DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
September 20, 1994

THE WEEK THAT WAS IN THE LAND OF THE HAPPY NIGHTMARE

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI: I reluctantly rushed down here last wee k to cover the invasion, which my military grapevine said was coming down fast and hard either last Wednesday or Thursday night, The 11th hot spot in 50 years I didn't need, and besides, I hate being away from my lovely lady and the majestic mountains of Montana when the autumn leaves explode.

Once here, thank God, enter Jimmy Carter: the war spoiler. Our American peace saint landed Saturday at high noon at the civilian air field with a unique, well-qualified team of advisors in Senator Sam Nunn and retired Gen. Colin Powell. All three are established fighters for the nonmilitary solution.

Carter was met at the airport by an unruly, Cedras-staged demonstration. Not only was our former president humiliated by these hired thugs, but security was mighty thin. Throughout the crowd, there were attaches (paid Cedras gunmen in civilian gear) armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades. With the pull of a drunken finger, Carter could easily have joined Nixon and former Oval Office pals in that great White House in the sky.

Two hundred well-organized zombies chanted anti-invasion slogans on the commands of their military coup handlers. TV cameras zoomed in on these impostors, giving the world the impression most Haitians were strongly behind Cedras and his two-bit thugs.

A heads-up TV producer would have focused on the handlers receiving directions from Cedras and gang over their portable two-way radios, then passing out the word to their noisy, placard waving troops on command, the dial-a-riot gang loaded in waiting trucks and followed Carter with more instant demonstrations.

The problem with television during these O.J Simpson-like dramas is that the TV folks get caught up in the frenzy and don't realize they're being used. The moral is, Don't always believe what you think you see on the tube.

Our forces arrived here Monday morning, a "friendly invasion" that was a proud ballet of military professionalism. The Haitian people met these good men and women with smiles and joy as they quickly moved out to their objectives.

Peaceful solutions are so much better than war solutions because everybody wins. Yes, our forces could have taken this tired and ravaged land faster than a hawk could scarf a mouse off a pool table. But had we come with weapons blazing, there would have been killing and pain. Extremists would have spilled blood -- the Haitian regular army would not have fought -- and military accidents would have caused more dead.

I based myself in a forested area near a high hill where I could see the invasion targets such as the port, TV/radio stations and key military camps and headquarters. On my first day there, Sgt. Joseph LeClerc, a deserter, walked in and was hired as a security guard. The next day, I asked LeClerc to ring his old outfit and get a present-for-duty strength report. He reported there were only 150 men left from his 500-strong elite palace guards. The following night, their strength was down to 80, and on Carter day (Sunday), there were none. "We will not die for Cedras,' said LeClerc.

The Haitian people are not war material. They are gentle, loving folks who have sadly allowed bullies to enslave them for almost 200 years. Perhaps, in the "Information Age" they will learn to hold on to their U.S.-provided freedom.

Because both Bush and Clinton were guilty of not providing decisive leadership, our state and national security people took too much time to decide to act. The peace plan hammered out Sunday night as paratroopers were flying here to deliver the military solution should have been shepherded by Bush three years ago, or by Clinton as soon as he saddled up.

The key now is to stabilize Haiti by building a good, honest national police force. The regular army of looters, abusers and killers should be put down like a rabid dog. A war crimes tribunal should look at their evil deeds, while Clinton and his Washington planners begin the hardest part -- figuring out how the hell we get our troops out of here.