The Haitian 'Catch-22'

Created as the ultimate "damned if you do, damned if you don't" matrix in Joseph Heller's novel of that name Catch 22, in simple terms, is the classic no-win or double bind situation and one in which the United States finds itself relative to the catastrophe in Haiti. Instantly off the mark in response to the earthquake and its aftermath, the Catch 22 scenario developed in a nanosecond.

First, Rush Limbaugh, champion blowhard of America, condemned the Obama administration for acting far more quickly to the crisis in Haiti than it did when a maniac tried to explode his underwear on an airliner. What a failed skivvie bomber and one of greatest natural disasters in recorded history have in common escapes me. But nothing, however illogical, escapes Mr. Limbaugh, whose rabble-rousing has brought nothing but discredit to the arena of public discourse. In a leap of absurdity he even suggested that Mr. Obama would be happy about the Haiti crisis because it would allow him to burnish his image among African-American voters.

Then, as the full, horrific scope of the Haiti calamity became known, NBC saw fit to put the families three missing American students on its morning news program so that the nation and, by extension, the world, could "share their pain." The understandably bereaved parents and siblings of the missing women complained about the lack of appropriate involvement by the United States, especially the military. "Why," one hysterical father shouted, "don't we land thousands of troops and order them to dig through the ruins of the hotel to find them?" His state of mind led him to ignore the facts which are as folllows:

The United States has already dispatched thousands of personnel, military and civilian, to Haiti. The aircraft carrier John Stennis is there. So is the amphibious assault ship Bataan with its helicopters and Marines. The hospital ship Comfort is en route from Baltimore. There is only one fully operational runway at the Port-au-Prince airport, and the French government has already complained that one of its aircraft was turned away when it tried to land. There is no remaining infrastructure in Haiti. Actually, there was virtually none even before the earthquake struck.

Haiti is, was, and may always be the basket case of the Western Hemisphere. The overthrow of French overlords in the early 19th Century, celebrated as the first and only successful slave revolt in recorded history, was the harbinger of a freedom that was over before it began. In place of French masters came a series of native despots ranging from Jean Jacques Dessalines, a homicidal maniac, to Henri Christophe, a vainglorious nut job who declared himself Henri I, Emperor of Haiti. And so it went down through the 20th Century when Haiti fell under the pall of the Duvaliers, pere et fil, and finally to lesser despots or flaming nonentities like Aristide and Preval. If ever a nation screamed in unrelenting agony to become a U.N. protectorate, it is Haiti. But that would assume the United Nations is capable of anything other than feeding upon itself at the expense of others.

Getting back to Catch 22: The United States has the resources to put tens of thousands of additional troops into the Haiti, to establish order where order hasn't really existed in memory, and to bring the situation under control. But it takes no stretch of imagination to figure out what would happen then. However pure our motives, we would be accused of occupying another country, of nation building, of imperialism. In the eyes of many, if not most, it would be too much.

So, instead, ever mindful of world opinion and unhappily willing to accept the judgement of others that we are no longer first among equals, we do what we can to help. It will be more than anyone else does. But, in the eyes of many, if not most, it will not be enough.

Alan Walden, Baltimore

The writer is an instructor and practitioner in residence at The College of Notre Dame.

Send your comments to