Shadow of Katrina hangs over America's response to disaster

The massive military deployment by the United States to the devastated city of Port-au-Prince continued apace yesterday with as many as 10,000 personnel expected to be in place either on land or on US Navy ships just off the coast by tomorrow morning, according to the Pentagon.

Reacting swiftly to the wrenching humanitarian crisis in Haiti has become a top priority for President Barack Obama, who has made public pronouncements vowing fast and generous assistance every day since the earthquake struck the Caribbean nation.

While Mr Obama has repeatedly emphasised the moral imperative of helping to mitigate the misery of so close a neighbour, he cannot afford to be seen bungling this crisis in the way his predecessor, George W Bush, did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

The bipartisan appointment of both Mr Bush and former president Bill Clinton to co-chair the US relief effort may have startled some because of the former's association with the Katrina debacle. But the involvement of Mr Bush may have given pause to many in Haiti for a different reason: lingering resentment that perceived US intrusions in its political affairs occurred most recently when he was in the White House.

Washington will never say it, but guilt over decades of mishandled relations with Haiti could also be a factor in the Obama administration's determination to do the right thing now. The close concert that should exist between two countries that were the first in their hemisphere to gain independence from their colonial masters has never been quite that.

Nobody knows more about the fickleness of American friendship than Haiti's former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. While his supporters accused George Bush Snr of encouraging a coup against him in 1991, it was Clinton who supported his return to power three years later. Then in 2004 after political protests erupted against Aristide, he fled to South Africa. The Bush White House denied that it sat back as it happened.

Now American boots are on Haitian soil again – for the fourth time in 95 years. But America's interest this time is humanitarian. A hundred US paratroopers were already in the port city by Friday helping to distribute food, water and medicines, assisted by a fleet of 19 helicopters.

Nor will the deployment end when all 10,000 are there tomorrow. "We have much more support on the way. Our priority is getting relief out to the needy people," Lieutenant-General Ken Keen, deputy commander of the US Southern Command, said. The Pentagon has permission from Cuba to fly through usually restricted airspace.

The stakes for the White House remain high. "The United States is seen in the world as the first responder to this kind of humanitarian crisis, and it has echoes – inappropriate echoes, to be sure – of Hurricane Katrina," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University. "Can we get there fast enough? There's a risk there for the President."

And while the US has made no secret that a main priority is also to evacuate American citizens in the country, the administration cannot risk being seen to be putting the lives of the Haitian people second.

In Washington there is no mistaking that Mr Obama is moved by the images reaching him of the tragedy. The Wall Street Journal put voice to the sentiment, arguing – with perhaps a touch of bombast – that the US response so far was "a fresh reminder that the reach of America's power coincides with the reach of its goodness".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee