Mission Creep in Haiti

September 23, 1994

It took only a couple of days to explode the myth that the United States could intervene with 15,000 troops in Haiti and yet avoid the internal entanglements that brought it to grief in Somalia. Mission creep is unavoidable in this operation, and the administration's pretense that this is not the case will make its position only more untenable.

The spectacle of U.S. troops standing by passively while Haitian thug-police cracked the skulls of civilians brought the first quick turnabout in U.S. policy. Now American G.I.s can move in to stop the kinds of abuses cited by President Clinton to justify his intervention -- provided there is no danger of American casualties. Good luck.

This, however, is only the beginning of a deeper and deeper involvement in the process of "nation building" that the White House unconvincingly vows it will avoid. Very soon, U.S. planes are likely to be flying in exiled Haitian parliamentarians so they can vote on an amnesty law that may or may not induce Gen. Raoul Cedras to leave his land -- something he vows he will not do. And then, what happens when exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide returns to take power on Oct. 15, the very day General Cedras has promised to give it up?

The prospect of having these two bitter rivals on the scene simultaneously is chilling. The United States is committed to the unpredictable Aristide, whose restoration to power is supposedly what this intervention is all about. But police power will effectively remain in the hands of elements aligned with the military junta for some time to come.

Congress is demanding an explanation of U.S. policy, this on the assumption that a plausible explanation is possible. And, for the sake of posturing, it is asking for the early withdrawal of U.S. forces though this notion is far-fetched. Meanwhile, the White House twists and turns. In this bizarre renewal of the executive-legislative struggle over war powers, President Clinton holds the high cards because of the inherent nature of his position. But by dispatching forces unwisely, he is compromising his constitutional authority as commander in chief, a development that could bring grief to him and his successors.

Americans now seem to have no choice but to maintain a presence so overwhelming that they will be de facto in charge of Haiti, at least until a successor to Mr. Aristide is elected. By any definition, this is mission creep.

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