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Six months ago, I visited Haiti to meet with government officials and members of the military about the country's prospects for democracy.

The mood in Port-au-Prince was one of growing despair. The USS Harlan County was unable to land, stopped by a full dock and a military-sponsored gang of thugs.Today, conditions in Haiti could not be worse. Justice Minister Guy Malary is dead, killed by armed thugs as he drove to work. Prime Minister Robert Malval has submitted his resignation, unable to sustain the farce of maintaining a legitimate government while trapped in his home. And the military is in complete control, even more entrenched and recalcitrant than it was six months ago.

On May 8, spurred by national outrage at the systematic and daily human rights violations in Haiti, President Clinton announced a new initiative. The new policy would allow Haitian boat people fleeing their nation to make claims for political asylum aboard U.S.-owned or leased ships.

The president's change of policy recognizes the massive human rights violations occurring on the island. However, that recognition should also lead to a more fundamental change in U.S. policy.

The objective must be the earliest possible termination of rule by Col. Raoul Cedras and his gang of thugs and the restoration of President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

It is now painfully clear that the only way to accomplish that objective is through the credible threat of and willingness to use force.

Earlier this month the United Nations imposed sanctions aimed at forcing the resignation of the military. I have no confidence that heightened economic sanctions will accomplish the objective. The Haitian military will never negotiate itself out of power without the threat of force.

The United States cannot be the world's police force, and we must balance our interests and our international responsibilities in order to determine which world crises justify the risk of deploying American military force.

With respect to Haiti, less than 800 miles off the coast of Florida, military involvement is justified. Here's why:

First, the United States is responsible for democratic leadership, particularly in the Western Hemisphere. Bowing to the military leaders in Haiti will destroy American credibility both with the Haitians and with other would-be dictators.

Second, the United States cannot stand by and watch the obliteration of human rights so close to its shores. An average of 40 political killings have been reported each month since 1993.

Third, an economically and politically unstable Haiti means more refugees flowing into the United States.

Fourth, the military regime continues to allow drugs to be shipped through Haiti. The United States has a strong interest in seeing this stopped.

Finally, a democratic, prosperous Haiti would help solidify the momentum for democracy throughout the Caribbean and Latin America - one of the fastest-growing world markets for U.S. exports.