Friday, December 31, 2004

Eleven Countries Suffer Their 9/11. Where Is The Leader Of The Free World?

"What price relief? How much should a nation spending $8 million an hour on a war in Iraq spend to stave off starvation, epidemic and yes, even terrorism around the Indian Ocean?"
-- Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's Countdown, Dec. 29.

***

The death toll from the Christmas Day tsumani has now officially broken 120,000, and some are suggesting the number could double, even triple, in the days to come. Entire cities have been destroyed. The World Health Organization reports the number of survivors affected by the disaster without water, without food, without sanitation, without all three, is 5 million.

This is, for 11 nations, their 9/11.

When the U.S.' 9/11 occurred, the leaders of the world stood by our side. "We are all Americans," was the headline of a French newspaper. Who can forget the memorials, the flowers laid, the weeping, around the world?

Americans must have felt a strange sadness watching people look at walls plastered with photos and descriptions of the missing. It was eerily familiar to those days in mid-September, 2001, when countless Americans prayed that somewhere in the rubble, friends, loved ones or co-workers would somehow still be alive.

I wonder if President Bush fully understands how thoughtless he looks, how cold he makes the U.S. look, when he pledges $15 million in immediate aid (and a $20 million line of credit). After all, the daily cost of the war in Iraq is $193 million. The amount we are offering in tsunami relief is less than what is being spent on the presidential inauguration.

(The Pentagon also is spending an unidentified amount to mobilize an additional relief operation, with C-130 transport planes winging their way from Dubai to Indonesia with tents, blankets, food and water bags.)

Bush, interviewed in Crawford, Texas (where else?) was on the defensive, reminding his critics: "(In) the year 2004, our government provided a $2.4 billion in food and cash and humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. ... We‘re a very generous, kind-hearted nation."

You know, when my wife gets upset at me for being a couch-potato, my immediate reaction is to list my most-recent good deed, along the lines of "I took care of the dishes last night ..." It's the desperate cry of someone who knows he is wrong, but doesn't want to admit it.

***

On top of the fact that Bush, and the U.S., come across as not being overly generous during the worst weather-related crisis in 117 years, there's the question of what this says to Muslims worldwide.

"It‘s pretty clear that $15 million on day one was a pathetic display by the United States," said David Phillips, a former State Department advisor and currently on the Council on Foreign Relations. "We needed to set the bar high so that other countries could also be generous. By being dragged to the relief table, we sent the wrong signal. People are dying in these affected populations. And many of those populations are Muslim. If we want to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, we‘re just going to have to do better."

***

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who along with Florida Gov. (and brother of the president) Jeb Bush was dispatched to region yesterday to review the damage, said on Tuesday that U.S. assistance will eventually exceed $1 billion.

But according to MSNBC, "the journey from the $35 million to potentially $1 billion or more in help ... is fraught with bureaucratic twists."

First, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which distributes foreign aid, will have to ask for more money, since the initial $35 million aid package drained its emergency relief fund, said Andrew Natsios, the agency’s administrator.

“We just spent it,” Natsios said in an interview Tuesday with the Associated Press. “We’ll be talking to the (White House) budget office ... (about) what to do at this point.”

Which brings us back to the president, and the need again for leadership.

How hard would it have been for Bush to simply say, "We will join the nations of the world in doing all that we conceivably can to help at this time of devastation"?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pure, unadulterated intellectual dishonesty.

It is abundantly clear that the initial $15M, and the subsequent $20M, are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as was illustrated by the statement from Sec. Powell that our government's contributions will be in excess of $1,000,000,000.

Why is there a need to politicize such a tragedy ?

I guess there are people who can find political utility in human suffering.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's nothing intellectually dishonest. As JABBS points out, the initial amount is $35 million. Powell (not Bush) said the final amount will be much more.

But the bigger point is, Bush should have come out initially as being generous. Instead, the first the American people heard was him being defensive, and reacting to widespread criticism -- both from within the U.S. and overseas. That's not being very presidential, as the original post says.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Bush was being reactionary in the face of political opponents trying to make political utility out of a international disaster. You have to have a brain the size of a squirrel to think that the amount of US aid was ever going to be "only" $15M, or $35M, or even $350M. Since the people that despise Bush will find flaws in everything he does, I really do not see the point in all of this. Those that are criticizing our President ignore what our military has already offered in the way of services, ignore the value of the ships, soldiers, seamen, airmen, food, goods, aircraft, etc, which in an of itself likely exceeds the contributions of any other individual nation.

Please, simply continue to try to find fault with everything Bush does. It will simply serve to continue to marginalize the liberal left from the American mainstream.

12:54 PM  

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