Many critics have been quick to lash out against U.S. relief efforts in Haiti. Some of the arguments are outrageous claims of conspiracy. Televangelist Pat Robertson explained the disaster as a consequence of a “pact with the devil.” Venezuela’s state-run news station has even suggested that the United States caused the disaster using an “earthquake weapon.” But outside of these laughable claims, credible sources have publicly commented that humanitarian aid operations are an attempt by the United States to occupy Haiti. Such remarks have become so unrelenting that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton felt it necessary to issue a rebuttal defending U.S. relief efforts. While some might believe that the United States is occupying Haiti, a look at comparable events shows that such claims are nonsense.
Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, has made such incendiary remarks as to call U.S. efforts in Haiti “pathetic,” stating that the U.S. military “tends to confuse military intervention with emergency intervention.” Actually, the U.S. Armed Forces have an impressive resume when it comes to humanitarian aid operations. Take for example the work of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit after Cyclone Sidr Bangladesh in 2007, which killed thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Sailors and Marines provided medical assistance to affected survivors free of charge. Or consider when the Nicaraguan government asked U.S. troops for assistance after Hurricane Felix swept their country in 2007, causing terrible death and damage. U.S. forces responded by evacuating survivors and providing over 490,000 pounds of aid equipment.
The lack of occupation and imperialism in these examples challenges the legitimacy of such accusations. French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet has called upon the United Nations to investigate U.S. relief efforts, saying, “This is about helping Haiti, not about occupying Haiti.” Had he done any investigation into the recent humanitarian work of the U.S. military or the history of France, he would have seen the folly in this claim. “Occupying” would better describe France’s use of Haiti as a slave colony for several centuries, and their continued claim that Haiti is indebted to them.
Within the United States, critics have disputed the use of military forces as well. Ben Ehrenreich of Slate Magazine has decried the securing of Haiti, claiming that there is no need for troops to stop “the so-called looting,’ which I prefer to think of as the autonomously organized distribution of unjustly hoarded goods.” Ehrenreich must not have paid attention to the events of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2003, U.S. troops did not initially set out to protect the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. In the chaos that ensued, looters ransacked the museum. Hundreds of thousands of antiquities were stolen and destroyed, including tablets from ancient Mesopotamia displaying some of the earliest known writing. With this in mind, it is likely that the U.S. military is simply trying to learn from its past mistakes by providing sufficient security in Haiti.
There is no doubt that the unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to this notion that the use of troops in Haiti might be an attempt to occupy the country. But this is hardly a rational conclusion. In the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States publicly declared its intent to search for weapons of mass destruction and terrorists when they invaded. The mission in Haiti is entirely different, and no plans to stay in the country have been announced. In fact, defense officials have already planned to turn over the mission to international organizations within three to six months.
With this in mind, such outlandish allegations against our humanitarian work suggest that the accusers are more concerned with undermining the United States than helping Haiti. Such illegitimate claims reduce the credibility of the critics who make them. These words should be saved for instances in which there is truly questionable activity otherwise, the next time these officials and journalists cry wolf, no one will listen.