing the Oct. 15 deadline under which Haitian strongman Raoul Cedras is supposed to step down as commanding general of the Haitian armed forces. The Carter agreement gives him leeway to renege if the Haitian parliament, whose composition is at issue, fails to grant him and his henchmen amnesty for their crimes.

It is therefore no wonder that House minority whip Newt Gingrich has circulated this memo to his fellow Republicans eager for gains in mid-term elections: "Occupation is better than invasion but it is still a bad policy . . . with significant expenditure of American resources and exposure of American troops to danger with little relevance to American national security interests."

What would normally accrue to a president's advantage -- bold ** military action on the world stage -- finds Mr. Clinton boxed in. He had to allow three critics of his Haiti policy to act as his special envoys to the Cedras regime while his own hapless secretary of state, Warren Christopher, was bypassed and overridden. Much as his administration tries to prepare public opinion for adverse consequences as 15,000 U.S. troops converge on Haiti, it is engaged in a play-it-by-ear adventure that never had widespread support and never will.

Questions of Congress' willingness to fund an operation that in time will cost more than $1 billion inevitably will be tied to legislative demands for withdrawal of U.S. forces as soon as possible. But these troops are stuck in Haiti for months, not weeks, even as the United Nations bureaucracy falls to bickering about U.S. unilateralism and the eventual hand-off of the Haiti mission from American forces to international peace-keepers.

The nation will, of course, back Americans in uniform whenever and wherever they are in peril. But this support is unlikely to be extended very long to a president whose zig-zags over Haiti have finally led this nation into an occupation it never wanted and from which it will demand escape.

The generals out; Mr. Aristide in -- this would be a victory for democracy. But Haiti will remain an embattled nation that is entitled now to the succor colonies always demand of imperial powers.

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