ALTHOUGH so far frustrated in its aims and tarred by association with events in Bosnia and Somalia, United States policy toward Haiti is on the right course, and the Clinton administration should stick with it.
The US goal of restoring President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power offers the best hope for ending Haiti's long history of repressive rule and building a democratic order in the country. The goal commands the support of the great majority of Haitians and the backing of the international community. If its implementation is well managed, it can gain bipartisan approval in the US Congress. Within and outside of Haiti, Mr. Aristide has become a powerful symbol of democracy. In the two years since a military coup ousted him, no democratic alternatives have emerged.
An outlaw military regime in Haiti that systematically kills its opponents and brutalizes its citizens is a continuing offense to American values - particularly so because of the country's proximity to and long entanglement with the US. The credibility of the US commitment to promoting democracy worldwide is also at stake in Haiti. If we do not or cannot act effectively in a poor, weak, neighboring country, where can we be counted on to act? Continued oppression in Haiti presents the US with another, more direct cost - the prospect of a large and sustained flow of refugees.
The question for US policy is not whether Aristide should be restored, but how to accomplish that task and assure his ability to govern.
First, the US should continue to work through the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS). This joint action, if successful, will set a precedent for future international initiatives to protect democracy in this hemisphere and beyond. It is the most effective way to proceed, isolating Haiti's military regime and making clear that there is nowhere it can turn for support. Without the participation of other nations, a US embargo against Haiti would be futile.