January 15th, 2010
08:15 AM ET

Dear President Obama #361: Don't be timid in Haiti

Reporter's Note: President Obama continues to push for a strong and effective response to the tragedy in Haiti. And as I note in my daily letter to the White House; it can’t happen soon enough.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/14/art.bophone0114.gi.jpg]

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Here is something I have learned in chaotic situations, from war zones, to hurricanes, to earthquakes: There is almost nothing more dangerous and wasteful than uncoordinated effort. And right now, it appears that may be the biggest threat to the rescue in Haiti.

While it is wonderful to recognize the autonomy and input of the dozens (or perhaps hundreds) of agencies and governments weighing in with help, the situation appears to be crying out for decisive, strong leadership.

Here is the equation: Help, in the form of food, water, blankets, clothing, doctors, medical supplies, engineers and heavy equipment, is roaring toward Haiti in massive amounts; but it is in perilous danger of being stopped a scant few miles from the very people who are quite literally dying for it.

The problem is not a shortage of goodwill; it is an overabundance of enthusiasm absent a matching level of discipline. Look at what happened at the airport. Relief planes pounded in on Wednesday, dumped their loads wherever they could, then created a traffic jam on the runway as they waited for fuel and a chance to leave. The result: members of the U.S. Air Force spent the whole day Thursday cleaning up the mess and trying to restore orderly, quick deliveries.

I realize that there is reason for U.S. military forces to move somewhat gingerly when landing in great force on a foreign shore. But there are also reasons for those troops to move decisively at times, whether or not that action treads upon the toes of other would-be leaders.

The UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti was hit very hard by the quake; and the Haitian government is in tatters. With great respect to their combined responsibilities and dedication to the people, it looks as if the best hope for restoring the port, opening the roads, and coordinating swift movement of all that aid, lies in a bold effort by U.S. troops. I am happy to hear if I am mistaken, and if there is another agency better prepared to take the lead, but frankly I see no evidence of that at the moment; not in the time frame that confronts Haiti. We saw in Katrina what can happen will well-intentioned but scattershot efforts are left to merely pick at the edges of a disaster.

Quite simply, this is now a battle for time and space. We must close the space between those who are offering help, and those who need it, in time to avert a second catastrophe. That requires decisive leadership. The best of luck as you try to bring that to bear.



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. JANIE MARTINI-bowers

    Idea: after the rescue and recovery in Haiti, why not create a massive re-construction and re-habilitation program in Haiti that would build infrastructure, construction,housing, business etc. that would employ people in US and Canada as well as provide wide-scale investment in equipment and supplies in construction, manufacturing, etc, goods and services etc., to not only help Haiti in the long term but help employment and production in our countries...don't just send money...create and/or respond to opportunities...

    January 15, 2010 at 5:20 pm |

    I just want to thank President Obama, President Clinton, CNN and the American people for all the help that your giving to us the Haitians I am so proud to live in America and being a citizen of this beautiful country. We are always ignore by the world, this time God touch the the heart of the American people, please CNN and the orther media do not forget us we the Hatians need your help now and later.
    Again thank you may God continue blessing this country.

    Katia Edouard Orlando FL
    ps If possible thank President Obama and former President Clinton for me

    January 15, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  3. Michael

    This is just a suggestion but i think that the U.S. and others should get some of the cruise ships to load these survivers on them with security and doctors and help them i mean we need to get these people off of the grounds and streets.

    January 15, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  4. Christine

    Why not utilise the two international airports in Jamaica. Planes could be refuelled here.Jamaica is just 300 miles East of Haiti.

    January 15, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  5. lint

    We are the Worlds We are the childrens. Let;s us pray for all the people of Haiti. God bless

    January 15, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  6. Lashanta Rudd

    Mr. President when you do what you can the Lord will be there to do the rest.God is everywhere at the same time He sit high and look low.

    January 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  7. Eileen

    I have never seen so many ridiculous comments. Praising Obama and criticizing the relief efforts for not being fast enough at the same time. Everyone thinks the U.S owes the world something. All the money will go to this country's corrupt government not the people. Like it always does. I just hope Obama doesn't bring all those people here as refugees, this country has it own problems. Did we borrow that 100 mil from China to give away?

    January 15, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  8. Alexandra

    I do hope that this time the funds and help will be used for the ones who really need it and not make someone's fortune like it has been in the past.

    January 15, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  9. jorgenendert

    Couldn't agree more...hope Mr. Obama hear your call to action!


    January 15, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  10. Darrell

    Excellent reporting by CNN and spot on comments by Tom!

