Leading Article: Invasion of the nightmare republic

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ARMED with a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, President Clinton is now able to order the invasion of Haiti if he deems it necessary to overthrow that country's bloodstained military rulers and bring home its democratically elected leader, Jean- Bertrand Aristide. His actions will be closely watched. Apart from the immediate effects for the people of Haiti, the way America handles this crisis will invite a judgement upon Bill Clinton's foreign policy and will test the tattered credibility of the UN.

There is at first sight every reason for intervention to restore a minimum level of human rights in the country Graham Greene once called the 'nightmare republic'. The UN has finally heeded the despair of the Haitian people, confronted the venal brutality of their military rulers and imposed economic sanctions that bite. It has authorised the United States to use force to ensure the generals' departure - and the sooner they depart, the better. There seems little doubt that the Americans would swiftly prevail over Haiti's armed forces, whose only known martial quality is their valour against defenceless civilians.

What happens after that constitutes a deeper problem, and one that could test Mr Clinton's resolve over the longer term. Haiti is in desperate straits. It is an ecological disaster. Most of its people are unemployed and illiterate. Its moribund economy was plundered long ago by an oligarchy so witless and cruel that it does not deserve to survive. Haitians emerged from the superstitious night of the Duvalier dictatorship only to see their brief hopes of democracy dashed. If Mr Clinton brings back the Aristide presidency on the shoulders of the US Marines, he will have to help the new government. That means substantial economic aid and international assistance to raise minimum standards of living. Only a properly developed economy will break the power of Haiti's elite. And Haitians need a new, credible, constitutional and political system.

At the same time President Aristide must show himself worthy of international support. He came into office as a charismatic priest, railing against the Pope, the multinationals and the demons of Caribbean imperialism. Now he needs modesty and pragmatism.

If Mr Clinton has to send in the Marines, he must do so in decisive force. The UN must back him up when the going gets rough, as it will. And Haiti's neighbours should stand ready to help in the long task of bringing its people into the light of modern day. If these conditions are met, then Mr Clinton is justified in taking the risk.