Public Support for US Action In Haiti Appears Malleable
AFTER months of floundering, the Clinton administration seems to be finally finding an approach to the Haiti crisis that has the potential for creating a consensus in the American public.Skip to next paragraph
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The approach that was not working, and has still not been fully jettisoned, is the Panama option - unilateral intervention. Besides the lack of support from Congress, allies, Latin American countries, and even exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, numerous public opinion polls show that barely a quarter of the United States public supports such a course.
The new approach is to seek United Nations sponsorship for intervention in Haiti, should the sanctions fail. A new poll of 1,339 Americans by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland indicates that 54 percent would support a UN-sponsored multilateral intervention to restore Mr. Aristide.
Public opinion seems fairly malleable. When asked if they would back the policy if the president and Congress make a clear decision either to support or not support a UN-sponsored intervention, 1 in 5 respondents said they would. This suggests that with a bipartisan consensus, public support could reach 70 percent.
Furthermore, it seems there is little real resistance to such intervention. Of the 22 percent who said they would oppose it even if the president and Congress support it, 1 in 4 said they would support the policy if it seemed likely to succeed.
So why does support for intervention in Haiti leap upward when it is part of a UN-sponsored operation? Partly because Americans these days would rather be part of a multilateral operation than go it alone. A December 1992 Gallup poll found that an astounding 87 percent agreed that ``the US should commit its troops only as part of a United Nations operation.'' While most polls found only 1 in 4 support a unilateral intervention in Haiti, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 45 percent would support a military intervention when it would be in conjunction with allies. In the PIPA poll the collective legitimacy of UN sponsorship further raised the support to 54 percent.
There may be another dimension:
Americans feel comfortable using unilateral force when vital national interests are at stake. But when it is a question of addressing problems that are more global or humanitarian in character, they prefer to have it carried out under a UN aegis.
It seems the majority of Americans don't see the Haiti crisis as threatening vital national interests. The Washington Post/ABC News poll found thatonly 38 percent feel vital national interests are at stake in Haiti. Likewise in the PIPA poll, when respondents were asked to think in terms of US national interests, support for intervention dropped 5 percent.
This suggests recent White House efforts to argue that vital national interests are at stake in Haiti may be wasted. Besides the fact that most people do not buy the argument, they do not think that it decides whether the US should be involved. In the PIPA poll, 75 percent agreed that ``whenever it can, the US should look beyond its self-interest and do what's best for the world as a whole''; 84 percent said that ``sometimes the US should be willing to make sacrifices if this will help the world as a whole.'' When respondents were asked to think in these whole-world terms, support for UN intervention in Haiti jumped 5 percent.