The Common Good

Evaluating President Obama's Response to the Haiti Earthquake

This morning President Barack Obama promised the people of Haiti that they would not be "forsaken" or "forgotten." Yesterday he told Americans, "We have to be here for them in their hour of need."

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President Obama is not only America's commander in chief -- he is a world leader.

During his first year in office, the president has had to deal with war in Afghanistan, Iraq, nuclear weapons, climate change, and threats of terrorism. He has had his share of successes and dealt with a series of failures. This earthquake serves as an opportune time for him to plant a firm diplomatic footprint in the fragmented state of international relations.

Haiti has been in constant turmoil from which a peace, although uneasy, had finally begun to emerge.

As an American I hope for help in providing the basics -- food, clothing, and shelter. As a Haitian-American I know that the logistics of providing those basic necessities will be undermined not only by a weakened infrastructure in the country, but one that has now completely collapsed.

President Obama's enterprise in asking former president George W. Bush to work with former Bill Clinton, the UN Envoy to Haiti, will be of great interest to Haitians living abroad, especially given the aversion many in the community still feel for the former Bush administration.

In May of 2006 the New York Times examined how U.S. policies served to augment the problems in Haiti. Regarding the presidential election, the authors wrote:

Yet even as Haiti prepares to pick its first elected president since the rebellion two years ago, questions linger about the circumstances of Mr. Aristide's ouster -- and especially why the Bush administration, which has made building democracy a centerpiece of its foreign policy in Iraq and around the world, did not do more to preserve it so close to its shores.

Last year, during his inaugural speech, President Obama promised to undertake the initiative of working with the poor of this world:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

Today, I hope that President Barack Obama does not allow his words to rest empty on a page; I hope he rises to meet the challenge in deed. I have found that when one is far removed from a tragedy, it is easy to forget. I wish for an effort that is not only aggressive for a week, month, or even year, but for as long as it takes. Change does not happen overnight, but with continued steps in the right direction.

In the coming months, I hope for a continued remembrance of Haiti, not the dismal amnesia that accompanied word of genocide in Sudan or even the tapered-off relief efforts of our very own Hurricane Katrina. Out of this bedlam, peace can come from working together as members of the international community.

portrait-martha-st-jeanMartha St. Jean is a first generation Haitian-American journalist and media analyst based in New York City. She is a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism and earned her undergraduate degree in communications studies at New York University. Follow her on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/MarthaStJean

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