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Haiti Situation Puts Clinton in Precarious Position

Column by Sudhir Anandarao

Editor's Note: This column was written and edited before the Sunday night peace accords averted the invasion.

As America prepares to launch an onslaught on Haiti to free it from the shackles of Lieut.-General Raoul Cédras and his junta, the Clinton administration is going through uneasy moments warding off questions about its policies on the Haiti issue.

Cédras and his cabal came to power in 1991 by overthrowing the democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide and since then have been inflicting untold misery on the lives of the Haitian people. Hundreds of people have been murdered, women raped, and infants mercilessly killed by the military junta. They have turned a deaf ear to all U.S. threats, ignoring "requests" to give up power and pave the way for fresh elections. The reason for some of this adventurism may be attributed to the policy decisions of the Clinton administration and its lackadaisical way of handling the issue.

President Bill Clinton, in a news broadcast on Sept. 15, announced that the only option left to restore democracy in Haiti was an invasion. Right from the beginning, Clinton has faced difficulties convincing Congress to agree with his proposal to attack Haiti. In a joint statement, the Catholic Bishops of Canada, the United States, and Latin America have said that this is not the right course of action and the motive of the U.S. administration alone should not bring Aristide back to power. In addition, an overwhelming majority of the American people maintain that the present situation is not worth the sacrifice of U.S. lives. In a nationwide poll conducted by Time/CNN, at least 58 percent of the people were against an invasion. They still remember the trauma that the U.S. army went through in Somalia, where innocent soldiers were killed. But the President has gone too far to retract, so the only course of action he's left with is to invade Haiti. He has clearly messed up the issue by his indecisiveness and lack of timely diplomacy.

Clinton did the right thing in consulting the United Nations before taking any course of action, but did not make the right decisions at the opportune moment. Economic sanctions were imposed to force Cédras to cede power, but they did not go hand in hand with administrative decisions. As a result, the President had to face the ire of all quarters who denigrated his sanctions as only a source of suffering to the poor. The second issue he bungled concerned the broken promises toward refugees. In Cuba's case, it seems to be partially resolved with a compromise being reached between Fidel Castro and U.S. diplomats. But Americans still have not forgotten the thousands of Cubans reaching Florida. They do not want to go through it all over again in the case of Haiti. This is one of the major problems the army is going to face after the invasion.

Going by Clinton's statement, the U.S. army is fully geared up for the invasion. Around 20,000 troops will be deployed, costing the treasury around $430 million. The army went through an intensive rehearsal for the invasion, code-named "Agile Provider." During this rehearsal, several troops were captured by the "defenses;" hopefully, this should not happen again and become embarrassing during the real assault. Even though the Haitian army is going to be easy meat for the U.S. troops, Cédras has ominously spoken of inciting sporadic violence. This needs to be taken seriously.

An even bigger problem facing the army will be getting out after the attack. The U.S. people are well aware of the "nation building" operations carried out by the army in Somalia and do not want that to happen again. Another issue will be to transfer Cédras to an unknown place or to offer him as a guinea pig to the Haitians.

This invasion is going to take place, unless Cédras shows a white flag at the last minute and decides to give in. A nonviolent political solution would have been most acceptable, involving all sectors of the Haitian society. Still an invasion will heal the wounds to some extent. The President maintains that the restoration of democracy, establishment of human rights, and maintenance of law and order are his only concerns at present. But it is a well-known fact that Western hegemony was established on the oil fields after Operation Desert Storm.

The "multinational" forces set up to attack Haiti consist of a few soldiers from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Belize. Clinton asked for unilateral support from other nations, but none of them wanted to burn their fingers again. The recent trade embargo imposed on Haiti gives Clinton some more time to think of alternative strategies, but it seems that he has finally run out of ideas.

Whatever happens in the coming days, one thing is certain: If U.S. troops come out unscathed, Clinton will secure a moral victory; but if it turns out otherwise, he is putting himself in a precarious position for the coming elections.