by Michael Foley
From the moment the news of Haiti’s devastating earthquake hit the White House, the U.S. has been committed to a military presence there. Yesterday, Haitian President Rene Preval officially granted the U.S. control of the Port au Prince airport, but the U.S. military has been in control from Day Two. Complaints have been coming in from organizations as well-known as Doctors Without Borders that the military has obstructed the flow of aid, turning back one important shipment three times over the last few days. This morning Amy Goodman’s report from Haiti on Democracy Now! showed U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne clutching their rifles and machine guns while directing crowds at Port au Prince’s General Hospital, unbidden by the medical staff there. Across the street was the flattened pharmacy, where medical supplies and the bodies of pharmacists, doctors and patients were buried. No soldier lent his hands to uncover the bodies or search for supplies. After all, they had their hands full.
There is no “security crisis” in Haiti. At least that is the testimony of the doctors, volunteers and those journalists who venture into the so-called red zones established by the military. According to Dr. Evan Lyon, the American surgeon working at the General Hospital, there are clinics with ten or twenty doctors and ten patients in so-called “secure” areas, but a thousand wait for surgery at General Hospital, which has only enough supplies to continue to operate for another 12 hours. Maybe the 82nd Airborne, now that they’ve arrived, will help get those supplies downtown. But they’ll have to put their guns down first.
The U.S. reaction to the crisis in Haiti has been likened to the Bush administration’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina. Fear the victims. Fear the black face in a sea of crisis. But the focus on “security” and reliance on a military presence in the face of untold human suffering bespeaks a deeper malady. The United States has acquired an addiction to military action. Conservative historian and career military officer Andrew Bacevich argues in The New American Militarism that the United States has become a militarized society, where war, and the preparation for war, has become second nature, readily embraced by the population and always on the minds of its rulers. Nothing could confirm his analysis better than Barack Obama’s conviction that he had to find a war to support in order to back his rejection of the war his predecessor brought us.
Militarism, however, is not just a cultural phenomenon. It has deep institutional and economic roots. Consider one that has drawn little attention: our utterly corrupt senior military corps. Please don’t misunderstand me. As a professor of political science teaching in Washington, D.C., I taught a lot of military officers and came to like and respect most all of them. But at the upper echelons, where real influence can be wielded, a good many generals devote serious attention to cultivating the war contractors who will come to be their employers once they retire from office. They retire, by the way, with a comfortable military pension and benefits only available to the general public in our more socialized Western European counterparts. But this doesn’t stop them from seeking and taking plush new jobs as consultants for the major “news” organizations and Washington think-tanks, lobbyists for defense contractors, and board members for for-profit spin-offs of the military and intelligence agencies. As military men (and women) they have a stake in war and the preparation for war. As retired officers and the employees of the military-industrial complex, they have an even greater stake in ginning up support for the same.
The new American militarism, finally, bespeaks a thoroughly authoritarian mindset. In deploying the military to Haiti, the Obama administration assumed not only that Haitians would respond to crisis with riot but that neither the Haitian government nor the Haitian people had the capacity to organize themselves for relief. While the Preval government was indeed notable for its absence in the first days of the crisis, ordinary Haitians and their social organizations rose to the occasion by organizing food and water distribution, overseeing refugee camps, and providing order to efforts to dig out those buried in the rubble. The U.S. military, ever afraid of taking casualties (remember the Powell Doctrine?), chose to throw relief packets to the people from the air rather than risk a riot on the ground. Crowding the airport with their own comings and goings, they obstructed the delivery of aid and encouraged newly arrived aid workers and journalists to worry about “security”. But “security” is a scam, conjured of racism and designed to perpetuate the military’s throttle-hold on the resources of this country. The Obama administration failed from the start to escape it’s dismal logic. We can start by rejecting the fear-mongering and insisting on a civilian response to human suffering.