The Endgame in Haiti

BY seeking and receiving United Nations consent to invade Haiti, the United States has upped the stakes in its high-risk chess game with the despots who rule there.

The 12-to-0 vote by the Security Council July 31 substantially bolsters the US position. Polls show the American public much more willing to accept US military involvement if it is under the auspices of the UN. And by authorizing a multilateral peacekeeping force to take over after an invasion, the resolution begins to answer one of the most troubling issues for Americans: Once in, how do we get out again? The failed 19-year US stay after an invasion of Haiti in 1915 sets a disturbing precedent.

The reasons to be reluctant to use force in Haiti are many and valid. The UN mantle won't provide sufficient protection against charges in Latin America of old-style Yankee imperialism. No vital US strategic interests are at stake. If the US invades Haiti, why not Cuba, with a similarly repressive, unelected regime? And so on.

By setting no time limit, the UN resolution gives the US a flexible period to see if stepped-up sanctions can work. The Haitian border with the Dominican Republic will be patrolled more vigorously to cut down on smuggling. France has joined the boycott on international air traffic, shutting off commercial flights completely.

While reports suggest that sanctions are beginning to affect the upper-middle class, the wealthy elite who run Haiti in conjunction with the junta may be unreachable through sanctions. Meanwhile, Haiti's poor continue to suffer most.

Before any invasion, President Clinton must make his case to the American people. They must know why such an extreme action is needed. Congressional pre-approval, though not requisite, is highly desirable. If an invasion comes, it will only underscore how the administration's fumbling has made a poor option into the best remaining one.

Misery on an unprecedented scale in Rwanda or atrocities in Bosnia, should not cause the world to forget the horrors being committed in Haiti. To have its words taken seriously in the future, and to save the lives of innocents in Haiti, the US reluctantly must, if needed, use its boldest move: invasion. Those who value human rights must back the play.

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