Test for US, Obama in Haiti earthquake response
The US response to the Haiti earthquake will be important for America's – and President Obama's – image in the region.
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“The international nature of this is a real opportunity as well as a challenge,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a news briefing in Honolulu, the first stop in a trip focused on the south Pacific region including Australia. Secretary Clinton said she was coordinating the State Department and USAID response from Pacific Command and that she had decided, in consultation with President Obama, that she would not cancel her trip.Skip to next paragraph
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The US priority over the next 72 hours will be “saving lives,” said Rajiv Shah, the new administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), at a State Department briefing Thursday. Two urban search-and-rescue units have been dispatched to help dig out the thousands of Haitians thought to be trapped in collapsed structures. The government is acting to identify other teams that would be prepared to deploy, Mr. Shah said.
Beyond that, the US is already “thinking about critical needs in the area of health and food, water, transportation, and infrastructure…,” he said, adding, “We are committed to a significant effort, and we are committed to doing everything we can in all of those sectors.”
The US is also “very seriously” looking at sending a Marine expeditionary unit to Haiti to assist MINUSTAH as well as the US Embassy and USAID, said Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of US Southern Command, who was also at the briefing.
The Katrina comparison
The US response to Haiti’s disaster is also important for President Obama because, as a presidential candidate, he was sharply critical of the Bush administration’s response in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, regional analysts say.
Haiti may not be a domestic disaster but it will nonetheless be a test of Obama’s abilities, says Mr. DeShazo, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. “It certainly would send a positive image of the administration and the US if the US response is a robust and effective one,” he says
As for China’s swift dispatch of a rescue, “it’s in keeping with their objective of establishing a larger presence and deeper ties to the region,” DeShazo says. “Arriving on the scene early is a symbolic way of underscoring their presence.”
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