What Haiti Can Teach

THE world should be relieved and grateful - if not amazed - at the dramatic last-minute accord that has allowed American forces to enter Haiti as peacekeepers, not combatants.

But as has been said so often: Now comes the hard part. Will the military junta that ignored the Governors Island agreement now peacefully turn over power by Oct. 15, as promised? Will Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and Brig Gen. Philippe Biamby, who will be granted amnesty, leave the country or stay and cause trouble? Will United States troops - and, later, peacekeepers from other countries - become targets for snipers or terrorists? How will Haiti's 7,000 troops react? Can retribution by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide against those who committed atrocities be prevented? If no one is brought to justice for these crimes, can Haiti truly heal? How long will it take to shore up a politically and economically dysfunctional nation so that international troops can withdraw without leaving renewed chaos and bloodshed behind?

Haiti may turn out to be a tough schoolmaster, but it has much to teach us about the post-cold-war world. The lesson is needed. President Clinton's much-maligned, seemingly ad hoc foreign policy has resulted, at least in part, because no new international paradigm has formed. His administration has the task of shaping it.

In Haiti, Mr. Clinton sent a high-profile negotiating team: Former President Carter, a tenacious advocate of peaceful negotiation, was balanced with hard-headed military credibility represented by Gen. Colin Powell and Sen. Sam Nunn. When decision time came, Clinton said ``Pack 'em,'' meaning send in the troops. And only after receiving news that US troops were airborne en route to Haiti did the generals back down.

What message does this drama send abroad? Does it show that the US, while preferring peace, keeps its commitments and acts militarily if needed? Or does it say that the US can be strung along interminably, with the best deal cut at the last minute?

The Haiti situation represents the kind of world in which the US now must make its way. Americans haven't agreed on what should replace stopping communism as the prime directive of US foreign policy. They want US interests guarded, though defining just what those interests are will be part of the upcoming debate. Do they include promoting democracy and defending human rights? Even with military force, if necessary?

The administration may yet have to find out if the American public thinks the mission in Haiti merits casualties. If it does not, what kind of mission does? The answer to this question will define just what America's role in the world is going to be.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.