Haiti-the-idea is out of control

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OPERATION Uphold Democracy would be more accurately entitled Operation Uphold the Democratic Party. At every stage, United States policy towards Haiti has been shaped by the perceived needs of the Democratic candidates in the congressional mid-term elections, now less than two months away.

What might help or hurt the people of Haiti was neither here nor there at any stage. All that mattered was what would help or hurt the Democratic candidates, and so help or hurt the image of President Clinton and his future relations with Congress, which, in turn, are likely to determine whether or not Clinton will be elected President for a second term. With so much at stake at home, Haiti itself was of no importance at all. But Haiti as a campaign issue became of transcendent importance.

There have been several reasons for the rapid rise in the political fortunes of Haiti- the-issue. First, Americans had shown a lot more interest in Bosnia than in any other foreign-policy issue. That was a good reason to change the subject - to move it away from Bosnia. Over Bosnia, the President was being plausibly depicted as a petulant, dithering wimp, and that was hurting the Democratic congressional candidates. On the other hand, if Clinton stopped being a wimp and sent American boys into Bosnia, there was a strong chance that some of these would be coming back in body-bags, before 8 November, and that would hurt the Democratic candidates even worse than the idea of Clinton being a wimp.

There was indeed one idea which, had it been internationally practicable, would have made Bosnia a winner for the Democrats in the congressional election campaign. This was an idea put forward by an influential Washington think-tank, headed by a former Air Force Chief of Staff, General Michael J Dugan.

The Dugan plan was for a massive allied offensive against the Serbian aggressors. Not only was all of Bosnia to be liberated, but Serbia was to be occupied, in order to ensure that there was no repetition of the aggression. In the Dugan plan, the offensive in the air was entrusted to the Americans. The ground troops were to be supplied by the European allies, primarily Britain, France and Italy. Unfortunately, the European allies failed to see the advantages of the role assigned to them in the Dugan Grand Design. The designated and indispensable ground troops would do nothing but drag their feet.

So the Dugan option faded, and with it the Bosnian issue as a possible winner for Democratic candidates in the congressional elections. At this point, Haiti-the-issue began to move up the electoral agenda. The idea, as often with the Democrats, was to take a leaf out of the book of tricks of that old political conjuror Ronald Reagan.

When Reagan had found it expedient to cut and run from Lebanon, he won political compensation for that ignominious retreat by invading Grenada, a tiny Caribbean country that posed no threat whatever to the security of the United States. This made it the ideal candidate for a casualty-free invasion, on the ground that it did pose a threat to the security of the United States.

Haiti is like Grenada in that it is a small, poor country in America's backyard. The 'backyard' factor is what makes Haiti not like Lebanon, and not like Bosnia. Also, Haiti's military leaders had made themselves conspicuously obnoxious to the guardians of democratic principle in the hemisphere by chasing their elected president out of the country, instead of just hemming him in and running him, as is standard in the region and in other poor countries. So Haiti became the designated candidate for invasion/liberation, as Grenada had once been.

Yet things have not gone altogether as smoothly over Haiti as they did for Reagan with Grenada. For one thing, Haiti is quite populous, while Grenada had the conspicuous merit, for its destined role in world history, of having almost no population at all. Another difference is that whereas Reagan just went in and proclaimed victory, Bill Clinton did not, and does not, have the confidence in his authority over public opinion which enables a President to act like that. Clinton felt the need to prepare public opinion for a possible invasion of Haiti, by

a propaganda campaign full of denunciations of the in-

famous Haitian regime, and full of compassion for

the suffering people of

Haiti.

WHEREUPON large numbers of the said suffering people set out in boats for the land that was said to be brimming with compassion for them. At this point, the arrival in Florida, that populous and politically crucial state, of real flesh-and- blood Haitians from actual geographical Haiti was beginning to muck up Haiti-the- campaign-issue on which the White House was counting for a perceived foreign-policy success.

Clinton therefore ordered the coastguard service to force Haitian boat people back to Haiti. No matter that these acts were compelling suffering people to endure again what Clinton himself had described as the cruel control of an infamous regime. The point was that real-life Haiti must not be allowed to confuse Haiti-the-issue.

Yet the confusion was not easy to eradicate. The black political establishment, headed by the Black Caucus in Congress, did not like the spectacle of black people being pushed around by armed forces of the United States. Not that the Black Caucus wanted the Haitian refugees to be admitted to the United States. American blacks are no keener than other Americans to welcome a large influx of poor blacks speaking a foreign language (like the Puerto Ricans, between whom and English-speaking blacks there is no love lost). 'Don't let them in but stop them leaving' was the message from blacks and other Americans. So the political signals pointed towards military intervention.

But a politically successful military intervention would have to be casualty-free, which could be ensured only through an advance deal with the infamous regime. The deal was duly done, and consummated this week.

The consummation became a bit messy when forces loyal to the infamous regime with which the deal was done beat up supporters of President Aristide, whom the Americans are coming (in theory) to restore. But that was transitional. When the Americans have been there for a while, ground rules of decorum will be established.

Already, the choreography is being prepared for the triumphal return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Port-au-Prince. It will be a pageant of the triumph of Operation Uphold Democracy. Thousands of cheering Haitians will line the streets, watched by benevolent and disciplined police.

Vive President Aristide] Vive la Democratie] Vive l'Amerique] Amply recorded for television in late October, those sights and sounds ought to do wonders for the Democratic candidates come 8 November.

But this edifying scene will require the compliance of the military oligarchy; otherwise the police will not be available in their indispensable role as benevolent onlookers. The oligarchy and the Haitian middle class - both of which detest Aristide - will have to be reassured that Aristide's restoration is no more than a pageant for the cameras. Real power in Haiti will be shared between the oligarchy and the Americans, as long as the Americans are there.

After the Americans are gone, all power will revert to the oligarchy, behind whatever facades - such as a UN presence - are convenient both to themselves and the Americans. By then, the American elections will be over and Haiti will revert to being a non-issue. Except that the oligarchy will be required to prevent Haitians from leaving for America.

The author of The Comedians would have loved Operation Uphold Democracy. Graham Greene, thou shouldst be living at this hour] Haiti hath need of thee]

(Photograph omitted)

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