America shakes off the ghosts of failure: The success of the US operation in Haiti may hand a rare victory to Mr Clinton, writes Patrick Cockburn in Port-au-Prince

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The Independent Online
'WHO IS the bold? America is the bold,' chanted the crowd in Creole as they watched the 10th Mounted Division arrest and handcuff pro-army gunmen and blue-shirted Haitian police in Port-au-Prince. As they drove away, the American soldiers pumped the air with their fists in a victory salute. Elsewhere in Haiti, people are handing over to US troops weapons taken from supporters of the military regime.

It all looks more like American soldiers liberating France in 1944 than Somalia in 1993, or Lebanon 10 years earlier; and very different from the bloodbath predicted by President Bill Clinton's critics. Instead of resisting, the military regime is crumbling without a struggle. There has been no wave of retaliatory killings by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who returns from exile on 15 October.

But it could start going wrong. Down at the waterfront earlier this week, 100 people from the Cite Soleil slum led a captured gunman through the streets. A man was holding a knife to his side, but the crowd seemed to sense that it was not in there interests to kill him and alienate the Americans. This mood could change if the Haitian army's supporters start attacks. But their evident demoralisation makes this unlikely.

In Somalia last year the US was fighting gunmen with a solid base of support in their clans. US troops were intervening on one side in a civil war. In Haiti, by contrast, the US is restoring a government that was elected by two- thirds of the voters. Now that the 7,000-strong Haitian army has lost its monopoly on power, it appears to enjoy little political support.

Emmanuel Constant, leader of the pro-military organisation, Fraph, who was threatening germ warfare last year in the event of an American invasion, this week welcomed the return of Fr Aristide.

Mr Constant's press conference announcing this spectacular climbdown could only be held in the central square in Port-au- Prince, with security provided by a company of US infantry supported by Sheridan tanks. At its end, they only just prevented Mr Constant from being lynched by the crowd, who beat up two Fraph members they found hiding behind a tree. Haitian army supporters, opposed to US intervention, also see the US troops, who are removing them from power, as protectors against popular vengeance.

Mr Clinton may be on the verge of his first important foreign policy success. It was he who pushed for military intervention while a majority in Congress and among voters always opposed it.

The disaster predicted by the Republicans has not happened. Only one American soldier has been wounded out of a 20,000- strong invasion force.

The administration has also been lucky. The army and its commander, Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras, discredited themselves by beating to death a pro- Aristide demonstrator in front of the television cameras - and every hotel room in the capital is filled with American television crews. They undermined the accords they had agreed with former president Jimmy Carter, under which they were to step down in return for a general amnesty.

The weakness of US policy during the first 18 months of President Clinton's administration was that the State Department wanted to broker a power-sharing deal between Fr Aristide and the army which overthrew him. Spectacular assassinations of senior Aristide supporters, such as Antoine Izemery and the Justice Minister, Guy Malary, in 1993, showed the military would not share power.

One factor behind the success of Washington's policy since the occupation started is that the US has progressively abandoned all efforts to preserve the military as a counter-balance to Fr Aristide. Almost opposite the information section of the US embassy yesterday, people were looting the offices of a pro-regime political party without American troops paying any attention.

Half a mile away, in the garden of a military hospital, the funeral was taking place of the 10 Haitian soldiers shot dead by US Marines in the northern city of Cap Haitien. Standing by the graves, the remnants of the Haitian army looked forlorn and dejected. Some may hope their day will come again, when the US troops leave. But most looked as if they believed that their defeat was final.