Should the US Military Go into Haiti?

Laurence Vance says no, and I agree.  Why not?  Well, as has been discussed here at the YAL blog already, it’s wrong for the US government to respond to this horrible situation with forced charity.  Where the military specifically is concerned, it’s also a complete violation of military purpose:

The main reason the U.S. military has no business going to Haiti is simply that the purpose of the military should be to defend the United States against attack or invasion. Nothing more (like invading other countries), and nothing less (like failing to defend its own headquarters on 9/11). Using the military to establish democracy, spread goodwill, change regimes, train foreign armies, open foreign markets, enforce no-fly zones, protect U.S. commercial interests, serve as peacekeepers, furnish security in other countries, contain communism, and provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid perverts the purpose of the military.

Moreover, there are other good reasons no to take the secretary of defense up on his offer to send in the troops.  Vance particularly mentions three:  First, this is what private charity is for — and private organizations, I’d add, are much better at actually aiding those in need:

Private charities have an incentive toward greater efficiency and effectiveness since they are competing with other charities for money and volunteers. If they fail in their mission, they may experience declining contributions, possibly to the point where operations will cease. In simple economic terms, the amount of assistance that reaches the recipients of government welfare benefits are only a fraction of the resources consumed by the supporting bureaucracy.

I did extensive original research resulting in a 70-page paper on exactly this subject and I can tell you, he’s right.  The percentage of wasted resources with government charity tends to be less unfortunate with emergency relief than it does with long-term, welfare style programs, but when you consider the size of the government programs’ budgets, it still adds up to a lot.

Vance’s second two reasons are:  Disaster relief is still foreign aid, which is both wrong and ineffective when it comes from the government; and if the military helps out in Haiti, while this will have an effect preferable to increased aggression in the Middle East, it will also distract the press coverage from “the fact that we are engaged in two unpopular wars….[and] that our Predator drone attacks have killed more civilians than militants.”

With that said, as Vance notes in the beginning of his piece, there is “no disputing that the situation in Haiti is very grave,” and the private charities heroically working there to save lives should be praised and supported.  Please click here for a good guide to helping Haiti and a list of charities known to use their resources very effectively and efficiently.  I’d recommend Direct Relief International and Operation USA, the latter of which has a history of helping the desperate in places (like Vietnam in 1979) the US government wouldn’t think of assisting for political reasons.

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