CRISIS IN THE CARIBBEAN : Senate Qualifies Its Haiti Support : Vote: Lawmakers back troops in resolution. But they pointedly fail to endorse the occupation.
Concerned that the mission may already be going awry, the Senate adopted a resolution Wednesday that pointedly did not endorse the U.S. occupation of Haiti and called for the “prompt and orderly” withdrawal of American forces “as soon as possible.”
Passed 94 to 5, the bipartisan compromise sailed through the Senate after Democratic and Republican leaders worked out the verbal acrobatics of a non-binding statement that declared support for the troops now deploying to Haiti without endorsing the Clinton Administration policy that sent them there.
Also missing from the Senate declaration was any mention of support for the return to power of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has come under heavy congressional criticism for failing to endorse the weekend accord that let the U.S. invasion force enter Haiti peacefully.
But it was clear from the debate that relief over this bloodless outcome was quickly being overtaken by a concern that the Haiti mission was already in trouble after an incident on Tuesday in which U.S. forces watched as Haitian police clubbed pro-American demonstrators in Port-au-Prince, beating at least one person to death.
“Events yesterday showed the dangers of occupying Haiti,” Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said, adding that the “graphic Haitian-on-Haitian violence” could draw U.S. forces into a situation similar to one they faced last year in Somalia, where they became enmeshed in clan warfare and eventually outstayed their welcome.
Democrats were also clearly disturbed by the outbreak of violence so soon after the arrival of the first U.S. troops.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), a strong intervention supporter, said it was prudent for American commanders to avoid any actions that might provoke a military response from Haiti’s armed forces before more U.S. troops arrive.
But he added that the rules of engagement need to be changed as soon as possible to give the troops “a freer hand to deal with these kinds of situations when they occur in front of their faces.”
The resolution adopted Wednesday, with only five dissenting GOP votes, temporarily averted a partisan clash that could have prevented the Senate from going on record as supporting the forces sent to Haiti, as the House did in a similar resolution passed earlier this week.
An earlier version proposed by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) had been rejected by Republicans because they feared that its wording could have been seen as supporting Clinton’s decision to send the troops to Haiti.
The final language said only that the Senate “fully supports the men and women of the United States armed forces in Haiti” along with their “prompt and orderly withdrawal . . . as soon as possible.”
It called for lifting U.S. economic sanctions against Haiti “without delay” and credited former President Jimmy Carter and the delegation he led to Haiti with avoiding “the loss of American lives” by negotiating the accord that let troops enter Haiti unopposed in return for allowing the Haitian junta to delay its departure from office until Oct. 15.
But at Republicans’ insistence, the resolution offered scant praise for Clinton, commending him only for sending the Carter delegation to Haiti and not even mentioning him by name.
Although Democrats agreed to the changes to make the resolution bipartisan, the conditions the Republicans attached for their acceptance drew an angry blast from Mitchell.
He complained of their “grudging unwillingness to recognize that it was Clinton” who sent the delegation to Haiti.
But it was not only Republicans who were expressing reservations about the intervention, its costs and, to many lawmakers, the still-muddled mission now faced by the troops.
Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said he remained “very skeptical” that U.S. forces should be saddled with the task of trying to bring democracy and stability to a poor country with a history of violence and repression.
“Our armed forces are not equipped for nation-building, a task that must be turned over to multinational forces and international observers” as soon as possible, he said.
No one disagreed, and privately Democrats in both the House and Senate predicted that efforts may begin as early as next week to negotiate with the Administration a firm date--probably in the next six months--for troops to hand over their peacekeeping responsibilities to a multinational force and begin withdrawing from Haiti.