Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 15, 2010

What Are We Protecting? Competition or Compassion

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on January 15, 2010

On Wednesday, January 13, fourteen Senators wrote their chamber’s leaders calling for urgent action by the Congress to aid earthquake ravaged Haiti.  Their letter stated that assistance to the people of Haiti was in the United States’ national security interest.

In the days following the earthquake, President Obama has repeatedly pledged urgent and ample assistance. Military assets, international aid supplies, and government rescue teams were deployed within hours, and have already had an impact in terms of establishing aviation and sea-based supply lines through Port-au-Prince’s ravaged airport and seaport.

Meanwhile, individual Americans have responded with unprecedented speed and generosity to calls for donations to the American Red CrossCatholic Relief ServicesDoctors Without BordersMercyCorpsOxfamSave the Children,UNICEFUnited WayWorld Vision, and a host of other relief agencies online and by SMS text message. Corporations have pledged in-kind support, and at least one major credit card company has waived processing fees on donation transactions (albeit after a media outcry).

Despite the overwhelming show of support for Haiti and its impoverished people, one might reasonably ask what the United State’s national security interest there is. The country has few strategic resources, poses no military threat, and its fervent religious culture does not seem to breed the sort of extremism that has fostered terrorism eslewhere. So what’s on the line here?

The answer seems to be simple: America cannot afford to ignore the plight of people so like those who suffered from the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  As the nation seeks to rebuild its image abroad, it is becoming clear that the moral authority of the United States and its people rests not upon our ability to project power but on our willingness to extend protection. Put another way: This is a question of compassion, not competition.

The earthquake only compounded the problems Haiti already faced. It exposed not only the inadequacies of existing arrangements to promote sustainable prosperity, but also the consequences of neglecting the important connections between social and economic development in our own hemisphere and political stability.

Distinctions between homeland security and national security, hard power and soft power blur and fade to insignificance in the face of such a catastrophe. At a time when we have become better known and even resented for our preoccupation with competition and our relentless consumption, this is a time for America and Americans to display the sort of uncommon and uncompromising compassion our unparalleled liberties afford us.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

January 15, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

Excellent post! Several brief points. First, this is the largest human disaster in Western Hemisphere since Columbus landed. Second, although seemingly geographically confined it is large event than Katrina. And it is not geographically confined. Look for following evidence: Ferocious efforts to keep Haitians on their own terrritory–who gets evacuated and when and why? Second–large scale combat oriented military deployment instead of civil affairs, engineers and medical help. The Armed Forces of the US are going to be stretched further and for a long time. While published estimates of Haiti’s population is over 9 million many guess in excess of 12 million. Watch what the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Venzuela do with regards to this event. My guess is that 2 million Haitians will need new homes somewhere in Western Hemisphere. Huge domestic political impacts and impacts on US resources and preparedness. Our performance 700 miles offshore may or may not cause cold chills to go down the backs of interested persons in S.CA. as they watch about the same population as LA treated to what I am guessing is huge shortfalls in assistance of all kinds, and lack of basic medical and even food and water for up to two weeks or more. The event however will rival Lisbon 1715 in the minds of Europe for the Western Hemisphere! Why because if the performance here is not shown to be skilled, precise, and effective and efficint there are in fact other areas of the Western Hemisphere highly disaster prone. And of course IMO the last conclusion I reach is that in reality this is a domestic disaster. Personally I somehow missed that Haiti was earthquake prone and now wondering how the $3 Billion spent by US in last few decades since Mariel Boatlift, which involved Haitians not just Cubans, how no effort at mitigation of that risk. Unreinforced concrete block does NOT cut it in an earthquake. President OBAMA needs to immediately declare an EMERGENCY of SE US so that they can start gearing up for MEDLIFT evacuees. If true that deaths exceed 100,000 casulties will be in the ration of about 1-10. Also this time of year there are about 100,000 tourists and resident aliens in Haiti. Some will survive but be injured and some will want out immediately if not sooner. The interesting thing is that related issues were discussed in a domestic event during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. See NSDD 47! Again both sides of the aisle and the American polity better give this event the same priority as a domestic event. Personally given the checkered histor of US involvement in Haiti it would have been better for FRANCE or CANADA to be lead with US supporting for funds and logistics. Two new temp harbors are needed now. And several airports. Airdropped recon teams need to cover the entire country so that damage assessment can be accurate. So far only hearing about the Capital. Also prepare for largest MEDLIFT in world history, mostly to US. Good luck!

Hey Send all those empty cruise ships empty to Haiti to handle the migration elsewhere in Western Hemisphere.

Comment by bellavita

January 15, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

It’s difficult for me to imagine any argument for ignoring Haiti.

There might be some sort of Scrooge-like economic or political justification for leaving Haiti alone:

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

But as Jacob Marley’s ghost reminded Scrooge:

“It is required of every man … that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world … and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

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