January 20, 2010

Haiti As Counterinsurgency

One day, hopefully not too far in the future, America is going to respond differently to natural disasters. Split into two categories, one reaction assists any international disaster relief effort, if possible, to promote US goodwill and overall world peace.

The second reaction will quickly recognize those disasters that fall under counterinsurgency and respond with this in mind.

Disaster relief has long been considered part of military operations by the US military as it creates a good image to fight with. When warfare transitioned out of the conventional and into the asymmetric, disaster relief was subsumed into counterinsurgency operations.

So did the US military see the golden opportunity in Haiti or not? If it did, was there force applied on Obama? Did Obama reject or not if so? These are difficult questions to answer.

Of more certainty is that America’s response, while seemingly vigorous, was average at best. Obama appears not to have realized that Haiti is a counterinsurgency first and disaster relief second, with the potential to directly influence Palestine and Afghanistan. Haiti isn’t an arbitrary disaster to help and leave, but a political and media battle to wage and win.

Disaster relief is an active weapon, a non-military operation of war. And considering America’s 700$ billion Defense budget, Haiti is a bargain counterinsurgency compared to Afghanistan.

Comparing the two countries doesn’t present Obama in a good light. Haiti was the anti-Afghanistan, demanding quick and confident decisions. Deliberation might have been necessary in Afghanistan, but it’s open to debate whether he could have decided quicker. Most think he could but didn’t want him to.

Now he looks like he can’t make a quick decision at all.

Obama made one wrong move, either out of ignorance or bad advice, and doomed every next step. He saw the 2004 tsunami and automatically limited his thinking, when Haiti is an unlimited disaster requiring unlimited thinking. After the first phone call he needed to visualize an entirely new response.

10,000 troops should have been readied for launch immediately with another 10,000 on standby. Another 2,000 Marines were just ordered to deploy, bringing the total US commitment to 11,500. 16,000 US troops and seamen are supposed to be deployed by the week’s end.

A contingent of 3,500 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Brigade was also supposed to land this weekend, but many of them are still loading up on disaster relief at their North Carolina base.

Clearly Obama’s initial reaction of 2,000 Marines was under-estimated. He needed up to 20,000 troops from the start. Possibly afraid of over-reacting and the political consequences of doing so, he should have known this was impossible.

"Troops on the ground” is the solution to every problem, reports CBS.

The most valid argument against a rapid buildup is aftershocks as seen by yesterday. But that risk was incurred by the 10,000 troops already deployed. They should have been there faster, that way security could have stayed tight in the immediate aftermath, smoothing the security over the coming weeks and opening up disaster and humanitarian efforts.

If 10,000 Marines had been in Haiti in 48 hours they would have been greeted as liberators and been in place for the ensuing rescue effort. Instead their late arrival contributed to bottle-necking the airports, violating counterinsurgency by giving military flights priority over aid.

Obama also came up short financially, pledging only 100$ million in initial relief. Why, if that number will eventually cross 1$ billion, not pledge it immediately? This would place America in front, demonstrating its determination and assuming coordination over relief efforts militarily and financially. Obama should’ve utilized the UN instead of allowing it to take his place.

Now other countries are pledging billions of dollars. America should have lead that charge.

Free thinking, quick reaction, and sincerity could have turned Haiti into a massive America counterinsurgency victory. All the debate about whether the response is too slow or not, too coordinated or not, would instead be how America, and Obama in particular, are doing a great job.

American success is beamed into billions of people’s homes, and hundred of millions of Muslims. They’re talking about Haiti from Africa to the Middle East to Asia - huge markets for a successful US counterinsurgency and the resulting propaganda fruits.

Instead Obama is relatively silent and in his place stand Bill Clinton and George Bush, both complicit in crimes against Haiti, above all the perpetuation of the status quo. With Bush you get statements like, "I fully understand the anguish that the people of Haiti feel.”

"I was involved with Haiti," he told VOA. "I did care deeply about those who are suffering from AIDS. PEPFAR has spent about $320 million in Haiti to get anti-retrovirals [anti-retroviral drugs] and prevention programs to the people Haiti."

Yes, to keep them alive for cheap labor.

Obama should dump Clinton and Bush and assume the face of American relief efforts in Haiti. He needs to admit to America’s wrongs, otherwise the effort can never be sincere, and to do so he must break with the past.

He must also pledge billions of dollars like any other war. He must realize he’s waging a counterinsurgency in Haiti, not just saving lives, and pursue it as vigorously as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Success would reverberate throughout America’s engagement with the Muslim world.

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