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?