Haitian Aid and the Fungibility of American Power

82nd Airborne's Relief Mission , Photo courtesy US Military (www.army.mil)

Aid is finally beginning to flow to Haiti, despite bottlenecks at key transit points. The U.S. 82nd Airborne division has turned a golf course in Port-au-Prince into a makeshift refugee camp, ferrying relief supplies in by helicopter.
An estimated 50,000 people are now living on the country club’s grounds.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced yesterday that the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which had been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan, would be diverted to assist the relief effort in Haiti.

The use of the U.S. 82nd Airborne, the 24th MEU, and other units to assist in relief operations in Haiti illustrates the changing missions of the U.S. military. Their role in Haiti stands in stark contrast to ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan. But President Obama’s decision to deploy U.S. military personnel to Haiti presents an interesting example of the fungibility [glossary] of hard power as well. Traditionally, international relations scholars have contended that hard power (military force) was really only good for one thing: fighting wars. At the end of the Cold War, many scholars were concerned that U.S. soft power [glossary] was declining at the same time that hard power [glossary] became less relevant.

President Obama’s article in Newsweek illustrates his thinking. He states that the United States acts

for the sake of the thousands of American citizens who are in Haiti, and for their families back home; for the sake of the Haitian people who have been stricken with a tragic history, even as they have shown great resilience; and we act because of the close ties that we have with a neighbor that is only a few hundred miles to the south. But above all, we act for a very simple reason: in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps.

But Obama also notes that

When we show not just our power, but also our compassion, the world looks to us with a mixture of awe and admiration. That advances our leadership. That shows the character of our country. And it is why every American can look at this relief effort with the pride of knowing that America is acting on behalf of our common humanity.

This is a classic example of the exercise of soft power in international relations.

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One response to “Haitian Aid and the Fungibility of American Power

  1. Pingback: Updates on Previous Stories « World Politics News Review

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