WASHINGTON — WITH United Nations approval in hand for military intervention in Haiti, President Clinton has what he has long sought: carte blanche to remove the country's repressive military junta and restore democracy. But now that he has it, he may be reluctant to use it right away, waiting instead for sanctions to bite even more.
A UN Security Council resolution authorizing the invasion and temporary occupation of the island nation, approved on Sunday, is warmly welcomed at the White House but comes just as events at home and abroad may argue for keeping the Haiti issue out of sight, at least for the moment.
At home, military action now could divert attention from imminent floor votes in Congress on health-care legislation, which has been Mr. Clinton's top domestic priority. Meanwhile, any plans for an invasion of Haiti will have to be weighed in the context of proliferating commitments abroad, including the start of humanitarian relief operations in Rwanda and possible punitive action directed at Bosnian Serbs, who have rejected the latest peace proposal from the West.
Paradoxically, the green light from the UN also comes just as one of the main pressures for an invasion has subsided. A massive exodus of Haitian refugees fleeing hardships created by a UN embargo was slowed significantly in mid-July after the US began diverting refugees away from the US to temporary havens in other countries.
In stark contrast to the reluctant mood in Washington, Haiti's de facto president declared a national state of siege yesterday and announced that ``the battle of Haiti is under way.''
The Security Council resolution authorizes the creation of an invasion force under US command to take control of the island nation, disarm the country's tiny military force, remove the ruling military government, and restore constitutional government. It sets no deadline for an invasion. It provides for UN observers to monitor the invasion and for a peacekeeping force of 6,000 to take over after the junta is ousted and a ``secure and stable environment'' is established.
Clinton administration officials hope the mere existence of the resolution, combined with the economic pressure of an embargo imposed by the UN nine months ago, will finally persuade the regime, led by Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, to step down. Such hopes have been backed with escalating rhetoric from the US.
``You have a choice,'' UN ambassador Madeleine Albright warned the junta in a statement on Sunday. ``You can depart voluntarily and soon, or you can depart involuntarily and soon. The sun is setting on your ruthless ambition.'' Despite such threats, the administration is expected to keep the Haiti issue at arm's length for now, unless the safety of an estimated 3,000 Americans still living in Haiti is threatened or if the the massive exodus of refugees resumes.The principal beneficiary of an invasion would be Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Catholic priest who was elected president of Haiti in 1990 and overthrown nine months later. For weeks, the US's prickly Haitian client has voiced misgivings about being returned to power with US arms. But in a letter issued Friday that eased passage of the UN resolution, he called for ``swift and decisive action'' against the military regime.
The idea of an invasion has garnered little enthusiasm among US lawmakers, who prefer to give sanctions more time to work, or among Latin American leaders, who are queasy about US intervention in the hemisphere, even with UN backing.
Even so, with the UN resolution secured, Clinton will find it harder to ignore continuing human rights abuses. Clinton has also created his own pressure to invade with countless calls for the restoration of democracy in Haiti.
Some 2,500 US Marines are now stationed in ships off Haiti. If an invasion is ordered their first job will be to pacify the island and to disarm Haitian military and paramilitary forces. After that, the mission will get harder. Diplomatic sources say one precondition for stability will be to persuade Aristide to appoint a prime minister and to work with a centrist coalition in Parliament. Such a demand would be hard to swallow for the enigmatic leader, who has preferred to bypass the legislature in the past. Even with such changes, stability will not come easy in the island nation, which has neither a democratic history nor deeply rooted democratic institutions.