Haiti Quake Highlights Need For U.N. Trusteeship

So far, at least, the Haiti catastrophe has not become a partisan issue as Hurricane Katrina did. It undoubtedly helped that President Obama quickly enlisted ex-Presidents Clinton and Bush to spearhead the fundraising effort. But it is important, as reconstruction work begins, that the United States and the family of nations agree on some central authority to supervise what may be the creation of a new state.

Obama speaks of "a path to a brighter future." Under the stopgap arrangement in effect since the earthquake, the United States and the United Nations handle much of the flow of aid in cooperation with the Haitian government, they say. But President Rene Preval's government, for all practical purposes, does not exist. It lies in ruins in the rubble of the presidential palace and other government buildings.

While America and other foreign forces patrol the streets of Port-au-Prince and controlling traffic through the airport, Haitian leaders say they hope this will be temporary.

What is needed now is some generally accepted authority representing the family of nations. History provides some examples of benign governorship of countries not yet ready for self-government.

I am thinking of the mandate system introduced by the League of Nations after World War I and the trusteeship system of the United Nations after World War II.

Trusteeship, which officially ended in 1994, was a way of guiding countries toward autonomy with shadow governments reporting to the U.N. Trusteeship Council. Among the territories that experienced some version of trusteeship are Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Cambodia.

The United States will undoubtedly bear much of the burden of "building back better," as former President Clinton, the U.N.'s special envoy to Haiti, puts it. But it would be well if America did it under an international supervision.

What nobody needs is the United States coming to be perceived by Haitians as an occupying power making the basic decisions about the rebirth of this benighted little country.

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