Before the Clinton administration deploys American armed forces in Haiti, it ought to re-examine the painful lessons driven home last year by Somalian warlord Mohamed Aidid.
After more than two years of failed diplomatic attempts by the United States to restore exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, the Clinton administration is now said to be considering military action to force Haiti's military junta from power. Several members of Congress have joined the call for military action, as stiff trade sanctions have proved ineffective and the forced repatriation of Haitian refugees draws increased fire on Capitol Hill.Two reports by the Central Intelligence Agency about the situation in Somalia, prepared last July, should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone who believes liberating Haiti would be a cut-and-dried operation. These reports suggest that defeating the ragtag army of Haiti's ruling elite would be relatively easy. The hard part would be deciding where to go from there.
The parallels between Haiti and Somalia are striking. The CIA reports - dated June 21 and July 19, 1993 - describe a nation and a leader where opportunism rules over compassion, and where violence seems to have permanently overtaken civility.
In the first report, CIA analysts label Aidid a "canny opportunist . . . whose name loosely translated means `one who will not be insulted.' has been a disruptive force in Somalia since he helped oust former President Mohammed Siad Barre in January 1991."
The report makes note of Aidid's desire "to be Somalia's paramount leader" even though "most Somalis believe he lacks moral authority, political legitimacy or a policy agenda." Similarly, the military government in Haiti seized power even though Aristide garnered 70 percent of the vote to become his country's first democratically elected leader.
Like the efforts of his counterparts in Haiti, Aidid's struggle for control has been waged mainly at the expense of the poor.
"Although he did not singlehandedly produce Somalia's civil war and famine . . . " the second report states, "he bears a heavier burden of responsibility for exacerbating and encouraging an atmosphere of criminal violence and disregard for human life that is the direct cause of the widespread suffering still prevalent in much of the country."
By initiating wars with other Somalian clans, Aidid helped create the deadly famine that ultimately led to American intervention.
The American mission to Somalia began to unravel after 18 U.S. soldiers were killed by Aidid sympathizers last Oct. 3. Therein lies the lesson for Haiti: Sending American troops to Haiti might solve the short-term problem of Haiti's obstinate military rulers. The real challenge would be in building a sustainable democracy in its wake.