The folly of a Haitian invasion having been averted - ours is a "semi-permissive entry" - the burdens of a thankless Haitian occupation are just beginning. Amid the back-slapping and self-congratulation about the Carter mission's apparent success, the main point is easy to overlook: We are back in Somalia, this time with a Caribbean address.
As the administration admits, the main problem with invasion is not the invasion itself but the occupation it ushers in.What Carter did, explained Defense Secretary William Perry, was allow us to skip Step 1. But it is Step 2 that we will rue.
As in Somalia, we are entering a highly disorganized and extremely violent country. Once again we are occupying a people deeply divided - Somalia by clan; Haiti, no less fatally, by class.
Again, we are entering relatively unopposed. Indeed, the greatest danger to the troops first arriving by helicopter in Port-au-Prince, as to the Marines landing in Mogadishu, was the stampeding camera crews.
But the Haiti adventure is more problematic than Somalia. In Somalia, our initial mission was narrowly defined and quite simple: feed the hungry. The operation went wrong only many months later when we strayed into politics and assigned ourselves the task of nation-building.
In Haiti our mission from the start of the occupation is politics. There is no need to feed the Haitians. They will be able to feed themselves once our starvation-inducing embargo is lifted.
We are, instead, to "restore" democracy to a country that has never had it, build a civilian-controlled military where it has never existed and create a secure environment for the peaceful transition of power among murderous rivals.
This is nation-building par excellence. Whether during the months of naked U.S. occupation that are now beginning or during the months of semi-U.S. occupation - the so-called U.N. peacekeeping phase - to follow, we are now as responsible for Haiti as we were for Somalia. Except that our agenda in Haiti is from Day 1 far more ambitious.
That agenda is now all the harder to fulfill because of the concessions Clinton agreed to at the eleventh hour to avoid having to go through with the invasion.
Cedras may have blinked, but Clinton did, too. Loath to pull the trigger, he allowed Cedras and his military to remain in Haiti and intact.
Cedras will not be required to go into exile, merely to retire honorably. "It is something that is not understood by most people," explained Carter. "It's a serious violation of inherent human rights for a citizen to be forced into exile."
Who but Carter could have said something like that? It is one thing to say of a dirty deal "we had to do it," quite another to defend it out of lofty concern for the human rights of a man who, by Clinton's own description, deserves to be drawn and quartered, let alone exiled.
Cedras' army comes out quite well, too. It is granted not just a broad amnesty more firmly guaranteed than under the Governor's Island deal that Cedras made and broke last year. It has also been granted a month's worth of time - and the priceless legitimacy that goes with its coordinating the American entry - before it has to turn over power.
Aristide having been induced to step down next year, a power vacuum looms. Cedras and his am-nes-tied associates - last week Clinton had called them "thugs," but this is this week - are now as well-positioned to inherit power when the Americans tire of police duty as is Mohamed Aidid - last year's thug - in Somalia.
And why are we going in to police Haiti in the first place? Wasn't it because, as Clinton insisted only last Thursday, Cedras was the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere?
This is the man who launched a "campaign of rape, torture and mutilation . . . a reign of terror," the man responsible for "people slain and mutilated with body parts left as warnings to terrify others; children forced to watch as their mothers' faces are slashed with machetes."
Four days later, Cedras is our partner in the governance of Haiti. For one month we shall be ruling Haiti together with a man, Clinton assured us last week, given to "executing children, raping women, killing priests."
One renaissance weekend with Jimmy Carter and the man has metamorphosed. Colin Powell tells us of Cedras' sense of honor. Carter is impressed with Cedras' desire to do the right thing for his country. Why are we risking the lives of 15,000 Americans to rid Haiti of a man of such elevated motives?
And Clinton complains that Americans are growing cynical about their government.