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After the Earthquake: What Should America Really Do About Haiti?

At some point quite soon, the thousands of rescue and medical-relief visitors now in Haiti will leave. There will be no additional half-deads showing up on television, although, just as I was writing, I caught special alerts in both Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post reporting that today, ten days after the earthquake, an Israeli rescue team dug out a breathing and sentient young man, 22 years old. The already desolate cityscapes and landscapes--which God made more desolate--will leave the inhabitants soul-sick. The state of nature was always despondent in Haiti, except for the dematerialized second sight sustained by Catholic piety and black magic occult.

A “national” government probably will be revived. But there is no reason to think that it will be more efficient, more inspired, more honest, more humane, or more practical than the regimes that preceded the last. Look at a list of Haitian presidents from 1804 on. I doubt that any other country in the world would produce such a threnody of assassinations, overthrows, executions, “died”-in-offices, suicides. In more than two centuries, and aside from four presidents who served during the two decades of American occupation (1915-1934), only five men (out of 44) served their full terms. This is not an encouraging record. Do you recall when the ex-priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide arrived in the states baring a glow of decency and honesty ... and then turned out to be a crook and murderer just like his predecessors? In any case, I recall my friend “Skip” Gates hosting a lunch for him at the Hasty Pudding, to which I and all the other politically “smart” academics came. Alas, we were enchanted.

We probably never had a secure grasp of Haiti’s real history. But there was a 1986 essay in TNR, “Slaves and Slaughter: Haiti’s horrible history,” by David Landes, the magisterial historian of, well, almost everything. Read it and cry.

This morning, Ban Ki-moon addressed the General Assembly, giving a précis of the disaster and a slightly hopped-up version of what had been achieved in its aftermath. Anyone who has watched television during this gruesome week can tell you about the disappointments of the various aid operations that have come to Haiti ... and with what determination these foreigners have conquered despair to push on. American service personnel carried the very bulk of the effort and also the harsh peculiarities of ersatz planning that might have been permanent. What is the most dispiriting insight on this very point is that the U.N. has had a substantial mission with six thousand men and women (and occasionally more) at work in the country. And still the country bore virtually no traces of these labors.

It is harsh to say this. After all, “70 U.N. staff had perished,” the secretary general reported, and “146 were as yet unaccounted for” on Thursday. No relief contingent has lost so many. It demonstrated that the personnel were enmeshed with the population of Port-au-Prince and beyond. But MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, had been in the country since mid-2004 and, as the International Interim Force (IIF), almost a half-year earlier. The government literally collapsed with the first physical surge from below. The police disappeared. Other local emergency agencies acted as if they never existed. Virtually nothing happened until the men and women of the American armed forces arrived. Believe me, this is not chauvinism. It is truth.

All of the really productive teams will soon be gone, their tasks done. The French, the Israelis with their completely functioning field hospital, the Canadians, the Chileans etc.

The money will continue, with contributions from American citizens overwhelming everyone else. A friend of mine, a business partner of mine in very interesting ventures, contributed $1 million. China gave $4.4 million. What does that tell you?

The sober and dignified speech on Haiti that President Obama delivered saw the deeper needs. In a certain way, it may even have perceived the fact that only the United States can bring Haiti deliverance. This will cause a struggle within the president’s tiers mondiste,mind and heart. He is, after all, deeply discomfited by the notion of a distinctive American mission. But I believe he would be gratified to be the president who rescued a black and third-world nation from its past.

Only the United States can do this. And I suspect that the only society the Haitians would trust to do this is our society. This will drive the right bananas. And it will drive the left bananas squared. In any case, the United Nations would not approve it. In the Security Council, it would be vetoed by Russia and China, who have already demonstrated their concern for Haiti. Maybe the Organization of American States would have enough solidarity with its bleeding sister to approve a great American project--in which member countries would participate to the extent they can--of construction and reconstruction, of democracy and economic growth, of modernization and justice.

This would be an O.A.S. mandate to the United States to help birth Haiti into the contemporary world.

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