WASHINGTON -- While the State Department has held out hope that the Haitian military would go along with a peace accord to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, Pentagon officials believed the junta was never serious and has now proved its bad faith.
For months, Defense Secretary Les Aspin and the director of central intelligence, R. James Woolsey, have warned of the risks in sending troops
to Haiti, according to Clinton administration officials.
And with armed demonstrators in Haiti railing against the United RTC Nations and promising to turn Haiti into another Somalia, Mr. Aspin and Mr. Woolsey have carried the day, at least temporarily.
Having prevailed in the debate over whether to pull U.S. troops back from Haiti, the Pentagon is now questioning whether the time will ever be ripe for sending them back.
Samuel R. Berger, the deputy national security adviser, has been among the strongest advocates of the policy of sending U.S. engineers and advisers to help restore democracy in Haiti.
Secretary of state Warren M. Christopher, in a classified cable to diplomatic posts in June, listed U.S. policy on Haiti as one of the Clinton administration's nine foreign policy accomplishments.
But while the White House and State Department saw in Haiti a golden opportunity to make good on President Clinton's promise to promote democracy around the world, the Pentagon has been wary of what it saw as a risky, open-ended military commitment.
For one thing, the Pentagon sees Father Aristide as erratic and unpredictable.
A CIA report depicts the Haitian leader as mentally unstable.
More recently, intelligence reports have indicated that Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the commander of the military, and Col. Joseph Michel Francois, the commander of the military police, were stirring up the troops against the return of Father Aristide.
As the Clinton administration neared a decision on whether to send troops, State Department officials argued that while Haiti had a long history of turmoil, violence would not be directed against foreigners.
The Pentagon vigorously disputed this claim.
The debate intensified as U.S. troops waited aboard the amphibious ship Harlan Country off Port-au-Prince.
As an armed mob attacked the cars of U.S. diplomats, the Clinton administration's top security hands gathered at the White House to decide how to respond.
Lawrence E. Pezzullo, the special State Department envoy to Haiti, argued that Washington should not give up, suggesting that the ship carrying U.S. and Canadian troops might be kept off the coast of Haiti while Washington sought to broker a solution, according to accounts provided by administration officials.
The U.N. representative, Madeleine K. Albright, argued that Washington should consider the blow to American prestige if the troops left.
But Mr. Aspin reportedly urged that the troop ship be returned to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. With the Clinton administration chastened by the recent fighting in Somalia, Mr. Christopher and Anthony Lake, Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, supported the decision to pull back the troops, and there was little dissent.
At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Clinton defended the decision to pull back the troop ship, noting that the lightly armed U.S. troops were being sent to Haiti to train the Haitian military and build barracks and were not on a combat mission.