According to (confirmed) reports this morning, President Obama will send a bipartisan delegation led by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to assist recovery efforts in Haiti. The United States has already launched a robust aid operation including Coast Guard and Naval ships and deployed Marines. The U.S. also has floating military hospitals, doctors and medical supplies on the way. President Obama has ordered a “swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives” and by all accounts, that is what is occurring. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both cancelled their regular schedules and devoted their full attention to this crisis. USAID has already begun shipment of over 14,550 tons of food aid “which will help feed 1.2 million people for two weeks.”
It is heartening to see that the Obama administration has responded so immediately to this epic disaster. This is the response that is expected of the most humanitarian nation on the planet. The United States is the world’s largest donor of development assistance, and that doesn’t even count the tens of billions of dollars that Americans privately donate to humanitarian missions every year. In 2003 for example, the U.S. government spent nearly $2.5 billion in emergency and disaster relief aid. All other countries combined gave $3.4 billion. The generosity of America is often overlooked, even domestically.
Yesterday, The Heritage Foundation suggested that Presidents Clinton and Bush lead these efforts. Some on the left were unwilling to put aside partisan politics and attacked Heritage for even suggesting the idea. It’s not even a new idea. The world was united behind former Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush during the relief efforts that followed the devastating Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. They were a great team, and did a great job. MSNBC’s leftist commentator Rachel Maddow went as far as to inappropriately make jokes about fly-overs and Bush’s ability to help lead such an effort. This simply isn’t the time for such trivial sniping, whether its from Maddow, DailyKos or NPR.
Once recovery efforts are underway, the Obama administration needs to keep in mind the long term effects of this disaster. Clearly President Obama is already doing so, as he spoke to the American public this morning flanked by his national security team. The recommendations he is getting surely include the appropriate ways to respond to a refugee crisis or a destabalized government in an already fragile Haitian democracy.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, and America is the most generous. The generosity and compassion of millions of Americans will be on full display over the next few months and beyond. Doctors will take personal time and spend personal savings to volunteer their time. Red Cross volunteers will deploy in and out endlessly, ensuring a consistent helping hand. All across our nation, businesses large and small will donate services, goods and money to the cause. Churches and faith based organizations will lead massive humanitarian efforts. We must ensure this generosity is not corrupted, and we must ensure that Haiti can rebuild itself into a stronger, and safer nation.
Many in the U.S. and in the region have become concerned about the Administration’s policies toward nations like Honduras, Cuba, and Venezuela. Now, however, is the time to put aside our differences and concentrate upon rescue and recovery in Haiti. Into this terrible crisis, the United States brings unapologetically a unique combination of capacity and compassion. Thankfully, President Obama recognizes this vital fact about our magnificent nation. Haiti will recover. And America will help.