DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
May 10, 1994

HAITI IS NOT A RISK-FREE INTERVENTION

Since TV cameras moved onto its corpse-strewn streets and empty faces, Haiti's become the main event. But before Bill Clinton sends our sons into the ring, he better guess right about the public reaction to footage of American warriors' bodies being dragged along Haitian dirt trails.

Sure, our $300-billion-a-year armed forces could take Haiti in a U.S. Marine heartbeat. We've been there before. All the Corps has to do is dust off a few old campaign plans.

Since most everyone -- including Clinton's slow-learning national security team -- seems to have forgotten our Somalia experience, let me review the cost of that mistake, which a Senate hearing will examine this week: 44 Americans killed and 177 wounded before our troops backed out. Meanwhile, Somalia is back to killing and gang wars as if the intervention never happened.

Haiti will be a lot more expensive in deaths and dollars, and if our decades-long U.S. Marine Corps occupation of that voodoo-crazed island is any example, our forces better be prepared to bunker down for a long, nasty stay. This time, as in Somalia. the duty won't be just sitting on a powder keg while dodging bullets, but exposing our red-blooded boys to a population savaged by AIDS.

The new world disorder is a killer. Only five years ago, when the Cold War was still hot, conflict was simpler. Then there was just "us" vs. "them." If the Soviets weren't setting up missiles or taking over a chunk of dirt that threatened our interests, we'd turn a blind eye to mayhem and mob rule in faraway lands.

Our focus then was on national security Catastrophes such as Pol Pot's mass murders in Cambodia or disorder in places like Yemen and Rwanda would have been considered irrelevant and ignored. Best to keep our powder dry for the big fight against the "Evil Empire," went the thinking.

Today, the horror show of global mass murder pours into our living rooms with every news update. There are two schools of thought on what to do. The internationalists insist we should be the good global cop and jump into every fight going. The opposition, the isolationists, argues against wading into a fight unless our security is at risk.

The Let's-Do-Something-Gang insists all the countries of planet Earth are linked together, and civil disorder in killing fields like Haiti and Bosnia will spread throughout the world like a bad weed. If we don't cut it out when it flares up, they argue, it will soon sprout up on Main Street, U.S.A.

The Stay-At-Home-Gang says our military should fight only when someone like Hitler or Tojo threatens world order. They advocate avoiding the little scraps in places like Somalia and letting the factions duke it out. They reason that most of the fights raging around the world are locally driven and won't spill across borders once a winner takes all.

TV drives us into these fights, and once the horror starts including Americans boys, it just as quickly drives us out. The American public has a high moral mind-set, but we become as mean as hungry bears when long, bloody wars waste our children and treasure.

War in the '90s is an expensive enterprise. The 25-year Vietnam experience cost $166 billion. The eight-month buildup, romp across the desert and build-down against Saddam Hussein ran about half the cost of Vietnam. The 14 months in Somalia, where we had an average of 10,000 soldiers and didn't employ multi-buck smart weapons, cost $2 billion.

Besides the moral issue of whether to jump in one of these hot spots, the question is: Where does the money come from to pay for policing the world? If you haven't noticed, America is broke. We don't have the money to look after our own poor or fix our rusted industrial base to make it more competitive with the world we're so busy trying to save.

Clinton wants to prove he's not down for the count because of his poor foreign-policy showings. But to use Haiti for a comeback would be like stepping into the ring with Mike Tyson.