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January 18, 2010

How does the U.S. military support Haiti without looking like occupiers?

In the midst of the looting, violence and chaos that is engulfing Haiti, the U.S. military is trying to strike a delicate balance – reaching out and providing aid,  while signaling to the Haitians it has no interest in occupying their country.

It is a challenging task. While the United States has been Haiti’s largest foreign aid contributor for decades, it's also been its most frequent occupier.   It's a role the U.S. would like not to repeat.

The U.S. military has said that it wants the Haitian people to see troops passing out food, water and other needed items. En route to India today, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates addressed concerns that the U.S. presence could look like an occupation, telling reporters that while U.S. forces would provide some security, “I haven't heard of us playing a policing role at any point."  U.N. forces would take the lead he said, adding: "We are there in support of them and the government of Haiti."
 
But that might be difficult. The Haitian government is weak, its infrastructure frail and its security situation so precarious that it demands a show of force.  On Monday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon asked the Security Council immediately to  send 3,500 security officers to address the security problem.
 
So how does the  U.S. military support a weak government without looking like occupiers? That is, to properly support this government, the U.S. may have to step in and be the government because Haitian officials simply cannot do the job. And what are the consequences of looking like an occupation force?

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Comments

Lee Wacker

Both Richard and Phillip are right. The American Military's job is enormous, and they do not need nay-sayers hampering their work. As far as Haiti is concerned, it is a failed country. Far too many strong-arm tactic, very little common sense.
Hmmmmm---sounds a bit like Congress these days.

Philip Henika

Natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake might even irk the likes of Osama bin Laden or Rush Limbaugh i.e. a successful relief effort will require multinational info sharing and coordination and the more experience nations have with info sharing/coordination the better. I mean, what if the global community decides that it needs to and can work together to end war? I still see a role for the military in a world without war because Mother Nature is a most effective terrorist. Finally, stabilization or stability operations (Army Manual 3-07) might be preferable over occupation for use as a descriptor because stabilization infers a temporary visit whereas occupation infers a more permanent residence. I again defer to the precedent of 'helping people to help themselves.'

Richard Allbritton, Miami

Unfortunately, with a disaster of this magnitude and the urgent needs of Haitians, the U.S. will look like an occupation force. In the much smaller disaster Hurricane Andrew (1992) in South Florida, when the National Guard took over security, which was essential, it looked like a military occupation. It was necessary because looting started almost immediately. Protecting property aside, saving of lives in Haiti requires security. ~ richard allbritton, Miami, http://rallbritton.blogspot.com

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"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

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