President Clinton can take pride in the Haiti operation. Against the wishes of an America made leery by Somalia, the Administration accomplished what it set out to do: U.S. intervention ended a corrupt and illegal military rule, restored the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and stanched the flow of illegal immigrants to this country. That's not bad.
In addition, before getting bogged down there Clinton on Friday turned over the six-month-old operation to the United Nations, which will use 6,000 peacekeeping troops from 37 nations, including 2,500 Americans. Led by an American commander, the U.N. peacekeepers will oversee legislative elections in June and a presidential election in December, both crucial points for Haiti's fragile democracy.
However, if democracy is indeed to take root Aristide must see that his critics do not suffer the attacks and threats of the sort he and his supporters had to endure earlier. Quashing of dissent would only bring back violence and corruption--and lead to Aristide's downfall.
Political murders are part of Haiti's history. The latest victim is Mireille Durocher Bertin, an opposition figure and a critic of Aristide. Before she was murdered last week, her name was found on an assassination list that contained about 100 political names; the finger of suspicion points to Aristide's interior minister, Mondesir Beaubrun. The FBI will investigate, and if the accusations prove true, Aristide must remove Beaubrun to show that no one is above the law. Alas, so far Haiti's president seems inclined to protect his minister. Not surprisingly, frictions with Washington are surfacing.
Too bad. Haiti can actually make it this time. It is not another Somalia. There are no warlords engaged in a murderous struggle for control. Unlike the Somalis, who turned on Americans bearing humanitarian aid, most Haitians appreciate U.S. assistance.
Somalia soured much of the affluent West on helping Africans. The resentment that arose discouraged an early intervention last year to stop the genocide in Rwanda. It also discouraged intervention in neighboring Burundi, which, as almost everyone feared, is now coming apart. As the body count there grows, the United Nations threatens action, but because of the potential for failure no one seriously expects Western military intervention.
Not all U.N. interventions fail, of course. They can succeed especially when domestic politics allows Washington to risk U.S. involvement. Americans can't be expected to police the world, but both Haiti and the United States are better off because of the Clinton Administration's success in the Caribbean nation. Isolationists--neo or classical--need to keep this in mind.