Clinton Tries to Rally US Behind Invasion of Haiti

Warships stand by, but members of Congress resist the move

PRESIDENT Clinton is rallying both United States warships and his own words as the administration makes its final preparations for an expected invasion of Haiti.

The warships are the aircraft carriers USS America and USS Eisenhower, which are now at sea loaded with Army helicopters and troops intended as the initial muscle of an invasion force. The words will form Clinton's television address to the nation tonight, which is meant to calm a Congress restive about the impending military action.

``I can't see risking one American life in Haiti,'' says Rep. Randy ``Duke'' Cunningham (R) of California, expressing the discontent many lawmakers currently feel.

There is still a chance that a US-led ouster of the Haitian military regime can be avoided. Lawmakers briefed by the administration on Tuesday indicated that much pressure was still being brought to bear on Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and his cohorts to leave voluntarily, instead of at the point of the 10th Mountain Division's rifles.

But there was no real indication that the Haitian junta would finally crack after months of banging war drums, and in Capitol Hill cloakrooms the talk was not of ``if'' but ``when.'' One theory is that an attack will take place around Oct. 4's new moon, when the US military could take advantage of their night-vision equipment.

Some of the congressional discontent with Haiti policy is based in the clashing roles of institutions. For years Congress and presidents of both parties have differed over the meaning of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which requires timely congressional approval when the executive branch puts US troops at risk.

Both House Speaker Thomas Foley (D) of Washington and Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine have urged Clinton to ask for a vote of approval before invading, though Mr. Mitchell has admitted that ``no president in my lifetime'' has concurred that such a vote is a prerequisite for using US troops.

Some of the Capitol Hill discontent is pure partisanship. Republicans are ``gleeful'' about Haiti, says the defense adviser to one senior Democratic senator. The lurching manner in which Mr. Clinton's Caribbean policies have developed have given them all manner of opportunity to bash the White House.

And some of the opposition is simply opposition - lawmakers who believe restoring ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power is not enough of a US interest to endanger any US soldiers' lives. After all, polls show that most US voters do not support a Haitian invasion.

In his speech tonight President Clinton will try to convince the American people, and through them Congress, that US national interests do justify the Haitian junta's ouster. In a speech Monday that likely marked a trial run of the president's themes, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake insisted that the US ``has a great deal at stake'' in Haiti.

Among the reasons listed by Mr. Lake: After months of threats, the US must back them up to prove its ``essential reliability.'' Additionally, Haiti is a test case of the US will to spread democracy, Lake said, and an uncontrolled refugee flow from an unstable Haiti could swamp US shores.

After hearing the speech, Richard Haas, a senior director of the National Security Council staff during the Bush presidency, says he gives a ``conditional yes'' as an answer to the question of whether US interests are such that an invasion of Haiti is justified.

But he adds that these interests are ``considerably less than vital,'' and that the US should have an exit strategy and other nations willing to fill in with manpower after the initial stabilization period is over.

``The administration had better be careful in how they go about this,'' Mr. Haas says.

Lawmakers tend to forget that there was at least as much turmoil and dissent on Capitol Hill, if not more, prior to Desert Storm. The subsequent experience of the Persian Gulf war, plus the invasions of Panama and Grenada, show that success tends to stifle criticism and breed popularity.

If the Haiti operation goes smoothly, the current discontent will quickly fade, Haas says. If casualties mount, or it appears that a long Somalia-like slog is ahead, then Clinton could be in big political trouble.

In general, demanding that the public and Congress be behind any US military intervention before it occurs is a recipe for inaction, the Bush NSC official says.

The principles laid down by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, which included these points, were not so much a guide to the use of force as a guide to the non-use of force.

``Presidents have to be willing to take risks and discount popular and congressional opinion. Most interventions tend to be controversial,'' Haas says.

Congress is also not without its foreign- policy faults. In a GOP response to Clinton's radio address Saturday, Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana decried what he called the administration's ``reckless rush'' to invade Haiti. But he also charged that Congress had already passed up opportunities to rein in the president.

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