Thursday, January 21st, 2010

"Command and control" in Haiti's New Mini-Green Zone

"The danger of hunger-crazed mobs never came up after the 2004 Pacific tsunami, and no one mentions security when tornados and floods wipe out swaths of the American Midwest. This suggests two possibilities, neither of them flattering. The first is that the administration had strategic reasons for sending 10,000 troops that had little to do with disaster relief."
-Awl pal Ben Ehrenreich has a swift little piece on Haiti and the U.S. military response that reads excellently. Spoiler alert: the second possibility he mentions mostly has to do with how "white people who are not poor have been known, when confronted with black people who are, to start locking their car doors and muttering about their security."

33 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)

Oh, this is just ridiculous. Why would we need troops in Indonesia? Have you ever tried to swim from Jakarta to Miami?

El Matardillo (#586)

The after-action report will be studied carefully for post-disaster command and control lessons that can be applied to domestic events.

Ronit (#1,557)

I didn't realize midwestern states or Indonesia or Thailand had a law-and-order situation that was in any way comparable to Haiti. Nope, I bet it's just racism at play!

Rw (#1,458)

So what are you saying?

Ronit (#1,557)

That the US military may have bungled the initial response, but it's kind of ridiculous for a Slate writer with no first hand knowledge of the situation on the ground to jump to the conclusion that the military's behavior is motivated by racism.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Okay, he may not have first-hand knowledge, but he's got logic!

"This suggests two possibilities …"

What did Sherlock Holmes use to say, wasn't it something like, "When you've eliminated the first few random possibilities you mentioned off the top of your head, the truth must be that one other possibility you didn't eliminate yet, especially if it allows you to make an accusation you're not going to have to stand up for."

Something like that? (Sherlock Holmes said it after he had retired from being a detective and was teaching an evening course in Rhetoric for Desk Journalists.)

mathnet (#27)

It was a bit of a relief to watch Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta complaining about this last night on the CNN.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I would like to propose a third possibility: the problem is that we keep asking the military to handle stuff the military is not supposed to handle. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the guys with the guns and the bombs and the tanks and the cruise missiles maybe, just maybe, set up their organization with other priorities than "clean up after earthquakes."

mike d (#61)

This. Where's the +1 button?

As soon as we start funding a large stable of ready-reserve disaster relief civilians, this jackass can start writing articles like this.

slinkimalinki (#182)

coming from a country where pretty much all the military does is search and rescue, disaster relief and peacekeeping, i don't find this such a weird concept.

mike d (#61)

Slinki – no idea where you're from, but we'd love to have 10,000 of your boys and girls showing ours how it's done in Port-au-Prince.

slinkimalinki (#182)

mike d — what on earth are you talking about?

HiredGoons (#603)

Isn't this why we have FEMA?

the Loud Coast (#1,362)

Nah, FEMA's just there to be a backup for the US government, in case an army of alien chimera's needs to be raised to counter an invasion by an interstellar force.

HiredGoons (#603)

I meant BESIDES that.

slinkimalinki (#182)

oh hey, remember all those dangerous escaped prisoners on the loose, planning to ravage the city? turns out 80% of them had never been charged with a crime.

Flashman (#418)

Troops? Port-au-Prince had been leveled by an earthquake, not a barbarian invasion, but, OK, troops. Maybe they could put down their rifles and, you know, carry stuff, make themselves useful.
This is what I had thought at first too – that they needed to send down some rescuers, and ARMY was all set up and ready to go.
Then I see a picture on the NYT website of this platoon skulking through the streets in full battle regalia as if it was Fallujah. WTF?

Flashman (#418)

Furthermore. I notice a similar obsession with black crime in white South Africa. While yes, crime does happen, it's not nearly as pervasive and widespread as the media portrays it, and every anecdote is seized upon as if to say 'see, I told you so!'
White south Africans don't gauge the success of the country by how much the black majority has gained, instead they obsess about what little they have had to give up. Never acknowledging that they have been by far the biggest benficiaries in post-apartheid SA.

