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Haiti, six months after the earthquake 2010-Jul-18 at 09:44 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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When the earthquake happened, I wrote a blog post suggesting that we mount a serious SysAdmin effort in Haiti.  All of that logic still applies.

From In Haiti, the Displaced Are Left Clinging to the Edge, by Deborah Sontag, 10-July-2010:

Six months after the earthquake that brought aid and attention here from around the world, the median-strip camp blends into the often numbing wretchedness of the post-disaster landscape. Only 28,000 of the 1.5 million Haitians displaced by the earthquake have moved into new homes, and the Port-au-Prince area remains a tableau of life in the ruins.

The tableau does contain a spectrum of circumstances: precarious, neglected encampments; planned tent cities with latrines, showers and clinics; debris-strewn neighborhoods where residents have returned to both intact and condemnable houses; and, here and there, gleaming new shelters or bulldozed territory for a city of the future.

But the government of Haiti has been slow to make the difficult decisions needed to move from a state of emergency into a period of recovery. Weak before the disaster and further weakened by it, the government has been overwhelmed by the logistical complexities of issues like debris removal and the identification of safe relocation sites.

Christ, it’s bad.  I mean, it was bad before the earthquake, but it’s really bad now.  The cynics will say that we’re not strongly participating in rebuilding because there isn’t any oil there.  I think we’re not doing it because Washington and the American public doesn’t yes have a long-enough attention span to pull it off.  And I think it’s karmically appropriate that we should be working to build Haiti, and would change the perception of the United States for some people in the rest of the world if we did lead it.

Unfortunately, we’re wasting an incredible, relatively low-cost opportunity to do the SysAdmin right in Haiti.  Because there’s no war involved, we could get other nations to participate.  We could learn together how to take the capabilities of those nations and plug them into the larger effort managed by the U.S. military (the only organization large enough and skilled enough to run the whole thing).  We could put a general in charge of it who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who knows what counterinsurgency looks like… because counterinsurgency looks a lot like civilian construction, and infrastructure, and creating the conditions for foreign direct investment (FDI) to flow to the country being rebuilt.  In other words, COIN looks like what we need to do in Haiti, minus the smacking down of an entrenched insurgency (because that’s just a part of COIN, and could happily be done away with in more peaceful locations).

As I said in January, I still support a strong U.S. military involvement in the rebuilding of Haiti, and a strong international effort to plug into that.  I know I’m just wishing in 2010, but eventually we’ll have enough attention span to take responsibility for seeing something like this through.

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The military learns quickly from its own mistakes 2009-Dec-30 at 22:16 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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Army History Finds Early Missteps in Afghanistan, by James Dao, 30-Dec-2009

“A Different Kind of War,” which covers the period from October 2001 until September 2005, represents the first installment of the Army’s official history of the conflict. Written by a team of seven historians at the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and based on open source material, it is scheduled to be published by spring.

Though other histories, including “In the Graveyard of Empires” by Seth G. Jones and “Descent Into Chaos” by Ahmed Rashid, cover similar territory, the manuscript of “A Different Kind of War” offers new details and is notable for carrying the imprimatur of the Army itself, which will use the history to train a new generation of officers.

As always, the military is forced to adapt quickly to unexpected circumstances, and it’s good to see their own evaluation of what they did and what had to change to succeed.  I look forward to reading at least some of it.  My expectation for our efforts in Afghanistan in 2010 is that our men and women in the military will have a fair bit of success, mostly because we did it the wrong way already, and we know what to do better now.  This book is the proof.

We need this kind of deep and honest self-reflection as we adapt the military to the long-term “winning the peace” initiatives we’ll be sure to take on in the next 40 years or so.

The New York Times’ copy of this document is here.