US Needs to Take Control of Haiti Disaster

Washington has the ability to set situation to rights, just as it did earlier in Grenada

HAITI should be another Grenada. President Clinton's blockade and other sanctions may work. If not, the Haitian people would welcome American intervention. A battalion of marines, with appropriate air and sea cover, could do the job.

Allowing thugs to deter American and United Nations peacekeepers was a mistake. So was the aborted attempt to return President Jean-Bertrand Aristide without some enforcing mechanism.

After the debacle in Somalia and its legislative fallout in Washington, the renegade ruling junta in Haiti thought it could scare the Clinton administration and Congress into backing off. And so it did, jeopardizing the UN and other peacemakers on the ground.

But the junta has no popular support. Moreover, the guerrilla potential of the followers of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and Col. Joseph Michel Francois is far less than that of Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed and other warlord factions in Somalia. Nor would Haiti's ragtag 7,000-man army, with its scattered and badly-maintained vehicles, prove even a moment's match for the Marines.

Just as the mass of Grenada's people cheered the forcible removal of their oppressors, so most Haitians would be excited finally to be rid of those who now hold their country hostage. After all, Mr. Aristide won a massive two-thirds of the popular vote in the 1990 election; few doubt that he still has overwhelming support.

But is it the business of the United States to to oust the junta? Yes; first, there is a moral imperative. The world's only major power has a responsibility to combat the world's most outrageous violators of human rights and restore democrats to power, even though it can't redress every wrong. Haiti, less than 1,000 miles from Miami, lies well within the US hemispheric zone of influence.

Second, and more compelling: If the world's only major power allows itself to be humbled by rent-a-crowd demonstrations, warlords, drug-enriched junta leaders, and other pop-up despots, the peace of the world will deteriorate.

If the blockade of Haiti produces no results, a clear ultimatum ought to be followed, if necessary, by the mobilization of the Marines. The ultimatum itself should demand the immediate exodus of all the junta leaders, as promised at Governor's Island, New York, in July, and the dissolution of both Haiti's military and police commands.

Absent the junta leadership, the so-called attaches or latter-day Tontons Macoutes would prove little threat to peace. Likewise, the anti-Aristide and anti-US demonstrators would falter for lack of paymasters.

The hardest part of this prescription is what happens a day or two after the Marines land and eliminate the opposition. Just as Washington failed to follow up on success last winter and spring in Somalia, so it must not bungle the transition from junta to restored democracy in Haiti.

Haiti has never known any sustained democratic period. Thus, in addition to the police, military, justice system, and civil authority training teams that were to have prepared for Aristide's return, the US (together with the UN and the Organization of American States) must not flinch from a year or two of peace enforcement. Some marines or other armed military personnel must be prepared to stay, to keep the junta from reasserting itself.

The response to those in Congress and elsewhere who fear becoming embroiled in third-world messes that never resolve themselves is: An American retreat in the face of antidemocratic attacks that have absolutely no ideological basis would harm the peace of the world and destroy our own pretensions to global power.

Congress ought to understand that if the Haiti and Somalia situations are handled right (in the latter case, the US should help the UN develop an indigenous Somali government), then America will be called upon to intervene in significantly fewer countries. And the downtrodden and oppressed of the troubled world might enjoy more freedom from fear and hunger. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles 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.

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