ALTHOUGH so far frustrated in its aims and tarred by association with events in Bosnia and Somalia, United States policy toward Haiti is on the right course, and the Clinton administration should stick with it.
The US goal of restoring President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power offers the best hope for ending Haiti's long history of repressive rule and building a democratic order in the country. The goal commands the support of the great majority of Haitians and the backing of the international community. If its implementation is well managed, it can gain bipartisan approval in the US Congress. Within and outside of Haiti, Mr. Aristide has become a powerful symbol of democracy. In the two years since a military coup ousted him, no democratic alternatives have emerged.
An outlaw military regime in Haiti that systematically kills its opponents and brutalizes its citizens is a continuing offense to American values - particularly so because of the country's proximity to and long entanglement with the US. The credibility of the US commitment to promoting democracy worldwide is also at stake in Haiti. If we do not or cannot act effectively in a poor, weak, neighboring country, where can we be counted on to act? Continued oppression in Haiti presents the US with another, more direct cost - the prospect of a large and sustained flow of refugees.
The question for US policy is not whether Aristide should be restored, but how to accomplish that task and assure his ability to govern.
First, the US should continue to work through the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). This joint action, if successful, will set a precedent for future international initiatives to protect democracy in this hemisphere and beyond. It is the most effective way to proceed, isolating Haiti's military regime and making clear that there is nowhere it can turn for support. Without the participation of other nations, a US embargo against Haiti would be futile.
Second, political and economic sanctions, particularly the worldwide trade embargo against Haiti, must be kept in place until Aristide re-assumes power. Sanctions brought the Haitian Army commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, to the bargaining table and impelled him to sign the Governor's Island Accord last July, when he agreed to steps - including his own resignation - leading to Aristide's return. Although Mr. Cedras failed to carry through on his promises, a renewed embargo, reinforced by a blockade of Haiti's ports, should force the Haitian military to yield and begin cooperating with the international community.
Third, gaining the cooperation of Haiti's military forces, through coercion and appropriate compromise, is crucial. The alternative is an invasion, probably followed by a prolonged occupation. Although US forces would prevail, the international consensus supporting US policy would come undone, with fierce resistance emerging in the UN and OAS. It will be far harder for the US to mobilize future multilateral efforts to protect democracy if the Haitian effort terminates in an invasion. Rather than setting an important precedent for international action, Haiti would be viewed as a failure of such action.
FOURTH, while ruling out an invasion, the US will have to employ military force in Haiti, joining with other countries to establish a peacekeeping mission. Peacekeepers will be needed to keep Haitian military and paramilitary forces from interfering with the operations of an Aristide government, to maintain order and prevent acts of revenge by Aristide opponents or supporters, and to create a reliable Haitian security force.
UN peacekeepers will clearly be at some risk. What will be needed is a UN force appropriately armed and of sufficient size to impose order by deterring violence and confronting it where necessary.
Finally, the US will have to mobilize international resources to sustain, for many years, a significant program of economic and technical assistance to revive Haiti's devastated economy. This will not be easy or inexpensive in an impoverished, overpopulated country whose natural resources have been ravaged. But without economic and social advances, democracy has no chance at all in Haiti. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.