U.S. Foreign Policy on Target in Haiti, off Course in Congress

Article excerpt

When you look at Haiti and its election, messy as it was, you think we have learned something about foreign policy. We put on a bloodless invasion of that haunted place last September, promised prompt elections and delivered without interfering.

But when you look at Capitol Hill and see what the Senate Armed Services Committee has wrought, you wonder if we are teachable at all.

The Haiti election was chaos itself, but not travesty. Plainly, more extensive planning would have helped. It was madness to try to sort out 11,000 candidates for some 2,000-plus offices in one day. But the fact that the police were not mowing down voters on their way to the polls was a victory in that violence-prone country.

It may not have been totally clean from the Haitian standpoint. From the U.S. side, however, it was. For once we were not meddling, either overtly or covertly. We had troops to keep order, but they were part of a multinational force.

Given our history in El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Grenada and surprisingly in Nicaragua, where we ran roughshod over the locals and manipulated both upfront and behind the scenes, we have made tremendous progress. We were the kindly Uncle Sam, interested only in promoting democracy. We gave funds to international organizations to set up the machinery of the elections. We did not interfere.

It was eerily appropriate that the official White House observer was Morton Halperin, an alumnus and survivor of the most paranoid era in our foreign policy. As a staff member of Richard Nixon's National Security Council, he was wiretapped by Henry Kissinger, who suspected him of softness on Vietnam. Halperin resigned over the Cambodian invasion. Now he is back on the council's staff as special assistant to the president and senior director for democracy.

Halperin happily went to Haiti to observe the election. He was impressed by the "calm determination" of the voters.

"The process was laborious and complicated, but they stayed with it," he said in an interview in his Executive Office Building office. "We had no position on candidates." The last time, he recalled, "we backed the wrong horse."

In 1991, the State Department picked what it thought was the ideal candidate for Haiti's presidency. The electorate voted overwhelmingly otherwise for Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was soon thereafter thrown out by the military. …