Stars and gripes -- why America can't get a break
THE Americans running the aid effort for Haiti must feel like Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe closing the schools recently because of the snow. He was criticised for not doing so soon enough, and then when the weather forecasts turned out to be wrong he was criticised for closing them for too long. You just can't win.
The Americans, and the West generally, are constantly criticised for not doing enough for poorer parts of the world, and then when they do so robustly, after a disaster, they are accused of 'neo-colonial interference' and of 'taking over', as they have been in Haiti.
The anti-American lobby is always ready to come out on these occasions, especially when it comes to the Americas -- Uncle Sam's 'back yard'. But this is precisely why the US wants to get so involved. As President Barack Obama said explicitly, Haiti is in its immediate sphere, with a large immigrant population in the US itself.
However, the knee-jerk, anti-US lobby accuses the Americans of 'taking over' in Haiti, running airports and directing traffic. Well, yes, that's what's required to deal with a disaster of this magnitude.
Another criticism was that Hillary Clinton flew into the area, when the plane could have been used to fly in more aid. This is just petty sniping. Isn't it great that the US secretary of state flew in to show such high-level commitment to the rescue operation. And the problem right now isn't getting aid to Haiti, it's getting from the airports out to the regions. Not to mention getting troops on the ground to try to stop the looting and violence which is ensuing.
The Americans are hoping to gain credit, carp the critics. What's wrong with that? We don't see the Russians or the Chinese, the world's new superpower, rushing in to aid on this level. The Chinese may have been busy of late building hospitals and roads in Africa, but with a quid pro quo: they badly need raw materials from Africa to keep their industrial boom going.
But still the critics will insist on some malign interference. I remember watching Eamonn McCann addressing a rally outside the US Embassy in Ballsbridge, during the Kosovo crisis, and listening to him compare the US action there with King Leopold of Belgium getting involved in the Congo, where the invading Belgians enslaved the natives in rubber plantations. This was said about a broadly supported NATO operation carried out to stop the paramilitary Serbs from killing the Kosovars, as they had done with the Bosnians. Sorry, guys, but there is no oil in Kosovo, and no doubt the Americans would as soon not be there.
But they were and, in fact, the overall US involvement in Bosnia was precisely because the international community was so unwilling to get robustly involved. It was US air strikes which forced the Serbs to come to the negotiating table, where the Dayton peace agreement was hammered out. US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan may be naive and destructive, but people should remember other operations, such as bringing peace to the Balkans.
But this is not something the anti-American lobby wants to hear. Just as they forget, for example, about the huge US aid effort after the Asian tsunami. Nor do they mention the long-term commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa, where the US doubled its aid programme.
Some critics have been dragging up American, and French involvement in the history of Haiti and the violent pattern of coups and counter-coups there, but with tens of thousands of people dead this is not the time for a history lesson.
Instead, we should ignore the critics and salute the huge US and European aid effort, welcoming it as an example of 'soft power', quite in contrast to the negative consequences of military involvement elsewhere. After all, can you imagine the completely opposite scenario, that the US retreats into complete isolationism?
This would mean that an international aid effort such as that in Haiti would be left entirely to the likes of the EU, and the United Nations. And when the bureaucracy drags on, and resources get overstretched and the aid gets stolen -- what will we hear then? The moaners and fault-finders will then start blaming the US for selfishly staying away and not doing anything to help those well off than themselves. There is no pleasing some people.