Obama Administation Says American Flag "Gives Wrong Idea"

Flap flies in Haiti over U.S. flag absence

By Alan Gomez and Oren Dorell – USA Today

The many nations helping Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake that struck there have set up their own military compounds and fly their flags at the entrances.

France’s tricolor, Britain’s Union Jack and even Croatia’s coat of arms flap in the breeze.

But the country whose contributions dwarf the rest of the world’s — the United States — has no flag at its main installation near the Port-au-Prince airport.

The lack of the Stars and Stripes does not sit well with some veterans and servicemembers who say the U.S. government should be proud to fly the flag in Haiti, given the amount of money and manpower the U.S. is donating to help the country recover from the Jan. 12 quake.

The Obama administration says flying the flag could give Haiti the wrong idea.

“We are not here as an occupation force, but as an international partner committed to supporting the government of Haiti on the road to recovery,” the U.S. government’s Haiti Joint Information Center said in response to a query about the flag.

The absence of the American flag bothers former Navy man Arthur Herriford, national president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

“It’s very improper,” Herriford said. “Our military people always engage and function under the American colors — always have and always will.”

The U.S. flag has flown in Haiti under circumstances that were not always friendly.

In 1915, Marines invaded Haiti to restore stability after several coups. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan pressured dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to renounce his rule and leave. In 1994, President Bill Clinton sent troops to prop up President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In 2004, President George W. Bush’s administration eased Aristide out of office amid a brutal civil war.

France, the former colonizer of the country, has its flag up at its base in Port-au-Prince. The Haiti flag is based on the French flag, turned on its side with the white stripped out.

Army Col. Billy Buckner, spokesman for Joint Task Force-Haiti, a group representing various Obama administration agency heads, said the decision not to fly the American flag was made out of respect as guests of the government of Haiti.

“It is no mystery that U.S. forces are on the ground, and we proudly wear an American flag on our right sleeve,” he said.

U.S. Air Force air operations specialists and FAA air-traffic controllers manage air traffic at Haiti’s main airport, where millions of dollars in aid from the United States has been arriving for weeks. More than 12,000 U.S. military personnel support relief operations.

“Our commanders are smart and intuitively understand their mission here in Haiti, and clearly the sensitivities that come with supporting the mission,” Buckner said.A U.S. flag went up at a temporary consular station set up in the first few days on the airport tarmac, according to Charles Luoma-Overstreet, a State Department spokesman in Haiti.

“Apparently, the prime minister (Jean-Max Bellerive) saw this” and thought it appeared as if the United States were taking over the airport, Luoma-Overstreet said.

He said Bellerive said something to U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten, who agreed that flying the flag wasn’t a good idea and told the consular officials to take it down.

The decision is not unprecedented, noted Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who says he is not bothered by the flag’s absence.

During the Gulf War in 1991, U.S. forces took control of the main airport in Kuwait and briefly flew the American flag over their installation, Davis said, but higher-ups ordered it taken down to avoid an impression that U.S. forces were conquerors.

The missing American colors at Port-au-Prince airport were no problem to Don Hollenbaugh, a former Army Delta Force operator who received the Distinguished Service Cross for actions in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.

“Everybody in the world knows the U.S. is there,” Hollenbaugh said. “So by not flying the flag, we’re not changing anyone’s mind about anything.”

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Tom Tillison

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