Haiti Welcomes Marines

WaPo

Haiti’s capital city, convulsed by violence Sunday after the departure of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, appeared calm and, in places, buoyant Monday morning as U.S. Marines and a small contingent of French troops prepared for peacekeeping duties as part of a United Nations authorized multi-national force.

Meanwhile, anti-Aristide rebels moved into the city in a convoy, pumping their fists in the air and waving to crowds that greeted them, wire services reported.

And hundreds of smiling, chanting Haitians marched through Petionville, a wealthy suburb, waving tree branches saying, “We’re united. We want peace.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, appearing on Monday morning TV shows, called the military’s role a “stability operation as opposed to a combat operation. I don’t think there will be a great deal of fighting,” he said on CBS’s The Early Show, but “they have to be prepared for that.”

Powell said about a thousand troops might be deployed.

Powell, who was instrumental in getting Aristide to leave, said the former Haitian president had “pretty much used up” his credibility.

Reacting to criticism that the administration had acted too late, Powell said on NBC’s “Today” Show that “what they are saying is the administration should have stepped in on the side of the government earlier. What we were saying all along is that wouldn’t have been the right answer, because we needed a new political dynamic. We either needed President Aristide to leave or an agreement between all the sides to enter into a new political dynamic.

“And that,” he said, “didn’t happen until President Aristide left over the last 24 hours, and that created conditions for a transitional government to be appointed, and then we were ready to provide military support.”

***

The U.N. Security Council, meeting at the request of the United States and France, voted unanimously late Sunday to authorize an international force to serve in Haiti for no longer than three months, when it would be replaced by U.N. peacekeepers.

Aristide bowed to a three-week rebel offensive and increasing pressure from the United States and other governments to leave office. His departure came after rebels sworn to oust him had taken over more than half of the country, sparking battles that have killed more than 70 people.

Boniface Alexandre, the head of Haiti’s highest court, announced at midmorning Sunday that he was taking office as interim president, as required by the constitution. “The task will not be an easy one,” Alexandre said at a ceremony attended by the U.S. and French ambassadors. “Haiti is in crisis. . . . It needs all its sons and daughters. No one should take justice into their own hands.”

Alexandre and a seven-member council of prominent citizens, including representatives of Aristide’s party and the opposition, were to select a new prime minister and form an interim government — part of a U.S.-backed power-sharing plan that Aristide had agreed to earlier this month in the hopes of preserving his presidency.

Guy Philippe, 36, the leader of rebels who began an armed insurrection against Aristide on Feb. 5, said on local radio Sunday afternoon that his forces would support Alexandre and cooperate with international peacekeepers. “It is not time for fighting anymore,” said Philippe, a former army officer and police chief who had vowed to capture or kill Aristide if he did not step down.

It’s always a bit surreal when U.S. Marines arrive to public jubilation. Still, it sounds like we envision a relatively small and short stay; may that prove to be the case.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

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