Jan 13 2010

A Proper Application Of Power

American forces are moving into Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake, providing emergency aid and support to maintain public order. For the moment, the image in some parts of the world of Western forces as war criminals and occupiers fades a bit as disciplined leathernecks move ashore to help people in desperate need. As the shell-shocked Haitians hear of “a swift, coordinated and aggressive” operation by the US military, they will welcome the troops not with rockets and insurgent tactics, but with tears of joy and gratitude.

The troops on the ground will have heavy responsibilities. Indeed, in coming days, they should be called on to act in ways they had never expected — perhaps, in ways that the locals won’t want, but which they do need.

Still the World’s Sole Superpower
America’s ability to respond to these kinds of emergencies all over the world is a reminder of the world’s sole remaining superpower’s unique capability to act for good or evil — particularly when compared with other geopolitical contenders.

Some are convinced of China’s rise as a world power (and there are those who would suggest it has already overtaken America as a superpower). Yet no one is expecting the Chinese navy to drop in and take a leading role in the relief effort in what is essentially America’s pond. You’ll recall that in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that devastated southeast Asia, any kind of overt Chinese military response was extremely limited. It’s unclear whether they lacked the logistical ability to provide far-ranging support, or whether full-scale Chinese intervention might have raised the hackles of neighbors already nervous about a longer-term “China threat”. Meanwhile, the US navy was only too eager to deploy in typical gung-ho style.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
A robust application of military power in these kinds of situations is not to be feared or fought. The American effort is welcomed with open arms. Indeed, people around the world would be shocked if the USA didn’t take an active role in Haiti now. Their efforts are to be lauded.

That said, it must also be acknowledged that it took a natural disaster of unprecedented scope to drag America back into Haiti, when disasters of another sort in Haiti ought to have been higher up the US agenda years ago. The USA should get credit for leading the current effort in Haiti, but the past decade has seen this small island nation endure a living hell of abject poverty, corruption, gangsterism and political instability. When one thinks of the resources spent and wasted in Iraq due to mismanagement and corruption, it’s incredible to think what might have been possible in Haiti given a more focused attention and diversion of resources to the USA’s own sphere of influence.

Indeed, America can act in Haiti in more far-ranging ways compared with other countries that will avoid “interference in a country’s internal affairs” at all costs. America didn’t break Haiti, as it broke Iraq. But there will still be pressure for a long-term American presence to help the country become notable for something other than being the poorest place in the Western hemisphere. Economic aid should come with conditions to hit possibly the worst aspect of Haitian indigenous culture: child slavery.

It may seem incredible, but it’s true: “Haiti was the first country in the Americas to abolish slavery, when it won its independence in 1804 after a struggle led by Toussaint Louverture. But thousands live a life of near-slave labour because of poverty and social breakdown.”

A Real Fight for Freedom
Child slavery in Haiti is not a new phenomenon, though the relatively recent adoption of child slaves to serve not the rich, but the less poor, has certainly put horrific spin on this perverse practice. Haitians reportedly defend the practice as a part of their indigenous culture. But child slavery is one of those things that neither cultural relativism nor poverty can properly excuse. It is a crime and a violation of human rights.

Now that Americans and other countries will be boosting their resources and boots on the ground, we have an opportunity to remove a terrible exception to the freedom that the rest of this region takes for granted.

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