    Haiti, Katrina and the Tsunami have two benefits:
    1). Enable us to set human compassion as a top priority in life
    2). Provide us lessons to learn so we can be more effective next time
    3). Enable us to reach into our hearts to pray and send money

    The lesson learned all of these occurrences are:

    Emergency relief, federal government and the military have a responsibility to:
    1). Establish a standard relief management framework for any city
    2). Make sure each city has a documented disaster relief plan
    3). Lay out exactly what they will provide by hours, days and weeks
    4). Make sure it is updated, tested and communicated regularly

    State, local and city government must own the plan and detail it out:
    1). Define sites for shelter, food, water, medical, and death storage
    2). Where heating, cooling, generators, medical facilities are located
    3). Major transportation routes and consolidation areas are located
    4). How distribution, law and order will be managed and exectuted
    5). Escalation process for chain of command to maintain order

    The people of each of these recent terrible occurrences have suffered and should teach our federal, state, local government, military and emergency relief agencies lessons on what people need and expect. Hopefully we all are listening carefully and learning from this tragedy.

    Mr. President, you have to set the foundation across the board so we all can trust in government to deliver it if were to happen to us here in America. Thanks CNN and team for making us understand it.

    January 15, 2010 at 10:35 am |


    I agree with you 110%. Haiti's situation is dire and time is of the utmost essence. It is wonderful to see the international community coming together to provide support for this ravaged country, however there needs to be a lot more coordination to make sure that the aid reaches those who are literally on the brink of death. Those tent communities are a hazard within themselves, and US troops should set up a large camp for the displaced as far away from the disaster zones in Port au Prince, Jacmel, Leogane, and Grand Goave as possible. At that point, the troops can clear the paths for heavy machinery to get in the streets and helping to dig the survivors out, while simultaneously disposing of the deceased. If there is a way for those bodies to somehow be preservered on such a large scale..then do so...but otherwise, as unfortuante as it is...they are gone, and we need to concentrate on the living! I am saying this with sincerity and sensitivity, as my own aunt was buried alive under Sacre Couer Church in Port au Prince....

    While no one can say the US did not act quickly and bravely in the face of this catastrophe...now it is time to scrutinize how EFFICIENTLY and EFFECTIVELY this is being handled. This is the time to show the world why Obama was the right choice for US President, World Leader, Nobel Prize winner, etc. It is not easy...but this is what one signs up for when becoming a presidential candidate.

    In the meantime, all we in the US and around the world can do is wait and pray for the best...

    ~Marie Andree

    January 15, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  12. Doug Preszler

    I believe wholeheartedly Tom.

    January 15, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  13. kristen ingmire

    Mr. Foreman,

    Your observations and comments to the president are very clear and seem like good advice. In your opinion then, what agency do you feel is the most entrenched in Haiti, is in active partnership with our military and is able use donated funds the most quickly and effectively. I would like to donate my money to the agency that is currently in the best position to help right now.

    Thank you.


    Kristen Ingmire

    January 15, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  14. Kula May Ellison

    Good-Day It is extremely sad. It is good people are helping out. What I can do
    is donate blood. They need that to.
    Truly, Kula May

    January 15, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  15. Carlington Barnett

    Dear Anderson,

    I want to first and foremost commend you on the brilliant job you have been doing in Haiti. My Fiance, who is Haitian, and I watch your program on a nightly basis to stay updated on the current crisis.

    Anderson, I have a suggestion that would not only assist the community their, but the massive Haitian community abroad as well.

    I know you have countless people coming up to you begging for you to relay a message to their families abroad. You have been doing your best to inform these families when you have a chance on air, and we appreciate that.

    However, would it be possible to arrange an area or even a desk where the Haitian people there could go and simply leave: 1. Their name 2. Age 3. Location.

    Then this information can be posted on the CNN website for their families abroad to check?

    This would assist in alleviating the deep worry most of the Haitian families abroad are facing at this time. The feeling of not knowing if your family & friends are alive is unbearable.

    Its understandable that the first priority is to rescue and get medical attention for the people in Haiti. However, this is something that I truly believe is simple and something we can do NOW!

    January 15, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  16. Stephanie Nelson

    thank you for help the peolpe in Hatiti.... 860-371-8784 name i stephanie nelson

    January 15, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  17. Susan, FL + IL

    CNN......Thank You!!!
    CNN thank you so much for your coverage.....without you......we the people would not know anything.
    CNN...... you can be given credit for much of the donating that is going on throughout the U.S.

    President Obama.....Thank You for your immediate U.S. commitment to Haiti.

    January 15, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  18. Janice Currie

    We pay our government officials too much money for them to take so long to come up with workable solutions to disaster problems. Critical thinking skills should be a job requirement.

    If getting around the caved-in roads present such a big problem, how long would it take to mobilize a conveyor belt system or even quicker, a human assembly line. If the first response emergency workers or eerie of being caught up with the emotions of desperate black people, maybe they should try galvanizing U.S. inner cities’ blacks to get the food to our Haitian brothers and sisters. We would work without fear. Then that creates a problem to. Most of us would lose our less than adequately paid jobs if we took off from work to volunteer, or even worst- lose our meager existence while away from home since the majority of us live pay check to half of the next paycheck.

    What ever happened to the 21-Century human mind? Does it need technology to tell it every thing it needs to do? Please get the medicine, food, and water to the people.

