Leading Article: US troops must no longer stand by

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SURREAL though the old Haiti may have been, the United States military has just added a new measure of surrealism to its political life. Lieutenant-General Hugh Shelton, the US commander in the country, is to 'lean very heavily' on Haiti's junta leader, Lieutenant- General Raoul Cedras, to moderate the behaviour of his police and soldiers. Another American officer reports that Lt-Gen Cedras has 'expressed interest' in the idea that the US army might be able to help in training his men in crowd control. All this about 24 hours after the licensed gangsters who make up Haiti's security forces beat to death a demonstrator while American troops stood by.

It was always certain that Jimmy Carter's deal to extract the Haitian generals from power while peacefully inserting the US invasion force contained elements of fudge and compromise. But its inherent contradictions should now be rapidly resolved. Whether the White House and public opinion likes it or not, American troops are deployed: intervention has occurred. If American lives are not to be wasted and taxpayers' dollars not squandered, the military needs to take the initiative. Those who recall the ill-fated expedition to Lebanon of 1983-84 will remember the folly of failing to employ force at a time and place when it can exercise effect. In Haiti the time is now, before terrorist tactics replace insincere negotiations.

That is why the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General John Shalikashvili, was wrong to say American troops are not responsible for keeping law and order in Haiti. What, pray, are they doing there if that is the case? The United Nations did not pass resolutions and the US did not summon up an invasion force encompassing 20 nations in order to let business proceed as usual in what Graham Greene so aptly christened 'the nightmare republic'. The Haitian 'military' do not require lessons in crowd control: they need to be taken off the streets. Perhaps it was necessary to employ the arts of Machiavelli to get the invasion forces ashore, it is now necessary to adopt the princely art of persuasion by force.

Jimmy Carter evidently disagreed with Bill Clinton and Warren Christopher in their earlier refusal to deal with Lt-Gen Cedras. His mediation saved lives. But it is the President and the Secretary of State who must assume responsibility for what is, in effect, a US protectorate under the aegis of the UN. If they act firmly now, their long term task will be all the easier.