Why the President Invaded Haiti

September 24, 1994|By DANIEL BERGER

As long as President Clinton appeared unwilling or unable to )) commit U.S. troops in anger, he was mocked by such adversaries as Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid, Radovan Karadzic, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro and Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.

Mr. Clinton was going to have to show sometime that what Presidents Reagan and Bush did, he would do if provoked -- and that his generals would follow his orders.

So Mr. Clinton steeled himself for his first little Reaganesque war -- and then didn't have to do it after General Cedras, the last convert, became convinced that he would.

Two earlier U.S. policy events set the course that led to the war that (so far) has not had to be fought. For people who condemn the invasion of Haiti, those events should be seen as the irremediable mistakes.

The first was the Governors Island Conference of June-July 1993, presided over by United Nations mediator Dante Caputo of Argentina with strong input from Mr. Clinton's adviser on Haiti, Lawrence A. Pezzullo of Baltimore. That was where the deal was struck for President Aristide's return to power by October 30, 1993, on which General Cedras welshed. That was where U.S. prestige was thrown on the line. After that, it was intolerable to the U.S. that General Cedras stay.

If Haiti is not relevant to the U.S. interest or worth the life of one American professional soldier, that deal should never have been struck and that conference never held.

The second event propelling American troops toward Haiti was the ouster of Mr. Pezzullo last April for having failed to get General Cedras out and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide back in.

Mr. Pezzullo's replacement by former Rep. Bill Gray signaled a purer pro-Aristide and anti-Cedras line. Mr. Clinton had passed the point of no return.

So when former President Jimmy Carter, on Sunday with the 82nd Airborne aloft, jerked President Clinton back to a greater accommodation of the general, many people were confused whether Mr. Clinton had changed sides in mid-air.

Presumably he did not, but the terms might seem to allow General Cedras to hang on and run the place from behind the scenes. U.S. policy implementation on the ground in Haiti must clarify that point quickly.

The politicians who rushed in front of cameras Sunday morning to denounce the invasion as driven by domestic politics, were driven by domestic politics. Dick Cheney wants to be president. Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan wants to cut the puppy-dog president )) off at the knees.

In my view, the Haiti invasion was driven by Haitian affairs and U.S. foreign-policy frustrations elsewhere. President Clinton wants desperately to be taken seriously by someone somewhere.

Frustration 1. The mission creep in Somalia turned a humanitarian effort into a police hunt for General Aidid who made a fool of his pursuers and whose cooperation was vital to a negotiated settlement. He may be General Cedras' role model.

Frustration 2. The U.S. cannot take a more forceful action against the genocide in Bosnia because the European powers object. Their troops on the ground, who would be put at risk, along with the U.S. airlift to Sarajevo, prevent genocide. So any U.S. gesture against genocide could increase it.

Frustration 3. The heirs of Kim Il Sung want to keep us guessing about their nuclear weapons development. Some Americans nostalgic for the 1950s want President Clinton to bomb North Korea, one of the world's most formidable military powers.

That could provoke North Korea to destroy South Korean industry nearby, which might cheer some American trade protectionists but would leave the North Korean nuclear-weapons program (if any) intact in tunnels under mountains where bombs don't reach. What would bombing have been for?

Frustration 4 is Haiti, the nearest problem and weakest adversary. Gen. Colin Powell's 1992 doctrine limiting military operations to overwhelmingly favorable circumstances -- which has never governed U.S. projections of power -- comes closer to authorizing the Haiti invasion than any adventure elsewhere. We can go in, take over, claim victory, hand over and get out.

That's why President Clinton finally decided to fight the Haiti war. When General Cedras accepted the reality that Mr. Clinton would go all the way, Mr. Clinton didn't have to. But he has yet to restore legitimacy and President Aristide in Haiti.

F: Daniel Berger writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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