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I still don't like this Haiti caper.

From the beginning I was convinced the entire Clinton scenario for Haiti was crafted by Sid Perelman, who used to write the best of the Marx Brothers movies.

And I was inquiring of myself not what Bill might have smoked at Oxford but what did he learn?

A couple of days before we flew Jimmy Carter down there to negotiate an 11th hour settlement, the reporters were called in by the White House press office and shown all these gruesome photos of alleged victims of General Cedras and his merry men, people who'd been tortured, some whose limbs had been removed, others who'd been disemboweled.

The President himself said these atrocities were the work of the worst despot in the Hemisphere.

The next morning the lead story (the very lead!) on the front page of The New York Times said we were ready to cut a deal by which Cedras and accomplices would be relocated, and safely so, at some place outside Haiti if only they would peacefully give up power. One day we are being told this guy is Attila and the next we are contacting real estate agents in the South of France.

"Nice little place at Cap d'Antibes, General? Oh, it doesn't have a pool? Oh, dear."

You can't have it both ways. The guy was and is a murderous thug or he's a jolly good chap and we'll help him with his Louis Vuitton luggage if he just goes away.

As silly as the White House was sounding in those final hours before Mr. Carter, General Powell and Senator Nunn worked their charms, Ross Perot proved for once and for all what a whack job he's turned into. Which may be the only positive fallout from this whole vaudeville show.

In a speech in Denver (reported in the Times which said AP reported similar remarks in another talk in St. Louis), Mr. Perot said he was opposed to the Haitian adventure. Which is fine. He said it was all part of a "rotten" plan by Clinton to boost his sagging image prior to the fall elections. That's OK, too. Fair comment. But then ol' Ross wigged out, and this is quoting the Times:

"If the President decided to use military force, the military should use saturation bombing for several days before sending the troops ashore. He [Perot] conceded this would destroy the tiny Caribbean nation."

Clearly, Ross has now moved into a category in which Dr. Strangelove seems sane.

Meanwhile, getting ready to throw us back into the sea was the Haitian army. They had no tanks but had six armored personnel carriers, several of which were running. There were six or seven cannons and the last time they used them on a ceremonial occasion, some of them worked. The Haitian Air Force consisted of some choppers and two propeller planes, one of which could fly.

Against them Mr. Clinton had arrayed what he insists on calling a "multinational force." This is made up of 20,000 Yanks and 266 others. The others, from a total of 24 other countries, our brothers-in-Christ in their concern for Haiti, are made up of several Bermuda policemen, a Boy Scout troop from Trinidad, a couple trolley conductors from Belize, and some ladies making coffee and handing out doughnuts.

Eisenhower, standing at the Channel's edge the dawn of D-Day, peering off toward Normandy, could not have presided over a grander force.

Then word came from the Cedras headquarters. According to voodoo priests and other senior advisers, "six battalions of zombies" had been raised, and would fall upon the multinational invaders.

By night, of course. The zombies pass their days asleep in coffins.

This is being written on the day the "occupation" forces go ashore but I am willing to wager that by now the President and those around him will have been preening themselves on having "restored Democracy in Haiti." Democracy? Haiti? This is the country that gave us Papa Doc, that gave us Baby Doc and Michelle, that unleashed on the innocent the Tontons Macoutes. Haiti is about as Democratic as the French Foreign Legion at Fort Zinderneuf. In one brief period earlier in this century they had six presidents in seven years (or seven presidents in six years), and most of them were bumped off.

That was when we sent the Marines to calm things down and they stayed 19 years. And didn't that work out just swell.

Oh, I just thought, have all the Haitians at Guantanamo Bay gone home yet? Or do they still want to come to New York instead and drive cabs? Has President Aristide yet urged that anyone be "necklaced"? And when will the first soldier in the Tenth Mountain Division be diagnosed as HIV positive?

We are apparently going to stay there for 18 months and then Haiti will be all straightened out. Social engineering, it is called. We are going to social engineer Haiti.

For God's sake, we can't social engineer Newark. Or Bed-Sty. Or South Central. And we are sending in soldiers to democratize and get up-and-working a country that's been free of foreign domination (except for us!) for the last 190 years and it still doesn't work.

All this to mollify members (and not all of them apparently) of the Congressional Black Caucus? To satisfy Randall Robinson? To placate some Florida pols?

Bill Clinton used to be able to zero in on the economy and other vital issues, to define national self-interest. Whatever happened? Why this fixation on Haiti? How did he get so distracted? Castro plays us like a yo-yo and this bum Cedras has the last world's superpower all tooled up for a phony crisis and a phony war and a phony issue. Bill, come back to us.

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