US aims for a quick fix

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN American troops land in Haiti they will displace the junta by force or, if Jimmy Carter succeeds in persuading its leaders to leave peacefully, fill the ensuing power vacuum, writes David Usborne in Washington.

The strategy devised by the Pentagon looks beyond the invasion which, with 20,000 Americans ranged against 7,000 ill-equipped Haitian soldiers, should not be too challenging in itself. What worries planners more is the chaos that might erupt once General Cedras and his cronies are ousted. Hit lists are believed to have been drawn up, as well as plans for torching Cite Soleil, a slum where many Aristide supporters live.

It is politically vital to President Clinton that the transition to democracy is as trouble- free as possible. He has promised Americans that the mission is 'achievable and limited'. That means not allowing his soldiers to become bogged down, as they did in Somalia, in containing endemic civil strife.

Washington is haunted also by a more distant memory: the US invasion of Haiti of 1915. That, too, was advertised as a quick-fire mission to protect democracy. The New York Times wrote: 'It was almost hopeless to expect an orderly government to be established without military intervention on the part of the United States.' The 19-year occupation suppressed repeated popular uprisings, and has been branded by historians as brutal and racist.

American intelligence fears that General Cedras's armed supporters will massacre prominent Aristide men. But there are also fears that the Aristide faithful themselves will settle old scores in blood. Father Aristide appealed to them from Washington on Friday for restraint. 'We say no to vengeance,' he said.

It is this kind of turmoil - which could trigger another politically catastrophic exodus of boat people - that the US military will have to quash. One US official said: 'The key is not to invade the country - it is to sit on the country.'

An even greater task, once security has been established, will be putting the country back on its feet fast enough to enable the early US withdrawal that President Clinton has promised. A top priority is the retraining of the Haitian police force.

Longer-term peace-keeping, which is expected to remain necessary at least until new elections at the end of next year, would be the responsibility of a multilateral UN force, not just of the US.

Allowing his troops to remain in Haiti even for 19 weeks - never mind 19 years - might spell political disaster for the President.