The U.S. response to Haiti’s catastrophe

THE U.S. RESPONSE TO HAITI’S CATASTROPHE…. The Obama administration is preparing a “massive military response” to the devastation in Haiti, including “ships, helicopters, transport planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit” that are either en route to Haiti or will be soon. Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, added that “one of the U.S. Navy’s large amphibious ships will likely head to Haiti with a Marine expeditionary unit aboard.”

Regrettably, Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman wants to draw parallels between President Obama’s response to Haiti and George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina. “[T]he Obama administration’s competence and compassion will be tested in a similar racial context — and with a much worse infrastructure,” Fineman wrote yesterday.

As John Cole noted, the comparison is poor. We could see Hurricane Katrina headed towards Louisiana long before it hit land; the earthquake in Haiti was unpredictable. Louisiana is part of the United States; Haiti is a foreign country.

Nevertheless, if Fineman and the media establishment have decided that the Haitian crisis is the latest political test for the White House, Michael Scherer reports on the intensity of the president’s response.

A White House aide tells me that President Obama issued a clear order Tuesday night, just before 6 p.m., when his national security aide Denis McDonough told him there had been an earthquake in Haiti: He told McDonough that he wanted an aggressive and highly coordinated response.

Aggressive it has been. He was briefed twice on Tuesday night, and briefed again by four different agencies and individuals before 10 a.m. Wednesday. He cancelled a planned speech on clean energy jobs, along with a side trip to Maryland, and spent the afternoon working the phones, talking to the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, to Secretary of State, to the USAID administrator and the leaders of Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile and the United Nations. The White House website has been turned into a fundraising hub for the Red Cross, and the White House has emailed its list with an appeal to give money.

The full horror of the catastrophe is not yet clear, and it could be weeks before we truly know how effective the U.S. government response has been. But there is little doubt that Obama is seizing the moment to demonstrate, for the second time in the New Year, that he can perform as a crisis president.

That probably won’t stop the usual suspects from complaining — about what, I don’t know — but like the post-Christmas whining, it almost certainly won’t be substantive or policy oriented.