Wednesday, January 20, 2010

UDN, Haiti and anti-Americanism (expanded)

In a commentary on Tuesday Jan. 19 on the role of the US in relief efforts in quake-devastated Haiti, the Chinese-language United Daily News went on the offensive on what is claims are signs of US imperialistic ambitions in the impoverished country.

The opening sets the tone for the article: “[A]n international dispute broke out as the Haitian International Airport in Port-au-Prince has been put under the control of the US Armed Forces and the US has prioritized the evacuation of its own citizens,” UDN writes. “Rescue airplanes from around the world have even been refused clearance to land. According to a foreign news report, France has lodged a formal protest to the US Department of State.”

It continues: “The US acting as the world’s sole superpower is nothing new. Given Haiti’s proximity to the US, Washington’s bossy attitude is also no surprise. [US] President [Barack] Obama promptly pledged a donation of US$100 million in relief assistance after the earthquake struck. No other country can match such an enormous donation. However, the US Air Force putting the Haitian airport under its virtual control is a unilateral act too aggressive in the eyes of other nations.”

“The US extends its influence into other countries using not only its military might and economic strengths, but also its pervasive media network. This time, CNN conducted a ‘Quick Vote’ on its website, asking whether the US should accept Haitian immigrants in the earthquake’s aftermath,” it wrote.

The article then incongruously ties US behavior in Haiti and CNN polls with Taiwan: “CNN had also conducted a ‘Quick Vote’ while reporting on the disaster in Taiwan in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot last August. CNN asked its viewers, ‘Should Taiwan’s leader step down over the slow rescue and relief efforts?’ Such push polling caused quite a stir among the local media in Taiwan when all viewers pointed their fingers at the Ma Ying-jeou administration.”

“However, CNN represents the view of the US, and it has indeed caused a lot of trouble by trying to play a leading role in shaping people’s worldviews […] In the past, China was disliked by western countries just because its national designation, the Middle Kingdom, implied that it was ‘the center of the world.’ Now looking at what the US has been doing in Haiti, the US has seemingly come to regard itself as the true ‘Middle Kingdom,’” it writes.

Nowhere in the commentary does the author ask who will ensure security and stability in Haiti, a country with a long history of political instability and warlordism. The only other military presence in the country, with enough knowledge of the place to actually make a difference to ensure the safety of humanitarian delivery, is Canada, which is already overstretched in Afghanistan and could not deploy anything nearly as sizable — and as rapidly — as the US. No country in the region, not even the Chinese UN contingent, has the means to do this, period.

Was the world supposed to stand by while things fall apart just so as to appear polite? Whoever wrote the commentary clearly had no understanding whatsoever of Haiti’s domestic situation, history, and the need for Civilian-Military cooperation (CIMIC) during humanitarian emergencies (if one country has experience in and has encouraged CIMIC in recent years, it is the US), and chose to look at the deployment through the prism of politics rather than as necessary action that undoubtedly saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

The US was a natural leader to deal with the aftermath of this catastrophe, and it has substantial experience operating in the even-unstable Haiti that goes back to at least former US president George H.W. Bush. In September 1994, then president Bill Clinton ordered the launch of Operation Uphold Democracy, while the UN Security Council passed Resolution 940, which “under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, authorize[d] Member States to form a multinational force under unified command and control and, in this framework, to use all necessary means [including force] to facilitate the departure from Haiti of the military leadership … and to establish and maintain a secure and stable environment that will permit implementation of the Governors Island Agreement.”

What prompted the US into action then were not imperial designs on the Western hemisphere’s poorest country, but rather fear of instability as thousands of Haitian boat people sought refuge in the US amid rampant political instability, growing violence and abject poverty. Between October 1991 and June 1992, a total of 36,594 Haitian refugees were intercepted (under a program initiated by former US president Ronald Regan) by US special forces as they attempted to flee their country for the US. Between 1994 and 1995, a total of 21,638 Haitians were relocated in camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and fed, housed and clothed under the US-led Operation Sea Signal.

