USA Today talks to some Marines in Haiti who believe they are doing the right thing, but I suggest that they're misreading their history lessons - and that's abnormal for Marine officers.
Ado, 63, was among dozens of Haitians who watched the massive hovercraft Friday on a beachhead established by U.S. Marines who arrived off the coast last week. Since arriving, The Marines have moved tons of food and water ashore for aid groups to carry away in trucks to survivors of the Haiti earthquake Jan. 12.
It's not the Marines' first time in Haiti. Troops were here in 2004 to prevent massacres in the wake of the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Haiti is a major part of Marine Corps lore for other reasons.
The Corps governed Haiti from 1915 to 1934 after an invasion force was sent to prevent an anti-American dictator from assuming power. Young, non-commissioned officers governed Haiti with little supervision.
The Marines were reminded of that history as they prepared for the Haiti mission, said Lt. Col. Gary Keim, who commands a logistics battalion.
"We were required to reread it," he said. "We've been here before. We've been successful before."
Okay, slow down there. The Marines were controlling Haiti for two decades to shape its government, and still we have a long history there of dictators leading up to "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Then we have the 1994 and 2004 interventions - which did include just a few Army troops, USA Today - and still there was no stable government in place, no corrective actions, no long-term guidance or aid to fix Haiti's inherent problems. Exactly how have we been "successful" here before? We're applying band-aids to a nation with a compound fracture.
I don't point this out to malign the military's disaster relief operations - certainly Haiti would be much worse off without this American aid. But here's the thing - if we haven't figured out that the DOD is not a uniform cure for every foreign policy problem by now, well, then we really have a problem here. We really need to examine how the State Department, USAID, and other non-defense agencies organize and equip to address issues such as this incident. We really need them to be in charge and to establish strong programs that actually promote long-term support for those governments looking for assistance. The military may be part of the solution, but it doesn't need to lead nation-building efforts. We've let that practice go on too long, and it's not working.