By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 16, 2010 - President Barack Obama's two immediate predecessors today joined him in soliciting help on behalf of Haiti, the target of a massive international humanitarian relief operation following a magnitude 7 earthquake. As relief provisions continue to arrive at the devastated country, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have agreed to lead a major fundraising push, lending their stature to the effort in hopes of sustaining international focus on the dire situation.
"This is a model that works," Obama said of the partnership, citing a precedent in which ex-presidents were able to channel support to Asia in the aftermath of a vast tsunami there. "That effort raised substantial resources for the victims of that disaster -- money that helped save lives, deliver aid, and rebuild communities. And that's exactly what the people of Haiti desperately need right now."
Speaking at the White House while flanked by the two former presidents, Obama said each passing day since the Jan. 12 quake makes clearer the scope of the catastrophe, exposing a level of destruction and suffering that defies comprehension. The Red Cross estimates between 40,000 and 50,000 people were killed in what one official has called one of the greatest humanitarian emergencies in the history of the Americas.
"That's why thousands of American personnel -- civilian and military -- are on the scene," Obama said, "working to distribute clean drinking water and food and medicine, and thousands of tons of emergency food supplies are arriving every day."
The Defense Department has authorized up to $20 million in immediate aid to Haiti, and the nation's top military officer estimated that up to 10,000 U.S. troops would be in Haiti by Jan. 18.
The addition of the two former presidents elevates the prominence of the U.S. effort, a symbol that Obama said he hopes will carry international reverberations. The official Web site of the fund, http://www.clintonbushhaitifund.org, accepts donations and contains more information on the effort.
"By coming together in this way, these two leaders send an unmistakable message to the people of Haiti and to the people of the world: In these difficult hours, America stands united," he said. "We stand united with the people of Haiti, who have shown such incredible resilience, and we will help them to recover and to rebuild."
Obama said enlisting the help of Bush and Clinton would help to maintain focus on the needs of those affected in Haiti.
"What these gentlemen are going to be able to do is when the news media starts seeing its attention drift to other things, but there's still enormous need on the ground, these two gentlemen of extraordinary stature I think are going to be able to help ensure that these efforts are sustained," he said. "And that's why it's so important, and that's why I'm so grateful that they agreed to do it."