Then, after the November 2000 elections, which the Haitian opposition boycotted, US and other international forces mandated by the UN once again were deployed to ensure stability, and the situation simmered until 2004, when a rebellion, which resulted in numerous deaths, forced president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to flee the country and brought President Rene Preval to power. Violence continued, however, and again called for the presence of UN peacekeepers and civilian police deployments from other countries.

Given all this, added to the fact that existing socio-political pressures were bound to be exacerbated by the collapse of the central government following the earthquake, accusing the US of seeing itself as the Middle Kingdom, as the piece argues, is invidious.

Discussing the situation in Haiti, Taiwanese rescue teams have said that the situation there is “logistical chaos” — hence the need for foreign troops to supper humanitarian efforts.

As for denying some aircraft to land at the airport in Port-au-Prince, many reports show that the airport is far too small to accommodate the sudden increase in traffic and many countries (not just France) have had to reroute their deliveries to neighboring Dominican Republic, whence humanitarian goods are transported by land across the border. Unlike what UDN alleges, there is no evil plot by the US military to seize the airport.

The article’s criticism of the US prioritizing the evacuation of Americans in Haiti is also unfair. It is the responsibility of every government to ensure the safe passage of their citizens in emergencies. France did that in Rwanda in 1994, for example, just as close to a million Rwanda Tutsi were about to be exterminated, and many countries did the same when Israel invaded Lebanon in 2006.

The parallel with CNN polls, meanwhile, is just risible. Since when does CNN represent “the view of the US,” as the piece argues? At best, CNN represents “a view” among a plurality of contending views. And I doubt that Haitians, who are struggling to rescue (or bury) loves ones and rebuild their lives, sit down at night to have their minds “poisoned” by CNN propaganda, which is what the commentary appears to be saying.

This is strident anti-Americanism pure and simple, something that conservative Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) members will likely exploit to widen the rift between Taipei and Washington. It should be noted that the English version of the commentary, which sounds ominously like something that would appear in the Beijing-controlled People’s Daily, was carried on the official KMT Web site.

A slightly longer version of this article appeared in the Taipei Times on Jan. 27. Please note that the article erroneously refers to President Preval as Andre Preval, when it should have read Rene.


Thomas said...

I find several things about this commentary suspect. First of all, it offers no US response to the allegations of imperialism, whether in relation to the occupation of the airport or the evacuation of US citizens.

In regards to these particular "sins", it offers no choice in opposition to US occupation of the airport. Has the US declined some sort of UN resolution that would provide a better solution? Not at all. And the commentary glosses over the fact that most nations will prioritize the evacuation of their own citizens. Who in the US, for example, would expect the French to want to evacuate Americans before French? What this "prioritization" entails requires further explanation. In other words, the piece offers no evidence that the US military has been bossy.

The question on my mind is this: Was this commentary written for a purpose or was it just written by a clueless fool? Clueless commentators do exist, even in the best publications. Case in point:

Thomas said...

From the New York Times comes a more sensible view:

For the time being, the response to this nonsense from UDN is that if the US military were not doing what it were doing right now, the country would probably be in anarchy right now and the final death toll would undoubtedly be much higher.

The fact that many Haitians seem to see it this way as well, at least temporarily, shows that this response is justified.

While I don't care much for Obama, I do trust his administration to realize, in this case, that once the situation is under control, the US' gain in image will by turning over security to the Haitians will outweigh anything that the US could possibly have to gain by occupying Haiti.

JCR said...

I saw the UDN article and similar reprots on the pan-blue tv news and was just waiting for an english speaking Taiwan blogger to comment on them. My (Taiwanese) wife read the UDN article and got angry at Americans because of it. Glad to see your analysis of the situation. I'm American, and I will almost always criticize my country, but somehow when people insult America my nationalistic feelings start bubbling up.

Do you know anymore about the conflict between the Taiwanese rescue teams and the American rescue teams? My wife tolds me from what she read, that the Taiwanese got there first and the Americans told them to stop digging so they could drill a hole and check for survivors, but according to the Taiwanese that would have made the structure collapse so they argued about it. I found the whole explanation highly suspect, and although I hate to stereotype I can easily imagine the Taiwan rescue team lacking good organization and methodical procedure.