Ronit (#1,557)

While yes, crime does happen, it's not nearly as pervasive and widespread as the media portrays it

South Africa is one of the most crime-ridden countries in the world.

janine (#248)

Guy's got a good point about the military response, but I'm not a huge fan of the attempt at equivalence. You can't compare Haiti to Indonesia or the American midwest. It reminds me of the comparisons between New Orleans and post 9/11 New York. This is destruction on a completely other scale. You can flood the entire state of Nebraska and it would be devastating, but there'd be lots of the US government left to help people.

the Loud Coast (#1,362)

We have to speculate about the design of Baghdad's Green Zone: whether it was a significant modern form and whether many cities around the world will have permanent militarized quarters within our lifetimes. While its too early to say whether this is becoming a global trend, its a critical issue to consider. Have any cities constructed "green zones" recently without the precedent of a disaster?

sigerson (#179)

I thought the Slate article was harsh and overstated. The local government and the UN mission were both completely disabled by the earthquake and the infrastructure (inadequate to begin with) was decimated. Flying into an environment where there is no law and no institutional structure to maintain order, even when the people there are peaceful members of a civil society, requires that stability be ensured ASAP.

Furthermore, the US military moves people and goods faster than anybody else. Ever hear the phrase "An Army travels on its stomach"? NOBODY could land at the airport efficiently until the Air Force set up air traffic control.

Maevemealone (#968)

Has the Haitian president even addressed the nation yet? The Haitian police force is notoriously corrupt is it not? I don't really have an issue with military going in. National Guard goes to tornado/hurricane areas to distribute aid and maintain peace domestically. The armed forces are generally sitting ready to move at a moments notice and set up communications and transportation routes faster than most any civilian agency could dream of. Better they practice their craft in a peace zone than a war zone. If they keep the guns low profile, relief actions high profile, they are the best ones to step into these situations.

barnhouse (#1,326)

I'm a huge fan of BE but I agree with sigerson, here. The relief effort was bound to be a huge mess, given the circs. I am way inclined to bet on incompetence and general freakout as the cause of chaos, rather than organized evil.

jacksonwest (#637)

I'd also argue that what the United States needs is an emergency management team with the necessary transport and personnel on call to respond to these sorts of situations without carrying guns and wearing body armor. Other, smaller, poorer, countries have these options for crisis response, and it's great diplomacy. Our apparent fear of violence (against property as much as people) has only ever been met with a corresponding threat of faster, deadlier violence. USAID is not an emergency management agency, it is an international development agency (that, you know, wasn't exactly there for Haiti before the earthquake). FEMA is only equipped to handle internal emergencies, and poorly at that.

BoHan (#29)

Here's some reality. 2 minutes ago at the airport bar young handsome tatted guy next to me calls someone about how he is supposed to pay his air travel expenses to Haiti. Turns out he is Coast Guard, got deployed to Haiti yesterday, and will be there running supply boats back and forth to shore for the civilians. For 3 months. So really. He was about the farthest thing from military as you could get and he is scared and he is paying his own way for the time being. Try that with a civilian rescue force composed of Awl Haiti posters. I bought him 2 beers just because all this uninformed speculaton annoys the hell out of me. Apparently we are fucked if we provide help and also fucked if we do not. Also he was hot.

Ronit (#1,557)

Thanks for that.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Glad you posted this.

HiredGoons (#603)

Um, how hot?

Bittersweet (#765)

The Coast Guard is the awesomest branch of the military. They get more done, with less funding (and less whining), than anyone in the Pentagon.

That said, though, Coast Guard, how about paying this kid's airfare to Haiti? I know you can do more with less, but c'mon.

advocatusdiaboli (#2,728)

I wonder which of those three situation the author would like to be put in the middle of unarmed for a night–I guarantee he wouldn't pick Haiti the chicken-sh*t race-baiter. It's not about race it's about reality. The world knows Haiti has a lot more lawlessness, corruption, and violence than the other two. But how dare coincidental race not be made an issue! This man has to write about something. As others have pointed out, who else does the USA or any other government have to send. He also didn't mention droves of doctors fleeing emergency hospitals over security fears. Wonder why that was–Haiti is so law-abiding and peaceful.

Abe Sauer (#148)

This was a piece of horseshit.

DannyG (#3,146)

This article is terrible, but also terribly predictable since any time someone sees US military they automatically assume the worst. One of the biggest problems with all the aid in Haiti, besides the distribution, is that some aid workers pulled out because of safety concerns. Who is going to alleviate those concerns, the UN? The UN was doing a terrible job of keeping Haiti safe when it was fully functioning. Who do you think has the ability to establish, manage, maintain, secure, and support an APOD of that size besides the United States of America? The US military is the US military, there are going to be some mistakes, but if you have another idea as to who could run this disaster relief more efficiently, or any other solutions to the problems, please let me know. Criticize some of the details of their efforts, sure, but criticize them as a whole? Ridiculous. There is no other option, no one else organized or powerful enough to sort out the situation than the 82nd airborne.

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