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Monday, January 18

Memo to President Obama: Haitians are asking for Marines, not the State Department

Washington Post, January 18:
Security fears mount in lawless post-earthquake Haiti

[...] Indeed, all over Port-au-Prince, signs begging for help from the Marines have been sprouting. In front of one crushed office building, a typical sign read: "Welcome the U.S. Marine. We need some help. Dead bodies inside." Another read: "U.S. Marines SOS. We need help."
Politico, January 17:
Haiti logistics: breaking the airport bottleneck

[...] The administration has faced criticism from the retired U.S. general who led the Katrina response that it was overthinking post-quake Haiti aid distribution, when it should have just pushed it out as faster at risk of it being disorganized.

"The next morning after the earthquake, I assumed there would be airplanes delivering aid," retired Lt. General Russel Honore was cited this week. "What we saw instead was discussion about, 'Well we've got to send an assessment team in to see what the needs are.' And anytime I hear that, my head turns red."

Honore also said he thought the U.S. military and not USAID should have been put in charge of the aid effort, because of its superior logistical and lift resources.[...]
Returning to the Washington Post report:
At this point, though, it's unlikely that there will be a large U.S. military presence in Port-au-Prince. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this weekend that there will be up to 10,000 U.S. forces in Haiti and off its coast by Monday, but only a fraction of them will be on the ground.

"The bulk of them will be on ships," he said.
I'm getting a bad feeling about all this. SouthCom deputy commander Lt. Gen. Ken Keen and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, who are 'partnering' in the U.S. relief operation in Haiti, have said that their branches are working in tight coordination, according to the Politico report. However, General Honore's opinion in the matter is not to be taken lightly.

There is perhaps too much emphasis on the U.S. military and State (USAID is a part of State) "coordinating" with each other and not enough emphasis on leadership in the mission.

I can understand State and President Obama wanting to keep the military in the background as much as possible, so as not to add fuel to criticism that the relief operation is a mask for a U.S. military takeover of Haiti. However, this is a political viewpoint and shouldn't be allowed to trump facts on the ground.

The facts are that the U.N. peacekeepers were very unpopular with Haitians even before the earthquake and now they're widely seen as ineffectual at keeping order in the post-quake environment. From the Post report:
"The blue helmets, they don't do anything," said Gregoire Sancerre, a computer technology student, echoing a frequent refrain here. "If you have trouble and call them, they won't come. They are afraid of gangsters. What use are they?"
And the police have been rendered ineffectual:
Haiti's small national police force suffered losses when a police station and prison collapsed during the quake, killing at least eight officers and eight inmates. Dozens of police uniforms were destroyed in the collapse, adding to the general sense of confusion in the streets because there are not enough uniforms for surviving officers.

The loss of the prison, in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, leaves police with fewer options to detain suspected criminals.

Even under normal circumstances, the national police are sorely outmatched. Port-au-Prince has long been plagued by violent gangs that control huge swaths of the city, including much of the notorious Cite Soleil slum.
So the Marines need to leave the boats and make their presence strongly felt in Port au Prince, before civilian violence in the capital city grinds relief operations to a standstill.
Could it be that the folks at State have concluded for a dozen years that Haiti is a "failed state" and an embarrassment in the western hemisphere? If so, then a sub-rosa take over may be in the works. "Never let a crisis go to waste." Certainly the SecState knows that earlier administrations failed in Haiti.

And that means the US military must keep a very low profile. So "relief" is not the primary goal of this administration.
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