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The Bill and Hillary conference at the U.N.

By Lee Hockstader

The Bill and Hillary conference on Haiti started at the stroke of 9:00 a.m. today at the United Nations, a somber pageant of hundreds of international grandees, foreign ministers, diplomats, do-gooders, journalists and hangers-on of every description, many of whom were hanging mostly on to every word and gesture of the real stars of the show: the Clintons.

The real purpose of the U.N. conference, of course, was to pledge billions of dollars for the reconstruction, recovery and renewal of Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest nation, whose unspeakable suffering stemming from the Jan. 12 earthquake includes at least 250,000 dead and a million homeless.

Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, vowed that the world was resolved not just to rebuild Haiti “but to build back better -- a new Haiti.” He pledged the U.N.’s energies to “a wholesale national renewal, a sweeping exercise in nation-building on a scale not seen in generations.”

Haitian President Rene Preval also delivered a heartfelt address, in which he frankly appealed for help rebuilding Haiti’s notoriously broken-down educational system, which even before the Jan. 12 earthquake had produced an illiteracy rate of almost 40 percent among adults and a quarter of all children with no experience of school whatsoever.

But the soaring rhetoric, and the serial pledges of cash from the conference’s co-chairs -- Brazil, Canada, the E.U., France and Spain -- were a sort of sidelight compared to the Clintons, who were the focal points of real power at the conference.

Even before the one-day talk-fest, The New York Times had reported “a certain amount of grumbling” at the U.N. at what many delegates regarded as the State Department’s tight control over the conference, with, the Times reported, a “senior European diplomat calling it “The Bill and Hillary Show.”

That grumbling could only have grown to a growl at the stage-management of the conference’s opening session, in which Moon and Preval were flanked by -- you guessed right -- Bill and Hillary. And despite universal lip service about the necessity of the Haitians themselves taking ownership of their own rebuilding, no one was really fooled. Mrs. Clinton, as U.S. secretary of state, was co-chair of the conference. And not only was the United States financing more than a quarter of the initial, two-year international recovery project of $3.9 billion, but Mr. Clinton himself -- known hereabouts as the “United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti” -- will be calling the shots in the near term in conjunction with the Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive as to the strategy, coordination and direction of the billions of dollars in international aid soon to be flowing into the beleaguered country.

Can you say “Mr. Viceroy”?

The Clintons, who traveled together to Haiti on their honeymoon two months after they were married, have taken a lifelong interest in the place, which, by all accounts, is sincere. Now their task will be to oversee its rescue and recovery.

Mr. Clinton, in a nuts and bolts speech about the urgent needs of shelter and health on the streets of Port-au-Prince, noted that the urgency of helping Haiti was about the only thing that Cuba, Venezuela and the United States all agreed on. “This is a happy thing, a good thing,” said the former president.

By Lee Hockstader  | March 31, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
Categories:  Hockstader  | Tags:  Lee Hockstader  
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This commentary puzzles me. For one thing, imagine the outrage if, after funding a quarter of the Haiti rebuilding effort, the U.S. was NOT given a prominent place at the podium.

Secondly, Mr. Hockstader seems to be insinuating that there is something unseemly about the Clintons' role in this effort. Does he truly believes that the former president has no role to play on the world stage? Or does he think Secretary of State Clinton was only there because of her husband?

Apparently, some folks are never satisfied!

Posted by: DCSteve1 | March 31, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Haiti is easily the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is almost all mountains which doesn’t help their poor economy. It is poor beyond belief.

The earthquake in Haiti was horrible. The first thing that the main stream media did was put out a plea for private donations. Then what happened? You know who they are started saying the American people shouldn’t help Haiti because the Haitians were evil and that the earthquake was God’s way of punishing them. What hogwash.

The American people need to see different thinking on the subject of Haiti. I recommend a great article written by Sister Joan Chittister. Joan Chittister is a Benedictine Nun who has a PhD in Social Psychology from Penn State. Joan Chittister is one remarkable lady. Google her and you will get over 90,000 hits. From the few articles that I have read, I can tell you that she knows how to make a point. I strongly recommend you read this article concerning Haiti:

For easier reading of the article, try the printer friendly version at:

Please read the article, if for no other purpose than to learn a little US history you didn’t learn in High School or in History 101. Quoting from the article:

After all, U.S. gratitude to Haiti is long overdue. Haiti, the first and only nation to arise out of a slave revolt not only defeated Napoleon in his attempt to retake that island nation but, in the process, foiled Napoleon's plan to then use that country as a launching pad for the invasion and conquest of the land known now as The Louisiana Territory. In other words, Haiti saved the Western United States from French rule.

Without what Haiti did, who knows what the United States would be today.

Posted by: yeoldeydd | March 31, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

I haven't heard of any other SRSG referred to as Mr. Viceroy, so maybe just Mr.Ambassador. Glad to hear again about Sr. Joan. It's kind of like two for one re the Clintons. We will get more synergy from the Clintons in their dual, reinforcing roles.

Of course, we want to help Haiti. They need a lot of help. Let's just assure that the money not be wasted and that it go to its designated places. I did see a committee in the countryside in Haiti addressing what they wanted for a future Haiti, e.g. Bottom-up.

Hey, I like their thinking. I hope there will be a lot of Bottom Up in Haiti.

Posted by: GerriM | April 1, 2010 3:39 AM | Report abuse

American libs have a good track record of tossing cash at poverty.Not fixing it.However jobs will develope as money laundering and drug financing kick in after the first billion check.Wonder if the EPA should direct the funds spent on windmills and solar.That should create some landscaping jobs.

Posted by: jmounday | April 1, 2010 8:05 AM | Report abuse

When will the liberals learn that throwing money at a problem will not fix it. For all that Haiti has received already there is very little accomplished.

Instead Jimmy Carter and some purchases from Home Depot should be sent there to teach the Haitians a trade while getting a useful, worthwhile product that they need.

With the UN in charge, much of the contributions are skimmed off and wasted.

Posted by: mlemac | April 1, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Hey, is it wrong to think that Lee Hockwhatever is just very irritated (along with the wise and wonderful Europeans!) that Bill and Hillary Clinton are doing good work that is recognized on the world stage? Get over yourself, Mr. Hickensnarky, and make a donation to help the Haitians instead sniping on the sidelines at two people who are committed to the effort.

Posted by: rdklingus | April 1, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

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