Fawning over Aristide puts U.S. in goofy bind

September 23, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Rubbing my eyes didn't help. The incredible image was still on the TV.

There outside the Pentagon were the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other big-time American military people.

A band played rousing anthems and troops wore formal uniforms. There were cannons blasting away in a 21-gun salute.

And what was the occasion for so dramatic a display? What great national event was taking place?

It seems that this fellow Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said to be a slightly unhinged Marxist, had consented to come to the Pentagon to make a speech about President Clinton's policy on Haiti.

Assuming, of course, that Aristide understood Clinton's muddled policy, or that the policy hadn't been switched in the past few minutes.

Until recently, most Americans didn't know Jean-Bertrand Aristide from Joe Glotz. He was and is a bit player on the world stage, the exiled president of a poor and dinky nation of little or no importance to the United States.

But there we were, fawning over him and treating his appearance at the Pentagon as if it was a major event in international diplomacy.

How did the United States, the most powerful nation on Earth, get into this goofy bind?

Because Aristide was in a snit over the dipsy-do switcheroo that Clinton had pulled on him.

Instead of our troops roaring ashore and kicking out the evil military bosses of Haiti -- as Clinton had vowed we would do -- we were now almost pals with the evil military bosses.

And our soldiers had been ordered to just mind their own business when the Haitian troops crushed the skulls of Haitian citizens, including kids and that simple coconut vendor who was whacked to death.

Well, you can't blame Aristide for being a bit out of sorts. After all, he had been told we were going to seize Haiti in order to kick out the military thugs and restore him to the presidency.

It was never clear to most Americans why we would take on that chore, since there are more than enough able-bodied Haitians who could rise up against their oppressors if they wanted to. They aren't so inclined.

PFHowever, in a twinkling, Clinton decided that all the brutal killers,

rapists, cutthroats and thieves in the military junta should be given amnesty for all of their crimes.

And they should be permitted to remain in Haiti and continue running the country until some time next month.

If running the country included thugs beating up on ordinary citizens, so be it. Our soldiers could just put their hands over their eyes if the cruelty bothered them.

Aristide was not thrilled by Clinton's bizarre double-cross. So he pouted in silence, and that prompted the White House to say something like this:

"We can't have Aristide saying we are wishy-washy jerks, even though we are. So let's butter him up . . . Invite him to the Pentagon. Put on a big show. . . And put Aristide on CNN making a speech about the glories of democracy."

This will surely be recorded as one of the wackiest moments in our history.

We started out with the goal of kicking out the bad guys and sent a substantial army to do the job. Then we decided that the bad guys weren't so bad after all, and we'd let them keep running things for a while.

So our soldiers had to stand around helplessly while the bad guys ran amok. And we don't even know what atrocities they were committing in the countryside, where there were no TV cameras.

When the thugs were shown on American TV, some yuppie in the White House said: "Oops, that doesn't look good. Tell some general to do something, quick."

So the Pentagon sent word that we should bring in a few hundred military police to keep an eye on the Haitian thugs and make sure they don't do anything that will result in more distasteful TV video clips.

And the crowd that created this situation is going to give us universal health care?

I'd rather take my chances with a veterinarian.

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