WE should applaud President Clinton's decision to revisit United States policy concerning Haitians seeking political asylum. Rather than immediate repatriation, eligibility for asylum now will be evaluated on board ship. However, the administration seems to be turning a deaf ear to the warning from former US special adviser Lawrence Pezzullo against forcibly removing the Haitian military dictatorship.
There is a growing fear, particularly in the State Department, that the administration is now heading toward direct military intervention along the lines of the 1989 invasion of Panama. Such calls to arms reflect the overpoliticization of US policy on Haiti and a lack of long-term regional planning.
Those advocating a US-led invasion argue that the US must act to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for the reinstatement of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Influential people such as Sen. David Boren (D) of Oklahoma and analysts on the National Security Council believe that allowing the military troika led by Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras to defy the world community shows a lack of resolve that emboldens anti-American elements around the globe.
It is simply disingenuous to say that American prestige is affected by the situation in this tiny country while ethnic cleansing and bloody civil wars take place around the world. Just as important, it is doubtful that we maintain the capability to ensure long-term political stability after President Aristide's reinstatement. US forces could be forced to act as patron to a fragile and undemocratic regime.
In fact, Aristide, though popularly elected, did not himself prove to be a benevolent leader during his brief reign. His history of suppressing political opposition and his intransigence in recent negotiations has further alienated many past supporters. A military countercoup is not only a band-aid remedy to the refugee crisis but also may not be in the Haitian people's best interest.
Obviously, it is in America's national interest and in accordance with our moral strictures not to reject those fleeing the starvation and repression of the hemisphere's poorest country. The Haitian boat people should not be returned. The US cannot shirk its responsibility as a superpower and protector of human and civil rights. The free world also bears a responsibility to help further democracy.
These points of agreement combined with the fact that the Haitian military capability is negligible, do not, however, justify sending American soldiers on a potentially open-ended military expedition. Our retrenchment from Somalia and the recent election in Panama should serve as warnings to those who advocate direct military intervention.
ALTHOUGH the US military toppled Panamanian dictator Gen. Antonio Manuel Noriega, who subsequently was convicted on drug charges, the Panamanian people recently ousted the pro-American Guillermo Endara Galimany in favor of a former Noriega cohort, Ernesto Perez Balladares. Like Panama, Haiti maintains only the most fragile democratic civil institutions to underpin a pluralistic society.
A military-imposed solution without a further softening of the political terrain could lead to chaos and an open-ended commitment of would-be American occupiers. We should continue to offer humanitarian and economic aid to those suffering and political support to Artistide. Yet General Cedras's call for a new round of negotiations must be fully explored.
Certainly, we must do everything in our power to alleviate the suffering and to put Haiti back on the road toward democracy. Cedras must go, and force might be the only available means. But this time let us be sure of our objectives and capability to bring home our troops in a timely manner. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept 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@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.