WASHINGTON -- To President Clinton, Haiti's dictators were armed thugs who unleashed an almost unimaginable reign of rape, murder and mutilation on their own country. There was nothing more to talk about.
But that was last week.
Yesterday, U.S. armed forces began working in close cooperation with those same military leaders, under the terms of the agreement worked out by former President Jimmy Carter with only minutes to spare before an invasion Sunday night.
The new partnership fits closely with Mr. Carter's belief that Haiti's military commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, and his deputy, Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, should be allowed an honorable departure. It also should minimize casualties during the American occupation of Haiti and ease the immense pressure on the U.S. Joint Task Force commander, Lt. Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton, as he starts to rebuild a nation beset by hatred and distrust.
But it's far from paving the way for the kind of return to power that the deposed president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, wanted or that the American and Haitian people were led to expect by Mr. Clinton and his top advisers.
And it may set back the important international goal of shrinking the Haitian military's influence over Haitian life.
"If I were Aristide, I would be very troubled," said a Washington lobbyist for Haitian interests who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Primarily, the institution of the military is not reformed, reconstructed, changed or modernized."
The delayed departure of Generals Cedras and Biamby has forced U.S. officials to scrap their original plans for reshaping the Haitian military and police "in the cataclysm of an invasion," as one official put it. Now, "we have a graduated change, and no one can say how fundamental that change is going to be."
Mr. Carter's dramatic deal requires the military leaders to step aside by Oct. 15 and allow the restoration of democratic rule. But that is different from the goal the Clinton administration laid out .. last week, saying that the leaders would have to leave power speedily and, as a practical matter, would be unable to remain in Haiti.
Retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who accompanied Mr. Carter in the negotiations with the Haitian leaders, said yesterday that "it will remain an issue for President Aristide and General Cedras and others to consider where he should go or what he should do. But I don't think we need to spend a lot of time on that at this point."
Far from pushing the top generals out of Haiti, Mr. Carter and his team enlisted them temporarily to ease the entry of U.S. forces, reviving a tradition of cooperation.
The agreement says that "the Haitian military and police forces will work in close cooperation with the U.S. military mission. This cooperation, conducted with mutual respect, will last during the transitional period required for insuring vital institutions of the country."
'There was no capitulation'
The former president and his negotiating team members, General Powell and Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, chairman of the " Senate Armed Services Committee, put heavy stress yesterday on the need for mutual respect and harmony.
In a CNN interview, Mr. Carter said: "You know, I don't think one side won and the other side lost. There was no capitulation. There was no loss of self-respect."
Cooperation between the U.S. and Haitian military would be crucial in case of civilian uprisings or a breakaway of military factions, he said.
"I would guess," Mr. Carter added, "if there's a small disturbance, say, in one of the 560 sections [counties], that the first preference would be that the Haitian military would try to put down the disturbance, so if someone was injured or killed, it wouldn't be an American soldier."
He also said that a key purpose in working side-by-side with the Haitian military is to ensure that when Father Aristide returns, "there won't be a civil war, there won't be retribution by Aristide supporters against his opponents, and there won't be counter military actions that might result in the loss of life."
In getting this cooperation, he did a big favor for Mr. Clinton, since it meant a smooth entry of some 15,000 U.S. troops into the country this week, starting at Port-au-Prince, the capital. This is the period when Congress and the U.S. media will be paying the closest attention and when the fierce political debate over a U.S. invasion of Haiti is still fresh.
However, plenty of threats still exist from armed civilians and paramilitary organizations.
General Shelton, the commander of U.S. forces in Haiti, immediately began to build on the cooperation yesterday as he planned to boost humanitarian assistance to Haitians and pave the way for restoring Father Aristide's government.
In areas that may be particularly dangerous for Americans, General Cedras "will use his forces in some cases to make sure that there is no violence . . . displayed either against his own forces or against ours," General Shelton said.
The U.S. presence assures that large-scale murders and rapes attributed to the Haitian army and its allies will be curbed, analysts said.
A senior defense official said that the Americans want to make clear to the Haitian military that U.S. troops are "not a force you can fool around with," but he noted that "the intent . . . is don't start a relationship on a hostile basis if you can work it out on an amicable basis."
But left unclear yesterday was the extent to which U.S. forces would try to disarm the paramilitary "attaches" who may threaten not only fellow Haitians but Americans.
Long-term change in doubt
Long-term military change is also in doubt.
George Vickers, executive director of the liberal Washington Office on Latin America, said in a statement yesterday that "we are gravely concerned that the terms of this agreement, while allowing President Aristide's physical return to Haiti, may actually prevent accountability for human rights abuse and far-reaching institutional reforms of the security forces that are central to a democratic future in Haiti."
The lesson for Father Aristide on U.S.-Haitian military cooperation is clear: His return to Haiti is assured, but he will have to work with the military establishment and move gradually to change it.
"It puts Aristide in a very precarious position," says Franck Laraque, a retired City College of New York professor who once served in the Haitian military and writes and lectures on it.
"You heard it here first," warned the Washington lobbyist with Haitian ties. "The closer you get to Aristide's real return, the greater the violence will be inside the country."