Journal: Op-Ed on Haiti Log-Jam, Politics, and Debt

Webster Griffin Tarpley


By Webster G. Tarpley

Washington, DC, January 17, 2010 — Just over five days or 120 hours after a major earthquake hit the area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, it is increasingly clear that the US approach to organizing the delivery of emergency assistance and supplies is so ineffective that the general directing the distribution of emergency aid needs to be fired without further delay.  The catastrophic blunder involved is the decision by the US military in the person of Gen. Ken Keen to insist on routing all external aid through a single substandard, inadequate, and partially destroyed landing field, the Toussaint L‘Ouverture airport.  This airport has a single runway, and room to park only about half a dozen medium to long range aircraft.  The result is that once six aircraft are parked in the unloading area, all incoming traffic must be waved off until one of the six planes has taken off again, as a colonel on the ground explained in a press conference broadcast on C-SPAN radio here this afternoon.  The control tower, radar, and other facilities have been destroyed by the earthquake.  Even once cargo has been offloaded, it has been tending to build up at the airport because the streets and roads leading from the airport towards the main population concentrations are blocked by collapsed buildings and other debris.  The result is an agonizing slowness in delivering vital supplies upon which the immediate survival of up to 3 million Haitians now depends.


This single airport approach fulfills the textbook definitions of a logistical bottleneck and logistical nightmare.  It was a fatal mistake to ever decide to make this single runway the only supply line for the stricken populations around the Haitian capital.  The officer who is said to be running the US logistical effort on the ground is Lieutenant General P.K. “Ken” Keen, second in command of the US Southern Command.  Interviewed today by Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday, General Keen stated: “ Well, we had a very good day yesterday, Brit. Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne division who have only arrived within the last day or two delivered over 70,000 bottles of water and 130,000 rations.” General Keane was referring to Saturday, January 16, three days and 96 hours after the earthquake.  This statement is comparable to the recent remark of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano to the effect that, although an airplane had almost been blown up aloft, “The system worked.”  General Keen, like Secretary Napolitano, appears incapable of recognizing defeat and failure when they are staring him in the face, and human lives have already been lost as a result of his incompetence. Gen. Keen is well on his way to becoming the new Brownie of the Haitian crisis, surpassing in ineptitude the infamous Bush FEMA director who received the accolade of “heckuva job, Brownie” at the height of the 2005 debacle.

To put General Keen’s comment into perspective, let us assume for the sake of argument that 3 million earthquake victims in the area of the Haitian capital are now more or less totally dependent on foreign deliveries for their near-term survival.  To be reasonably fed under crisis conditions, 3 million people would require 9 million meals per day.  They would also need something like 9 million liters of water.  General Keen boasts of having been able to deliver a tiny fraction of the required amount.  It is time for General Keen to be cashiered.  His approach to delivering aid is excessively militarized, and results in an oversized population of US forces who consume supplies and, given the excruciating slowness of a deliveries, are likely to become targets of popular rage.  Is this what General Keen wants?  Is time for him to go.

To be fair General Keen, it is also clear that his background has not suited him for his current critical responsibility.  General Keen comes from the Special Forces and the Joint Special Operations Command.  General Keen’s background, in short, is that of an airborne commando.  This is the area of military life were logistics plays the smallest role.  What is obviously required for an emergency like the one now unfolding in Haiti is an officer who is specialized in logistics, in what the Army has traditionally called G-4, and preferably a graduate of the Army Quartermaster School.  An army travels on its stomach, and the rescue operation even more so, so it is time for the Special Forces “global war on terror” types to clear out and be replaced by officers who know something about supply.  Logistics experts are never the most glamorous figures, and especially not now when the enemy is assumed to be the chimera known as “Al Qaeda.”  Both the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments of the US forces display a fatal incompetence of logistical planning which could still lead to terrible consequences for the occupiers of both countries.  Now in Haiti, the logistical failure moves to center stage.

General Keen seems to be determined to deliver vital aid to the Haitian population using an eye dropper.  Is he trying to promote an insurrection for political purposes?  When Japan was gripped by hunger in 1945, General MacArthur wired Washington “Give me bread or give me bullets,” and quickly got bread.  General Keen seems more interested in bullets, and one wonders why.  Given General Keane's extensive record in Latin America, one wonders whether he has ever been associated with the infamous US Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning Georgia, where military officers are routinely taught that the populations of Latin America are the enemy, with Haiti being no exception.

General Keen is lucky that he is not fighting a real enemy on Haiti, because if he were the enemy commander might find a way to destroy the single airport which is now the totality of the US supply line, leaving General Keen’s forces cut off and doomed.  General Keane seems to have forgotten the one thing he should have remembered from his special forces training, which is that when units like his actually go into action, they are supported by air drops.


