‘Give early and often’

I’m still on the road (about which more later), but have been trying to keep up with the news, most notably the tragic events in Haiti. As Yglesias says, Haiti has been "one of the unluckiest countries on earth," and it’s especially heartbreaking that this earthquake occurred after several years of genuine progress. That progress, ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

I'm still on the road (about which more later), but have been trying to keep up with the news, most notably the tragic events in Haiti. As Yglesias says, Haiti has been "one of the unluckiest countries on earth," and it's especially heartbreaking that this earthquake occurred after several years of genuine progress. That progress, one might add, was facilitated by the U.N. peacekeeping mission, one of those unheralded episodes that habitual critics of the U.N. ought to reflect upon. I don't think the U.N. is the answer to all the world's problems or an institution that can prevent major powers from pursuing their interests, but it does do a lot of good around the world and shouldn't be bashed just for sport, or because of cockamamie fears about mythical black helicopters, alleged threats to U.S. sovereignty, or other staples of rightwing paranoia.

The obvious thing for the United States (and the world community) to do is respond quickly, effectively, and generously. The Bush administration's initial response to the Indian Ocean tsunami was initially quite niggardly (our first pledge of aid was a paltry $15 million or so), but Bush & Co. eventually got its act together and the U.S. Navy in particular performed very effective relief operations in Indonesia. Some accounts credit the Navy's effort with helping reverse the slide in America's image in that country, which had fallen to very low numbers before the disaster struck. So this is a case where we can do good for beleaguered Haitians and for ourselves by responding rapidly and generously, and it appears that the Obama administration is trying to do the right thing from the start this time.

I’m still on the road (about which more later), but have been trying to keep up with the news, most notably the tragic events in Haiti. As Yglesias says, Haiti has been "one of the unluckiest countries on earth," and it’s especially heartbreaking that this earthquake occurred after several years of genuine progress. That progress, one might add, was facilitated by the U.N. peacekeeping mission, one of those unheralded episodes that habitual critics of the U.N. ought to reflect upon. I don’t think the U.N. is the answer to all the world’s problems or an institution that can prevent major powers from pursuing their interests, but it does do a lot of good around the world and shouldn’t be bashed just for sport, or because of cockamamie fears about mythical black helicopters, alleged threats to U.S. sovereignty, or other staples of rightwing paranoia.

The obvious thing for the United States (and the world community) to do is respond quickly, effectively, and generously. The Bush administration’s initial response to the Indian Ocean tsunami was initially quite niggardly (our first pledge of aid was a paltry $15 million or so), but Bush & Co. eventually got its act together and the U.S. Navy in particular performed very effective relief operations in Indonesia. Some accounts credit the Navy’s effort with helping reverse the slide in America’s image in that country, which had fallen to very low numbers before the disaster struck. So this is a case where we can do good for beleaguered Haitians and for ourselves by responding rapidly and generously, and it appears that the Obama administration is trying to do the right thing from the start this time.

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

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