Washington -- I THOUGHT the biblical "return" of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti was just grand. I was proud of the outcome of the American role in it, and I was happy that the long-suffering Haitian people will finally have at least a chance.
As to the intervention itself? First, there was nothing wrong and everything morally right in the United States restoring a reasonably representative government to a troubled neighbor. If that did not exactly mean restoring democracy -- something hard to restore in places where it has never existed -- it did mean a
hope for an effective government.
Perhaps Strobe Talbott, the deputy secretary of state, best expressed the new realities when he spoke to a few of us this past week. "We are not involved in nation-building, in Haiti," he said. "Rather, they are engaged in nation-building. What we have done is to permit the Haitian people to resume what they began."
Surely, this is a respectable outlook, deserving of credit as the newest emanation of decades of different interventions in Latin America. Surely we can take pride in the fact that the old-style interventions to keep rightist dictators in power (our various involvements in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, for instance) have passed on to a time when our interventions have been almost exclusively against dictatorships of both left and right and on behalf of representative leaders (Grenada, Panama and now Haiti).
Second, moving beyond those gratifying changes, we find some confusing truths coalescing around the case study of Haiti and involving the great powers of the world.
One decisive action by President Clinton in the last months of waffling and indecision over Haiti was to effectively rescind the famous Monroe Doctrine, which President James Monroe propagated in 1823. In effect, Monroe traded any American intervention in European wars for a warning to Europe to stay out of the Americas. It worked -- until now.
Most Americans do not see that the Clinton administration has been "trading" Haiti to the Russians in its obsession with shoring up Russian President Boris Yeltsin at all costs. And this is not surprising, since the trade-off is unlikely in the extreme.
Last spring at the United Nations, the multilateralist-minded Clinton administration -- eager to have its every act approved by a world body that is far more confused than it appears to be -- traded with Russia over interventions on their and our borders. The United States got the United Nation's OK for going into Haiti, and in exchange it gave Russia an OK for interventions in the new republics on its borders or its "near abroad." Moreover, Moscow, by calling its troops "peacekeepers" even makes sure that the United Nations pays for them!
That sounds good on the surface, but there are catches. The United States has gone into Haiti to restore a man, however imperfect, overwhelmingly elected to that benighted country's presidency.
What we are seeing on the Russian peripheries could not possibly be more different. In virtually every case -- from formerly Soviet Georgia, to Tajikistan to Azerbaijan -- the Russians are going in to police conflicts that they helped create. Early in
October, a Russian-backed coup was launched in Baku to overthrow the president who had just signed an oil deal with Western companies. It failed, but . . . And in Iraq, Russian intelligence chief Yevgeni Primakov visited Baghdad only weeks before Saddam Hussein moved south, and duplicitous foreign minister Andrew Kozyrev was immediately afterward on the spot.
"Moscow is trying to position itself differently from the U.S. to remind people that they are independent," one high-level Russian analyst here says. "As they grow more powerful again, they will not only strive to differentiate themselves from the U.S. but to go beyond, and beyond, and beyond. . . . Are we creating a Frankenstein?"
Indeed, when President Yeltsin was here, even some of his own people found his U.N. speech, about the right to a resurgence of Russian power on its peripheries, imperialistic. But the Clinton administration did not criticize this and gave the Russians its blessing -- a mandate -- for actions in the "near abroad."
This is not to say that Moscow does not have legitimate regional interests, nor even a legitimate sphere of influence. Surely some form of reintegration is not only necessary but desirable in the now-disconnected universe that was the Soviet Union.
But to say that Russia's "peacekeeping" intentions in, say, Azerbaijan, whose independence Moscow constantly threatens, is anything like the same as America's hesitant interests in Haiti is to contort diplomacy and to pervert the real motives and uses of power in ways that will come back to haunt us.
Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.