    January 15, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  19. Tim Gibson

    Unfortunately Tom you are not wrong. Haiti has a history of unrest and the crowd can change in an instant making help all but impossible. Everyone is rushing toward the high end of the ship and now is not the time for inaction on a life saving and humanitarian mission, our hearts on our sleeves so to speak.

    And as we know our white house security, our homeland security, our aviation security, our town hall meetings, all failures due to the inability to coordinate into not only one cubicle or office, but into all branches of leadership, and with all the czars and aides, behind the closed door, there is a lack of coordination with the life boats.

    Could have been an excellent opportunity to gain a level or two percentages on those polls.

    January 15, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  20. Joshua Corbin

    I do believe that we have a great leader that will do his best. President Obama has a staff that is cognitivly aware of this situation and will do what it takes to save lives. My prayers go out to families affected in Haiti. God Bless You

    January 15, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  21. connie/madison.wi

    why is the US taking its time .??? Haiti needs help now. this is shameful. everyday the USA stalls for one reason or another and to turn away supplies yesterday is unforgivable. now its security? and the UN rumor was now proven to be a lie, no haitian stoled any supplies. its heartbreaking watching this . what has happened to dignity? to humanity. its unbelieveable.

    January 15, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  22. David Merchant


    January 15, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  23. TM

    Today T-Mobile announced that it will not charge fees on calls placed to Haiti between January 12 and January 31 in order to support those seeking information on loved ones in the country. T-Mobile also said that it will not charge roaming fees for those customers who are in Haiti. All fees will be waived retroactively and removed from customer bills. T-Mobile has also pledged to donate wireless equipment, such as generators and phones.

    from T-Mobile

    January 15, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  24. Ernest O'Dell

    Anderson, or Tom, can someone report what is happening in Jacmel, Haiti? Jacmel is only 20 miles south of the capital, but no one has reported on them. I have been trying to find out about some people that I know there, and a Russian Orthodox parish there served by Fr. Jean Dumais at St. Augustine's parish.

    Jacmel suffered as much, if not more, damage as the capital, but it seems all the media focus is on Port-au-Prince.

    Relief efforts have been slow because of the lack of supplies and focus on the capital, and I know it's difficult to get down there.

    Jacmel is on the southern coast and was a future port of call by the Royal Caribbean Cruise lines, so it should be easily accessible by boat or helicopter.

    January 15, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  25. clara

    CNN Crew and AID Workers NO-ONE has mentioned HIV/AIDS. Haiti is High Incidence. Have the CNN Crews take HIV Prophylaxis I saw Dr. Gupta working without gloves on a little baby girl, so I think at this stage universal precautions ,are out the window. Perhaps someone needs to request on AIR for HAART and ARV to be sent in if the population is treated as a whole it will reduce risk for AIDS workers as well.
    Hopefully this was already considered.
    Also after this is over CNN SHOULD do a rapid deployment workshop for FEMA and International AID Organizations.
    I also wanted to say that I always wondered what was wrong with reporters, that they could just stand by and document/ film these devastating events. However during this crisis and other recent ones it seems those CNN crews are now helping as well! Thank you for this humanity!

    January 15, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  26. Julie V.

    T-Mobile is the best. They are allowing all their customers to call Haiti for free until January 31st!

    January 15, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  27. C'Jai

    I know here you feel helpless. Thanks to our President Obama for all he is doing. However, I see (TV) on the ground in Hati it is a breakdown. Let's get the water, food from the airport to the streets. That is where it is needed the most. Here in the USA I have donated to "YELE" 501501 but let's continue to pray an ask God to HELP the people. Give the people FAITH to hold on....I pray that God will guide, direct and restore. It is so sad to see....United WE Stand Divided WE fall!

    January 15, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  28. Kathy

    I agree completely. It's time for someone to take the reins and get those supplies to the people. If this doesn't happen immediately, the horrific problems in Haiti will be multiplied 100 times over, and those dear people will experience even greater, unimaginable suffering. It's time to stop worrying about being PC and do what is the most logical/humanitarian thing; take care of the Haitian people. We're talking about saving hundreds of thousands of lives here. The U.S. has the presence and the ability to take the lead. We need to do it NOW.

    January 15, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  29. Alicia Araceli DArielli

    Please,help Haiti now,my God is desperate.

    January 15, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  30. Martha Wilhelm

    I am waiting to hear that my daughter her husband Jesse and their baby have been evacuated. They are safe, for the time being. Your words are a reassuring voice.


    January 15, 2010 at 8:46 am |
  31. Hugh J. Keough, Esq., Davie, FL

    Most respectfully. At a basic level, I've seen on CNN individuals who are digging by hand to rescue people. They might benefit from using car hand jacks to get some of the rubble off the people. I've seen cars on the street they may have jacks in the trunk. I realize this will not work in 99% of the time but it is better than just using hands.

    Respectfully. Religious leaders should endorse respectful funeral pyres at this time.

    My prayers for the people of Haiti.

    January 15, 2010 at 8:46 am |
  32. sandra

    Totally agree with you!! 😉

    January 15, 2010 at 8:30 am |