Effective generals know they need to rush to the scene of operations for an indispensable coup d’oeil well before their leading units arrive.  Think of General MacArthur sizing up the situation in Korea during the first desperate hours in July of 1950.  Such reconnoitering, or even the memory of a previous visit, would have shown that relying on the airport alone was a recipe for disaster.  Instead, the US should have emphasized speedy air drops by parachute of pallets containing large quantities of food, water, medical supplies, blankets, fuel, and tents, plus small electrical generators and small tractors and earth moving equipment. The drop zones for these deliveries should have been scouted and cleared of any civilians by small numbers of airborne Rangers — parachute infantry — coming in at dawn last Wednesday, about twelve hours after the quake.  Under the current Global Strike strategic doctrine, the US is supposed to be able to destroy any point in the world within 24 hours.  Surely they could have dropped airborne scouts into the Haitian capital, which is not far from Guantánamo and from Florida, within 12 hours after the earthquake.

The goal of this operation would have been to saturate the environment of Haitian capital with abundant supplies of food, water, medical necessities, and related equipment.  Security need not have absorbed inordinate manpower at that point.  The stricken population needed to be invited to help themselves, carrying off as much as they could handle in any reasonable proportion.  They needed to be told that air drops would henceforth be continuous, and that they would not want for anything.  Looting and stealing would have been obviated by convincing the people of the simple fact that they were futile and pointless, since food, water, and other supplies were abundant everywhere.  With a little imagination, a dozen drop zones could have been set up in parks, in athletic stadiums, on beaches, and in the fields immediately outside the city.  The inclusion of large quantities of tents of different sizes would have given the stricken population something constructive to do to help themselves.  Instead of gunfights over scarce food and water, instead of machetes and street barricades of corpses, instead of riots, the Haitians could have peacefully busied themselves in constructing tent cities for the short to medium run.

The best aircraft for these precision air drops in the first wave on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in particular, would have been Lockheed Hercules C-130 air transports.  The Hercules C-130 is also capable of landing on a bumpy field in little more than 1,000 feet, assuming that it will take off empty.  C-130s could have landed in fields immediately outside the city that had just been cleared of any civilians by a few members of the 82nd or 101st airborne divisions, and could have rolled large pallets of emergency goods out of their cargo bay directly onto the ground. Civilians could have picked up what they needed. Electrical generators mounted on trucks could have driven from these landing strips directly to area hospitals, accompanied by truck-mounted water purification equipment.

If the joint USTRANSCOM (the military airlift command) and the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command do not have enough C-130s, then these can be supplemented by identical aircraft brought in from the European NATO states and from Japan.  Major air forces all over the world fly the C-130, as the Lockheed scandal some years ago reminds us.

Another aircraft which could prove valuable is ironically the the much-maligned V-22 Osprey, a propeller aircraft which can take off and land vertically.  If an Osprey can carry 20 infantry, it should also be able to carry a ton or two of supplies, and it can land on fields that are too small even for a C-130. With the help of of a small fleet of Ospreys, distribution points could have been established, in virtually every neighborhood of the Haitian capital, saving many lives and calming the entire situation.

By channeling the vast majority of routine deliveries of food, water, medical supplies, blankets, tents, and other basics directly into Port-au-Prince and the other cities hit by the earthquake, the single runway of the single airport could have been reserved for high value deliveries like the French field hospital which was turned away in a blunder which has deservedly become an international scandal and humiliation for the United States.  The airport would thus have been available for special cargoes and above all for doctors, nurses, military field hospitals, heavy water purification and earth-moving equipment, aid technicians, and emergency workers with sniffer dogs, although some of these could also arrive inland through the Ospreys.  Traffic coming from international donors would have a much better chance of being expedited through the airport if it did not have to compete for space with large bulk deliveries of food and water.

If Wednesday January 13 was D-Day, when the effort should have got going, by D+2 or D+3, US aircraft carriers, helicopter carriers, and other warships proceeding at flank speed would have arrived in Haitian waters, making it possible to begin large-scale deliveries of bulk emergency supplies by helicopter into even less accessible corners of the stricken region.  This would be the hour of the Chinooks and especially the Soviet-made Halos capable of carrying a 20-ton payload, which the US has some experience in renting.  It appears that the US Coast Guard, which gave such a good account of itself in the midst of the Katrina disaster, was the one effective organization which began helicopter deliveries very early in the crisis, without that obsessive concern for force protection which seems to have been the main preoccupation of the Army Special Forces-JSOC “GWOT” types.

