Our true face
In response to theOn Leadership question: What is the best role for a top political leader in a response to natural disaster such as Haiti's? Daily progress meetings at the White House? Symbolic on-the-scene consultations and relief work? Announcing big budget Marshall Plans?
I think each of these responses would be appropriate, because each serves an important purpose. Providing a Marshall Plan-sized response would give the people of Haiti much-needed assurance and the sense that the United States and other nations are committed to helping Haiti over the long term, well after all the television cameras and politicians have moved on to the next big topic.
The Marshall Plan was, among other things, a visionary concept that enabled the world to see and understand what a rebuilt Europe would eventually look like - self-sustaining and highly productive, as it had been. We must have a similar vision of restoration in our efforts to help Haiti get back on its feet.
Symbolic signs of leadership by President Obama and others also are significant. They create an immediate impact by informing the Haitian people that they're not isolated from the rest of the world. These gestures of leadership let Haiti know that other people around the world care about them.
So far, the U.S. has committed $100 million and 5,000 soldiers to help Haiti in its day-to-day operations, and President Obama has said more will be coming. We're not there to rule Haiti. Our soldiers will stay as long as they're needed, making sure the airports and seaports are operating, helping to repair the infrastructure of the country, delivering medical aid where it's needed. This is the correct response for a nation - the U.S. - that has a key leadership role in the world.
While the suffering of the Haitian people should be foremost in our minds, we can take a measure of pride in our country. Whenever we respond in this way to a disaster anywhere in the world, it demonstrates that we're a caring and civilized people. It displays the best qualities of the United States. It's good to see our soldiers and military equipment used in this kind of humanitarian work.
Such images run counter to the way we're portrayed by our enemies, particularly terrorist leaders who argue that America cares only about waging war. Our country shows its true face whenever we respond - anywhere, anytime, and with overflowing generosity - to the kind of catastrophic event that has befallen Haiti.
January 16, 2010; 5:59 AM ET
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