WHAT keeps the American people from recognizing the successes so far in the United States effort under way in Haiti? An Associated Press poll released Friday showed that 45 percent of those polled don't think the US will succeed in removing the Haitian junta from power and restoring democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Yet consider what has been accomplished:
* American troops took control without resistance or casualties.
* They have shown that they can quickly adapt to new conditions. Military planners had prepared a complex invasion plan, only to have it altered by the success of former President Carter's negotiations with junta leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras. In a matter of hours, the US adapted Phase II of its invasion plan into a new Phase I of peaceful occupation.
The new approach also meant rules of engagement had to be changed to reflect new conditions. US troops now have wide discretion to use their own judgment to keep order and protect lives - a sophisticated policy that is a tribute to their high level of training and ability. With the Haitian police proving themselves to be ineffective, US troops now are more aggressively controlling and disarming attaches.
* The vast majority of the Haitian people have joyously greeted the American troops as liberators. In Cap-Haitien, where US Marines used force against paramilitaries, relations with civilians seem especially good.
* The Haitian parliament has begun meeting again, including supporters of President Aristide who at last can come out of hiding. Popular Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, considered a likely candidate to succeed Aristide as president, has been able to resume his duties.
* There is no indication that the Oct. 15 deadline for the the junta to step down will not be observed. Some 20,000 US troops on the ground represent a significant guarantor.
* The first US Marines, some 1,800, have begun to leave, while the first United Nations peacekeeping troops are beginning to arrive.
Caution and alertness remain the watchwords. No one is guaranteeing that the US will avoid casualties. US troops still have a tricky role to play, and the strategy on the ground needs constant reassessment. Junta leaders could still attempt a ``Somalia gambit,'' trying to inflict US casualties and cause an uproar of US public opinion that would bring American troops home before they can complete their mission. That's why calls by Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia and others to set some arbitrary date to pull out only endanger the US forces. Now is not the time to encourage the junta and paramilitary attaches by showing a wavering resolve.