WASHINGTON — Washington -- It seems ever clearer that the Clinton administration is preparing for war. It will be called a "peace operation" and there may be multinational participation. They will speak of restoring democracy to Haiti. But by whatever name it will be an invasion whose objective is clear: to depose Haiti's unconstitutional government and "restore democracy" in the form of the deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Already the administration has tightened the embargo designed to remove Haiti's military government from power. Already it has reinforced Haiti's long, rugged border with the Dominican Republic -- engaging in whatever arm-twisting was necessary.
Obviously U.S. military forces will have no problem subduing Haiti's small and poorly armed army, establishing control of ports and government buildings, and installing Aristide in power. But what then?
The question is not whether the United States can do it, but why, and whether it is wise. Will "restoring democracy" to Haiti mean trying to ensure democratic government with the necessary rule of law and respect for rights of citizens? Will "restoring democracy" mean accepting responsibility for President Aristide's use of power?
Will President Aristide be able to provide a framework of law and respect for human rights in Haiti -- even if he tries hard?
Opposition to Father Aristide is wide and deep in the Haitian army, which has already demonstrated it cannot be counted on to maintain him in power. Opposition is also said to be widespread in the government bureaucracy, the courts, the business and professional classes -- all of whom were severely frightened by President Aristide's followers during his brief tenure in office.
Haiti's educated professional classes are not large. Reserves are shallow. President Aristide may lack the professional staff needed to govern. Does the Clinton administration plan to recruit and train new military and law enforcement officials? Does it plan to become directly involved in governing Haiti -- as U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali once proposed that the United States do in Somalia?
Will Father Aristide desire that the administration take such action or will he, following the model of Papa Doc Duvalier, prefer to rely on uneducated, unprofessional armed bands with personal loyalties to him rather than turn to the government?
The "peace operation" proposed for Haiti envisages not just replacing one ruler with another but also building a modern democratic state. But nation-building requires a long-range commitment, intimate familiarity with the country, and for success, deep cultural affinities. The United States and the Clinton administration clearly have few of the fundamental requisites for successful nation-building in Haiti.
An invasion of Haiti will destroy the weak institutions that exist and drive much of Haiti's educated class into exile. An invasion of Haiti is, I believe, incompatible with the U.N. Charter, with the Organization of American States Charter and with American interest.
Haiti is not a menace to the United States or the hemisphere. It is not a center of Caribbean drug traffic. It does not provide a base for a hostile power. It does not export subversion and revolution. It has not declared open season on Americans, as Manuel Noriega once did, nor held Americans hostage, as did Grenada's revolutionary "Committee of Safety." It has not engaged in terrorist plots against Americans as Libya did.
There is only one conceivable ground for U.S. intervention in Haiti to overthrow its government: It is to implement some sort of reverse "Brezhnev doctrine" for democracies. But Haiti has only the weakest claim to ever having had a democratic government. Nor are prospects bright for President Aristide to govern by constitutional means if he should be returned to power. In office, he consistently violated constitutional practices, ignored established institutions, and quickly came to rely on violent armed bands to attack his opponents.
Democracy is not one-man one-vote one-time. By violating democratic norms and civilized human-rights standards, Father Aristide forfeited his claim to constitutional rule. Of course, Haiti's military have never had any claim to legitimacy. They have in addition violated Haiti's constitution.
In this situation what might the United States do?
1. It might do nothing on the grounds that Americans have, finally, no right to intervene in the internal affairs of another government in the hemisphere -- just because it is small, weak and poor.
2. It might seek diplomatic solution in cooperation with the OAS or the U.N. or through direct negotiations with the parties.
3. It might intervene militarily, take charge of the situation, and impose new elections -- in which neither parties to the present conflict are permitted to participate. In this case the United States would need to make clear that it will continue to take a serious interest in the implementation of democratic practices after the elections, as well as during the elections.
4. In any case the United States should lift the embargo that imposes so much suffering on so many miserably poor Haitians.
Bill Clinton's approval rating -- already especially low in foreign affairs -- will decline again if the administration carries out its contemplated invasion. The policy cannot succeed. Undertaking it will prove an expensive, dangerous failure for both the Haitians and the Clinton administration.
Jeane Kirkpatrick is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.