The recent devastating earthquake in Haiti is especially heartbreaking because the country was just beginning to experience progress, thanks to the restoration of democracy during the Bush Administration and the security provided by the United Nations.
The UN relieved United States troops, who had initially been sent by President George W. Bush after Haiti’s left-wing dictator, Jean Bertrand Aristide, had been overthrown. Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, had restored Aristide to power after he had been overthrown the first time, and sent U.S. troops to keep the peace. As mentioned in my post, A Coup for Democracy in Honduras, Clinton justified his action because Aristide, like Adolph Hitler or Hugo Chavez, had been elected. The recent restoration of democracy had provided Haitians with the hope of political stability, which had been lacking in its two-hundred year history as the first black republic and the only state founded through a slave rebellion. The restoration of democracy in Haiti had allowed the first signs of economic growth in the poorest state in the Western Hemisphere, which attracted foreign investment. It is hoped that the earthquake will provide the opportunity to raise Haiti’s standard of living above what it had been before the catastrophe.
President Barak Obama has thus now become the third straight U.S. president to send troops to Haiti. They were not the first American presidents to send troops to the former French colony. In recent years, only Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Liberia are comparable. Four straight U.S. Commanders in Chief authorized military action in Iraq, starting with President George H.W. Bush. Clinton was the only one who did not send troops, but he struck Iraq with missiles on several occasions during his administration, while Iraq violated its 1991 cease-fire by attacking American and Coalition aircraft in almost daily combat over the No Fly Zones for the last several years before the Liberation of Iraq in 2003, during both the Clinton and Bush Administrations. In Afghanistan, Clinton ordered a missile strike against an al-Qaeda base, and his two successors have commanded troops in combat there in the War on Terrorism. When Somalia was struck with famine, George H.W. Bush sent troops there to aid the Somalis. U.S. troops engaged in combat under his and his immediate successor’s administrations. Both George W. Bush and Obama ordered missile strikes or bombings in Somalia against al-Qaeda targets there. Both President Bushes sent troops to Liberia, while American soldiers protecting the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia had to engage in combat during the Liberian Civil War while Clinton was president.
To Obama’s credit, he has followed the model set by his immediate predecessor in response to the 2004 Asian Tsunami and asked both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to co-lead the fundraising effort for the relief of Haiti.
The unprecedented destruction of a national capitol and much of its effective government in peacetime makes the Haitian earthquake an international matter, especially because of the foreign embassies there, as well as the presence of many foreigners, such as tens of thousands of Americans. Haiti is of additional interest to the United States because of its proximity. Problems in Haiti have periodically caused Haitians to set out on boats across the open sea to attempt to get to America. Many were rescued and held at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Air Base in Cuba for screening. The proximity adds responsibility to the U.S., as the nearest Great Power, to tend to its neighbor within its sphere of influence. It is also in the U.S. interest that Haiti not becomes an anarchical state like Somalia, whereby Marxists like Aristide, who offered to return to power, could try to take over the country.
The Guantanamo Bay base is once again proving to be invaluable, as the Coast Guard flew injured American Embassy staff from Port-au-Prince to the U.S. base within hours of the earthquake. It may once again be needed to screen refugees.
Governments around the world are responding to the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, but it the U.S. that is taking the lead. The American military will, as always, make Americans proud. Together with the famous generosity of the American people, a truer image of the United States will be seen around the world than the one its external and internal critics would have everyone believe.