The destruction in Haiti is still fresh. All the bodies have not yet been buried. And the final toll has not yet been counted. But when the darkest clouds eventually pass, what then for Haiti? The commitment that America gives to rebuild the nation now will significantly influence if Haiti becomes a thriving nation or a new haven for terrorism.
Though the outpouring of support is inspiring (the Red Cross has already collected $103 million, and at times money was coming in at $500,000 per hour), the short term reaction is no indication of our long-term commitment to the rebuilding of a nation. In short order, the images will fade from the front page, we will go back about our lives but Haiti will still be left to rebuild. We rallied after the tsunami, but many lives have not yet been restored to normal. We were shocked at how poorly our government reacted to Katrina, but New Orleans is still in a shambles and the rebuilding there is hardly a lightning rod political issue any more. If the people don't care, the politicians don't care.
So what does any of this have to do with terrorism? Sadly, there is precedence for America's ability to react but our inability to commit which has significant and negative impact years later.
In the 1980s America reacted to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. We supported a war that left a nation torn to pieces. And as the last Soviet tank left the country, so did we. America spent billions to support the mujahedin in their fight against the Soviets but after it was over, Congress refused to allocate even a million dollars to help build schools in the impoverished nation. A decision that helped create the conditions that gave rise to Osama bin Laden and his cause against America.
There is a more recent example of the danger of only seeing the short-term goal and not the long-term commitment: Iraq. Against the advice of military commanders, Bush and Rumsfeld made plans to win a war without considering the cost and planning to maintain the peace. Once again, a lack of long-term vision and commitment from the beginning created conditions that gave rise to an insurgency.
This has nothing to do with religious warfare. This has to do with misplaced anger. Most will agree that, in the Arabian Gulf, extremists have hijacked a religion to capitalize on the anger, humiliation and disenfranchisement of a population. If America does not start considering and talking about the long-term commitment it needs to make in Haiti, the population will also feel abandoned, forgotten, disenfranchised and angry. If left unchecked, a leadership vacuum will form and someone who wishes to take power will easily be able to rally a nation's anger to incite violence against a nearby enemy. In this case - America.
After the earthquake in Haiti, we reacted properly, but now we must make a long-term commitment equally as properly. We have an opportunity for our nation to do things differently than our history demonstrates.
To inspire our nation to commit to such a long-term project requires giving us something to believe in. It is not enough for President Obama to go on TV and simply talk rationally about the importance of helping and rebuilding. The same was said after Katrina, but as soon as that story left the headlines, we forgot our commitment to the people of New Orleans. Words are not enough. What we need is something to believe in.
The Civil Rights Movement continued after Martin Luther King was assassinated. We put a man on the moon 6 years after Kennedy challenged us to do so. In these cases and in any other case in which lasting change or great deeds are done, we were given a cause to believe in and we, as a people, took that cause and made it our own. As a population, we were personally committed to the outcome with our without the leader that set the course. The necessity of having a cause we can believe in is what makes the commitment last beyond a political cycle.
If we are to truly commit to help rebuild Haiti and not abandon the nation, Obama must start seeding the cause now. The longer he waits, the harder it will become. And he doesn't have much time. Months at best is all there is before shock settles. Obama must give us and the people of Haiti change to believe in.
"Just over a year ago," the President could say, "our nation rallied together in the name of hope. We believed in a future that was brighter than our present. As Americans, it is our nature to be optimistic. It is our nature to see the positive. It is in these times, that we must not only continue to believe and work towards our own brighter future, but we must also export hope where we can. Our nation is troubled today by the decisions made decades ago to abandon hope. But our commitment to support hope now, will pay dividends in the decades to come."
"Let us show the world that hope is not just an American virtue. It is a human virtue. Let us commit to help our neighbors to rebuild a future brighter than their present. And let that nation serve as the shining beacon of what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness can mean to all people of all nations."
The cause must start to be seeded before our reaction to the humanitarian disaster subsides. We must be inspired to continue to help. If we don't, the president 10-15 years from now may be battling a new kind of terrorist enemy. Not one on the other side of the globe, but one less than 700 miles away.