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The latest speculation out of Washington is that President Clinton is planning a U.S. invasion of Haiti, perhaps as early as next month.

Such reports gain some credence from their persistence over the past few weeks and from the fact the United States is evacuating its diplomats from Haiti, telling other Americans to leave, and suggesting that the island's military rulers be tried for any crimes they may have committed.But if the White House is only lofting a trial balloon to test public sentiment on an invasion of Haiti, it should be shot down right away.

The last time American troops marched into Haiti, in 1915, they stayed for 19 years. By the time they finally left, Haiti was still mired in poverty and the United States had made no friends.

There's no reason to believe U.S. military action would be more beneficial now. Instead, it could be expected to antagonize other Latin American nations, especially those that chronically disagree with Washington and that would have some reason to fear similar gunboat diplomacy.

Besides, there are other alternatives Washington should try before even thinking of resorting to all-out force.

One of those alternatives involves a naval blockade of Haiti plus the exertion of pressure on the Dominican Republic to seal its border with Haiti even more tightly.

Such steps could intensify the effects of the economic embargo. Already the embargo is making itself felt in terms of a fuel crisis in Haiti. The U.S. State Department also credits the embargo with the recent demand by the brother of powerful Haitian Police Chief Michel Francois calling for the resignation of army chief Raoul Cedras.

If Cedras retired, his departure could set the stage for a peaceful solution to the confrontation between the United Nations and the Haitian military. The army chief might find retirement more acceptable if the White House shifted its support from exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to a coalition government.

The least Washington should do is stifle all the formal and informal talk about the possibility of a U.S. invasion. The longer such talk persists, the greater are the risks of its turning into a self-fulfilling prediction.