Egypt Independent

International English press: Haiti devastation, Blair on Iraq

Devastation in Haiti and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s evidence to the hearing on the Iraq war dominated the foreign press last week. Blair faced an inquiry over his decision to participate in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Televised live, Blair was interviewed for six hours over the reasons for going to war and its legality.

Several news outlets depicted Blair as a former leader whose popularity waned as public opinion turned against the war. Space was also given to the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq, who expressed outrage at Blair’s statements. The press, however, generally awarded Blair high marks for his performance, in view of his steadfast defense of his decision. "It was better to deal with this threat and I do genuinely believe the world is safer as a result," he said.

The BBC World Service described Blair as "robust" with a "spirited" defense, but gave ample room to his critics. The BBC interviewed Carne Ross, an Iraq expert who has been an outspoken critic of the war since quitting his post with the British Foreign Office in 2002. Ross said the panel interviewing Blair failed to probe his answers thoroughly with opposing arguments. "The Blair-Goldsmith legal argument […] is absolutely extraordinary," he said, adding that the authority that the UN Security Council gave in 1990 for the use of force was revived 12 years later for "utterly different circumstances: the breach of cooperation with inspectors, which itself was itself moot and questionable."

News from Haiti typically focused on recovery efforts and the suffering of the Haitian people. As foreign aid poured in, reports showed how the country was in shambles before the earthquake that killed up to 200,000 people. This raised questions as to how Haiti became so poor in the first place.

Haiti is one of poorest countries in the world, with a long history of foreign debt. A slave rebellion earned the small country its freedom in 1804, but at the cost of its becoming indebted to France. By the time it paid off its debt to France in 1947, it was left "destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile." Yet other debts continued to increase, and last until this day even though US$1.2 billion was forgiven in June last year.

The head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, discussed canceling Haiti’s foreign debt, but, perhaps contradictorily, the IMF just approved a US$100 million emergency loan for the country.

Some have suggested that Haiti is incapable of using the aid properly and should either no longer receive assistance or should be governed by a foreign presence. A few blogs have blamed foreign governments and institutions for Haiti’s misery, calling into question a system of debt that forces developing nations to remain destitute.

As aid has poured into the country–-still falling short of need-–another story has appeared: the role of Israeli soldiers in the rescue. While the Israeli army was praised for its role in assisting Haitians, some observers, even within Israel, noticed that “Israel’s compassion in Haiti can’t hide our ugly face in Gaza.” This commentary reached its nadir in a skit by an Israeli television show that mocks the country’s strategy of benefiting from the tragedy in Haiti. Apparently Israel’s image has taken a hit lately, as 54 members of the US Congress have called for pressing Israel to lift its blockade on Gaza.