MAYBE the Clinton administration will not invade Haiti after all -- in spite of Ambassador Madelaine Albright's great success in securing U.N. Security Council authorization for the use of force to oust Haiti's military rulers and restore elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
And in spite of the enthusiasm in the administration for this kind of forceful collective action to "restore democracy."
Into their well-made arguments and well-laid plans, Fidel Castro's policies intervened.
The latest flood of refugees produced by those policies has almost surely made it impossible for the administration to act against any Caribbean dictator without acting first against Cuba's maximum leader.
The refugees have forced the question: Why Haiti? Why not Cuba?
In fact, the question "Why not Cuba?" had already been raised before the pitiful armada of rafts and rowboats began to arrive in Miami bearing victims and new tales of hardship, repression and malnutrition.
Now, the numbers and the numbing courage of Cubans who risk sharks, storms, starvation and drowning make the case with their presence.
To make their argument for using force in Haiti, Clinton officials JTC offered unprecedented arguments and the United Nations took unprecedented actions.
Of the mandatory economic sanctions imposed on Haiti in June 1993, Lori Fister Damrosch comments in a recent Council on Foreign Relations' book: "The Haitian sanctions resolution goes farther than any other to date in applying universal, mandatory and severe economic sanctions to influence a domestic political crisis over democratic governance. Its cautious wording [stressing more than once the 'unique and exceptional' circumstances] cannot hide its significance."
Of course, the latest resolution, in July 1994, built on this precedent, and went much further in giving democracy priority over non-intervention in the internal affairs of states.
The reasons cited in U.N. Resolution 940 to justify ousting Haiti's military rulers emphasize domestic conditions: the humanitarian situation has deteriorated; violations of civil liberties have increased; the condition of refugees has deteriorated; a U.N. team monitoring human rights was expelled.
Resolution 940 implicitly, if not explicitly, endorses a right to decent treatment and a right to democracy.
And it implies that these override the prohibitions in the U.N. charter against the use of force (except for self-defense and collective self-defense) and also the prohibition against intervention in the internal affairs of states.
The concept of a right to democracy is appealing to Americans. In our hearts we believe all people should govern themselves democratically.
But in our heads uninvited questions form. Should we overthrow governments because we disapprove of them? Should we risk American lives and invest scarce resources invading Haiti? And again, why Haiti? Why not Cuba?
Bill Clinton cannot now avoid these questions.
American administrations -- more than most -- need to feel and to explain that there are moral and legal reasons for their actions.
Presidents ground their policies, especially decisions to use force, in the nation's basic values and established practices. They justify their decisions in these terms.
In this tradition the Clinton administration prepared Americans for military action in Haiti by emphasizing that an illegitimate government must be forced out of power and democracy "restored." But the case they made for U.S. intervention in internal political affairs surely applies far more to Cuba than to Haiti.
Fidel Castro really has been a threat to international peace and security. He has trained and equipped terrorists. He has exported guns, drugs and violence to many countries in the hemisphere. He has recommended the use of nuclear bombs against the United States. He has denied Cubans civil and political liberties and a decent standard of living. He has refused to cooperate with monitors assigned by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
Certain things are clear. Both Fidel Castro and Raoul Cedras deny their citizens the opportunity to govern themselves and violate their fundamental liberties. Both are obstacles to democracy. But it is doubtful that either should be removed by American force. Such intervention could easily make matters worse.
Former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.