WASHINGTON — Washington.--The Washington Post-ABC poll released last week confirmed that public confidence in President Clinton's handling of our foreign affairs has declined sharply, with only 40 percent approving and a bare 13 percent saying they feel the President has a clear foreign policy. Confidence will decline further if Mr. Clinton acts on his repeated threats of military intervention in Haiti.
Granted, the threats are not entirely clear: "Given how many people are being killed and the abject misery of the Haitian people . . . [he has said], I think we cannot afford to discount the prospect of a military option." But since that's about as clear as Mr. Clinton's positions get -- it should be taken seriously.
Moreover, the clamor for stronger action against Haiti is rising on the left of the Democratic Party to which the president is especially sensitive. And his former envoy to Haiti, Laurence A. Pezzullo, has described the administration's policies as irrevocably headed toward military intervention to restore the ousted, democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. I hope Mr. Pezzullo is wrong.
Before he sends U.S. forces to Haiti, President Clinton should reflect on the lessons of Somalia. He should have learned there that the use of force is dangerous and expensive, that Americans do not like deploying U.S. troops where there are no important national interests, and that the people of the country to which the troops are deployed don't like it either.
There are several good reasons the United States should not invade the poorest country in this hemisphere even though it has a military government that came to power by overthrowing an elected president. First, we have no right.
Several Clinton advisers -- most notably Morton Halperin, now at the National Security Council -- have argued that the United States and the international community should "guarantee" the survival of new democracies -- by force if necessary. But an argument does not create a right.
Nor do the general endorsements of democracy in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights create a grounds for using force when those rights are violated.
The U.N. Charter, which is to international law what the U.S. Constitution is to American law, explicitly prohibits "use and threat of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state" and forbids intervention in the internal affairs of states except in self-defense, collective self-defense, or where there is a serious threat to international peace and security.
The much-discussed "right to intervene" -- to provide humanitarian assistance to Kurds and Shiites threatened by Saddam Hussein's forces -- was justified on grounds that massive violations of human rights on the borders of Iran and Turkey constituted a serious threat to international peace and security. (They did.) But the government of Haiti does not constitute a serious threat to Haiti's only close neighbor, the Dominican Republic, which complains instead of U.S. policy.
While there are and almost always have been human-rights violations in Haiti, they do not threaten international peace and security. We do not, therefore, need to be drawn into debates about how extensive or serious they may be. Even if they were as bad as in Burma, China, Iraq, Iran, Cuba or the Haiti of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, that would not -- in itself -- constitute an adequate grounds for intervention.
Intervention by the Clinton administration in Haiti would not be analogous to the Reagan administration's action in Grenada -- where there was a treaty of alliance and a clear and present danger to more than 600 American students held prisoner by the band that had already murdered Grenada's prime minister and cabinet.
Military intervention would also violate the charter of the Organization of American States. The Santiago Declaration, adopted by the OAS June 5, 1991, is sometimes said to justify intervention to preserve democracy because it defines "representative democracy [as] an indispensable condition for the stability, peace and development of the region," and defines any "irregular interruption" of the democratic process a matter of concern to the OAS. But the Santiago Declaration does not authorize "necessary means" to restore democracy in Haiti or anywhere.
The states of the Western Hemisphere are sensitive about their sovereignty and have a special dislike of U.S. intervention with which they have had extensive experience. Haiti endured U.S. military occupation from 1915 to 1934, and has not asked the United States to resume the role. Major Latin American states have already made it clear that they oppose U.S. military intervention to return President Aristide to power -- and would oppose action to that end in the OAS or the U.N. France, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council has also indicated its opposition to military intervention.
There are other compelling reasons the Clinton administration should eschew military action in Haiti. President Aristide's volatile temperament, his refusal to compromise with opponents, his proclivity for violence and for violent ideologies may create problems.
The Clinton administration should not forget that Father Aristide was expelled from the Silesian Order for his adherence to the doctrine of class war, nor that when he was in office, the papal nuncio was forced to flee for his life and that the nuncio's assistant had both legs broken by a mob of President Aristide's followers.
As George Bush recently noted, restoring President Aristide may not turn out to be the same as restoring democracy. This democratically elected president might prove as difficult as Haiti itself to deal with.
Haiti is unique in the hemisphere. Its people are the poorest, the least educated, the most artistically gifted. Its economy is the least developed. Its culture and its political culture are Franco-African, not Hispanic or Anglo-Saxon. The Haitians are hard-working and often charming and intelligent people who live under very difficult circumstances.
If the Clinton administration desires to help the Haitians it should lift the economic embargo instead of tightening its grip, and lure the parties to the conflict back into negotiations. They just might produce a solution. If the administration made clear it would not use force to restore President Aristide, he too might decide to help solve the problem.
Jeane Kirkpatrick is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.