If the port remained inoperable by D+2 or D+3, it would be time to identify suitable beaches for the offloading of supplies by amphibious landing craft operating from vessels offshore. Otherwise, a makeshift Mulberry harbor could be constructed for offloading freighters.


US television commentators and politicians are fond of asking why Haiti is so poor.  Some of them are embracing a crackpot theory of the late Samuel Huntington according to which Haiti has a dysfunctional culture, and the poverty there is the fault of the people.  We beg to differ.  The United States has occupied Haiti for several decades at different times and has a special responsibility for the welfare of this country.  The most acute problem of Haiti right now is represented by the fact that especially since 1994, Haiti has been crushed under the iron heel of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank by virtue of the ferocious conditionalities which these international lending institutions have imposed.  These conditionalities include the usual dismal catalogue of IMF shock therapy: deregulation, privatization, union busting, the destruction of the state sector, the wrecking of any social safety net, the abolition of labor legislation, downward pressure on the standard of living, free trade, tax advantages for predatory foreign investors, and the looting of any pension funds or unemployment insurance — the litany of reactionary “free market” barbarism in all of its inhuman fury.  Americans may be interested to know that the poorest country in the hemisphere carries a debt burden in the neighborhood of 1.5 billion US dollars, most of it owed to the Inter-American Development Bank, itself a creature of the United States.  As of September 2009, this desperately poor country was struggling to meet the benchmarks imposed by the IMF and World Bank to qualify for their cruel and deceptive “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” program, which promises minimal debt forgiveness in exchange for an even more acute humiliation of national sovereignty and an even more savage and draconian application of conditionalities.


If Obama is capable of any human compassion whatsoever, he will interrupt his nonstop blathering to declare a unilateral, total, and irrevocable cancellation of all financial debt owed by Haiti to any institutions controlled or influenced by the United States.  All countries of the London Club and Paris Club should be informed that the United States expects them to imitate this immediate and unconditional debt cancellation in favor of Haiti.  Haiti will undoubtedly default anyway, so they would simply be bowing to the inevitable.  All these countries should be informed in unmistakable terms that failure to cancel the Haitian external financial debt will be considered an unfriendly act by the United States.  The State Department knows very well how to do this — they strong-armed most of the world into canceling the debts owed by Iraq after Bush's lunatic invasion of that country in 2003.

The corollary of the debt cancellation is an announcement that all IMF and World Bank conditionalities, appropriate technology limitations, and so forth are lifted and will never be reimposed.  Officials of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other organs of the supernational bankers’ faction should be treated as looters and driven out of Haiti.

Haiti requires a Marshall Plan in the form of large-scale foreign deliveries of modern capital goods for economic modernization — not of cash, given the desperate circumstances prevail there.  Agriculture, fisheries, and related activities need capital investments to develop.  Haiti needs to urgently upgrade its labor force to allow the production of high-value exports in industrial settings.  Infrastructure needs to be developed for health services, education, energy production, transportation, and sanitation.  The number of new housing units that will need to be built runs into the millions.  Idle Detroit's factories could be quickly retooled to produce modular housing for Haiti, and tens of thousands of unemployed auto workers rehired as part of this effort.  The United States should participate in the reconstruction of Haiti by forcing the Federal Reserve to free up an initial tranche of $100 billion in the form of 0% Federal credit for US exports to Haiti via the US Export-Import Bank.  The $100 billion line of credit already promised by Obama to the IMF should be commandeered and diverted to Haiti for this purpose.  Nations with industrial capacity should be strongly encouraged to join in this effort on the basis of parity and equality.

During the 1940s, logistics was known to be the decisive strong suit of the US military.  It was logistical depth which allowed such achievements as the Normandy landings and the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949.  (West Berlin, it should be noted, had three airports which functioned throughout that crisis, so airdrops were not necessary in that case.) Since then, US military logistics has declined, as van Creveld  and others have pointed out. All of the protagonists of those great 1940s operations are long gone and the logistical apparatus of the US military has atrophied to the point we see today. The rebuilding of the logistical capacity of the US military to be able to deal effectively with emergencies like the one in Haiti today must proceed pari passu with urgent efforts to rebuild the infrastructure and production base of the entire US economy in the present context of world economic depression.

Phi Beta Iota: General Keen is doing the best he can, he simply does not have the intelligence and information operations nor the civil affairs brigade assets he needs because they do not really exist.  Hait has been, from day one, an information challenge.  This is not something those now in service know how to do.  It is a Reverse TIPFID.

See also: Journal: Haiti Rolling Update

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