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Biden is desperate to help Haiti. But he's doing it all wrong

OpinionBiden is desperate to help Haiti. But he's doing it all wrong

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As Haitian gangs push a skeletal government to the breaking point, potentially sparking the flight of millions of Haitians to the United States, the Biden administration is scrambling to respond.  

After consistently failing to address the years-long crisis that was clearly in motion, Democrats’ slapdash effort to “do something” in Haiti is now gaining steam in Washington and threatens to not only deepen the crisis in the Caribbean but also to entrench the United States in yet another dangerous international quagmire.  

Since February 29, a group of allied Haitian gangs has launched coordinated attacks seeking to topple the Haitian government, hitting key targets including the country’s prisons, police stations and main airport. The wave of violence prevented Prime Minister Ariel Henry from returning to Haiti and forced him to announce his resignation from Puerto Rico, where he remains in exile. He intends to eventually hand power over to a U.S. backed transitional council. 

WHITE HOUSE SAYS US CITIZENS TOLD NOT TO TRAVEL TO HAITI, BUT AMERICANS ARGUE AIRPORT, EMBASSY REMAINED OPEN

To avoid sending in U.S. military forces to stabilize Haiti, the Biden administration has been scouring the world for leaders willing to send some of their security forces to the island. The response has been underwhelming with limited commitments by African nations, primarily 1,000 police officers from Kenya.   

Violence in Haiti continues as gang wreak havoc in Port-au-Prince March 2024. (Project Dynamo)

It is perhaps the height of U.S. weakness under the Biden administration that we are turning to Kenya to confront crises within our own hemisphere. But beyond the shame such a strategy heaps on the United States, the muddled effort is highly likely to backfire.  

Thousands of well-armed and united Haitian gang members may easily overwhelm a paltry international force and the U.S. military could then be forced to rescue them while military weapons fall into the hands of the gangs. It seems that the dangers of such a scenario are dawning on the Kenyan government as they recently paused plans to deploy into Haiti despite pressure from the Biden administration.  

If the Kenyans ultimately agree to such an effort, it could easily become a years’ long deployment with no discernable end. Absent a U.S. presence, the reliability of the “multinational” force would itself be highly uncertain, as its continuation would hinge entirely on the whims of a government that has already frequently vacillated on deployment.     

Even as the inadequacy of the administration’s hasty plans are laid bare, President Joe Biden is exerting pressure on the U.S. Congress to fund them. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Member Jim Risch have wisely called for a strategy on Haiti before releasing their hold on $40 million in U.S. funding for this vague multinational coalition.   

It’s clear that the U.S. should not repeat the mistakes of the past and send in the military to Haiti every couple of decades to restore a corrupt elite to power. The notion of having African forces do the job instead is also dubious.  

Before sending further U.S. resources and committing foreign security forces to Haiti, the Biden administration must articulate a detailed and credible plan to address the crisis, including a timeline, contingencies and an achievable end state. Without this, a hurried effort in Haiti is more likely to exacerbate the Caribbean nation’s crisis.  

The U.S. must also ensure it is prepared to confront a looming wave of mass migration from Haiti. Florida Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott recently highlighted the administration’s inaction on this front.  

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The first step here is for the Biden administration to immediately end its permissive policies toward illegal immigration and secure the U.S. border. Programs like mass immigration parole for Haitians and other nationalities should be terminated as the population outflow hastens the decline of stability in countries like Haiti and entrenches mass migration to the U.S. as the go-to escape from regional crises. 

Armed gang member

An armed member of the G9 and Family gang patrols a roadblock in the Delmas 6 neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday, March 11. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Furthermore, the crisis in Haiti highlights the importance of bolstering the security of U.S. maritime borders, particularly in Florida and Puerto Rico. While much attention is centered on Florida’s proactive response to Haiti’s crisis, Puerto Rico is likely to see substantial illegal immigration from Haiti, as it has in the past.  

Beyond the direct impact on Puerto Rico, this U.S. territory could become a steppingstone to the U.S. mainland for a wave of illegal Haitian migrants. Additionally, the continued dominance of drug trafficking gangs in Haiti underscores the importance of bolstering counter-narcotics capabilities in the Caribbean, including in Puerto Rico.    

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There are no easy solutions to the crisis in Haiti, in part because this administration has let numerous windows of opportunity pass. However, the instinct to act must be tempered by the realistic assessment of costs and capacity.  

The Biden administration has repeatedly failed to address international crises with the seriousness they deserve. Given this track record, as well as the hasty and vague nature of Biden’s proposals on Haiti, Congress should prescriptively direct and limit any funds it gives to this administration and provide close oversight of the administration’s actions. 

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