Haiti Invasion `Option' Splits US Lawmakers
IF Congress were to vote today on whether the United States should invade Haiti, the result would be a resounding ``no.''
Members with a variety of viewpoints on Haiti, including the small portion who support an immediate invasion, agree on that. Almost all Republicans and a majority of Democrats would not support sending US troops ashore now to remove the ruling military junta and to put Haiti's exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, back in place, members of both houses say.
Supporters of invasion tend to come from three groups: the Congressional Black Caucus, which has cried racism over the administration's efforts to keep waves of Haitian refugees from entering the US; members from Florida, the state most affected by Haitian immigration; and a number of liberal Democrats.
But those groups contain notable exceptions. Rep. Ron Dellums (D) of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a senior member of the black caucus, flatly opposes invasion. In a letter Wednesday to President Clinton, he expressed his ``alarm at the growing tendency by some policymakers to link the refugee crisis in Haiti with the need for a military invasion of that country.''
Mr. Dellums called on the administration to redouble its effort to find countries willing to take in refugees until economic and political pressures unseat the Haitian regime. Administration officials maintain that an invasion is not imminent.
Rep. Porter Goss (R) of Florida continues to push his plan for establishment of a ``safe haven'' for President Aristide and Haitian refugees on the island of Gonave. In May, the House passed a resolution in support of the plan - mainly as a rejection of US military intervention - then reversed itself two weeks later. One Florida congressman, Jim Bacchus (D), changed his vote after being convinced by Sen. Bob Graham (D) of Florida - the most vocal senator favoring invasion - that such action is the best option.
MR. CLINTON does not need Congress's blessing to send in troops. But if he were to order an invasion, how Congress would vote would become a ``moot question,'' says Rep. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
``If the president decides to intervene, he will do so quickly and massively, and you'll not find, if the president goes in on Tuesday, that Congress will vote on Wednesday to pull the troops out,'' Mr. Hamilton told the Monitor. ``The president would make it a national security issue, and presidents don't lose on national security issues as a general rule.''
Hamilton represents a faction in Congress that opposes invasion now, but reserves it as a means of last resort. What the president needs to do, he says, is make his case both for invading and for dealing with the aftermath. In Haiti, he says, ``Nothing works.... We're going to have to take over responsibility for all of it.''
Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts also falls in the camp of ``invasion as last resort.'' He stresses the need for creating a credible threat of force, which in fact may be what the administration is doing by deploying warships to the waters off Haiti.
If the Haitian military is watching the balky US Congress and public, it may be skeptical of the seriousness of President Clinton's threats. And Clinton must know that an ill-fated invasion of Haiti could wreak havoc on Democrats' chances in the November congressional elections.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he senses even less support in Congress for an invasion now than there was before the July 4 recess, despite the Haitian military's decision this week to expel human-rights monitors. He notes that newspaper editorials are ``taking a dimmer ... view'' of an invasion.
When William Gray III, Clinton's envoy to Haiti, was reminded on a TV talk show that he and other liberal House members once opposed US action against leftist dictatorships in Central America, he said his advice to the president is ``based upon where we are in the Western Hemisphere in 1994, not '84, not '74.''