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The Haiti Invasion

CRIES from Republicans that a United States invasion of Haiti would be undertaken by President Clinton purely for domestic political advantage have the hollow ring of silly partisanship.

Polls show that the American people are profoundly unconvinced that an invasion is necessary. If the US somehow manages a perfectly executed military operation, followed by a smooth handoff of policing to its 17 or more international partners, the administration may just manage not to lose political capital. Any credit to the president won't linger until his 1996 reelection campaign; President Bush showed the ephemeral nature of public support when his 90 percent approval rating during the Gulf war evaporated in the 1992 election. And political gain won't rub off on Democratic congressional candidates this fall either; domestic issues, as always, will be paramount.

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So why is a US invasion imminent?

* The Haitian people are suffering. According to a US government report issued Sept. 13, the junta has been responsible for 4,000 deaths and 300,000 people sent into hiding. The current US-led economic embargo hits poor Haitians hardest and would be inhumane to continue indefinitely.

* Haitian parliamentary elections are scheduled for November. If the junta is still in power, it will pack the assembly with its supporters, undermining the political base for a return by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

* Not going risks US lives later on. Saber-rattling doesn't work if despots know it's all show and no go. Eventually, the US will have to back up tough talk - talk that in this case began with Mr. Bush, who said the military coup would not be allowed to stand - with action somewhere.

The Clinton administration has much work to do to avoid an invasion fiasco. The case must be made vigorous and persistently to the American public. The US should send a high-level delegation to Haiti in a last-ditch effort for a peaceful stepdown by the junta, as suggested by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Lee Hamilton (D). While it is unlikely to succeed, it would assure the US people that all alternatives are exhausted.

An invasion is a bad precedent, a poor model for future US policy. If the president skirts Congress and acts alone, as seems likely, he stretches the definition of his constitutionally limited warmaking powers. Clearly, going in without the support of the public and Congress is not desirable.

But if a better alternative exists, it has yet to surface.

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