The administration's Haiti policy was attacked on the Senate floor Wednesday by a former Vietnam prisoner of war who accused President Clinton of being too soft on the Haitian generals.
"The American people's patience is not that great," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "What it argues for is an early withdrawal of United States troops from Haiti."Democrats responded by accusing Republicans of second-guessing.
The exchanges began a day of debate on a resolution congratulating President Clinton for avoiding a forced invasion of Haiti. McCain said the White House has done a complete flip-flop, from branding the Haitian military junta murderous thugs to ignoring them as they beat demonstrators in full view of U.S. soldiers.
That brought Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., to the floor. Noting McCain's service in Vietnam, Dodd said it was important to support U.S. troops while they are in the field.
"It's unfair for members of Congress to run around and start dictating what they'd do," Dodd said. "Monday-morning quarterbacks - this town has so many of them you couldn't put together a football team with anyone but quarterbacks."
At the White House, press secretary Dee Dee Myers said, "Everyone is disturbed by pictures of peaceful demonstrations turning violent." And chief of staff Leon Panetta had a warning for Haitian dictator Raoul Cedras: "We're going to make very clear to General Cedras that we can't see the kind of repetition of the situation we saw yesterday."
To head off further violence, Lt. Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton and his top aides met in Haiti Wednesday with Cedras to urge him to rein in police, soldiers and pro-army militiamen.
The "use of unnecessary force is a matter of concern to us," he said before the meeting. Shelton said American soldiers would leave crowd control and law and order to Haitian authorities, but left open the possibility U.S. troops could step in if the situation goes out of control.
"It's an internal law and order situation," Shelton said, adding that if the Haitians fail to take the appropriate measures, "we will take the next step." He did not specify what that step might be.
The Senate was debating a non-binding resolution introduced by Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, and Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., that "supports a prompt and orderly withdrawal" of U.S. troops and the lifting of American and United Nations economic sanctions.
The House approved a similar measure on Monday, although it omitted mention of the sanctions.
Lawmakers of both parties hastened to voice support for the troops in Haiti but then quickly added their critiques of administration policy.
"I don't want anything that I say to be misconstrued as in any way pulling the rug out from under our troops," said Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo. "Having said that, I would like to voice my concern about what we are up to in Haiti."
In a letter to Congress, Clinton said most troops would be replaced by U.N. forces "after a period of months."
Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the military leaders in Haiti will leave power by Oct. 15. "Of that I have absolutely no doubt," he said.
Aristide issued a general statement Tuesday decrying the military junta and supporting a return to democracy.
A State Department official acknowledged the statement was not an endorsement of the agreement, but "he didn't trash it either."