December 31, 2004

"Stingy" Is Just The Start Of It

While nobody doubts that many, many US citizens are warm-hearted and generous, their incumbent leader's response to the Asian Tsunami of Dec 26, 2004 has been totally - and typically - inadequate.

It took Bush - yet again vactioning on his ranch - three full days to respond. During that time, as the death toll climbed to over 100,000, the US government pledged a paltry $35 million in aid (compare that with the $40 million being spent on Bush's January inauguration). U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland rightly called that response (and similar reactions from EU governments) "stingy".

That's what it took to finally get Bush out in front of the cameras (though it wasn't enough for him to quit his vacation, as Kofi Annan and others did). Bush announced a US-led "Coalition" including Australia, Japan and India, which would co-ordinate aid. The news came as a total suprise, particularly in Australia (my home), Japan and India, where officials had previously made no mention whatsover of any such coalition.

Bush made the announcement of this coalition on Wednesday, December 29th. As the Houston Chronicle notes:
A State Department official had a teleconference Wednesday night with counterparts in those nations to lay out an initial plan.
In other words, THERE WAS NO PLAN FOR A US-LED COALITION UNTIL BUSH ANNOUNCED IT.

In other words, Bush has hijacked this tragedy to once again play politics with the United Nations. What's more, his officials even took a swipe at Bill Clinton for appearing on camera before Bush did:
Many Bush aides believe Clinton was too quick to head for the cameras to hold forth on tragedies with his trademark empathy. "Actions speak louder than words," a top Bush aide said, describing the president's view of his appropriate role.
As Josh Marshall says: "Actions?"

The only action happening in Crawford, Texas seems to have been bike-riding (can't the man ride a horse?) and bush-clearing (doesn't he have gardeners?). I guess there were also whoops of joy and maybe even backflips from Karl Rove when they realised the tsunami would take the media spotlight off the plight of refugees trying to return to Falluja, or growing demands for Rumsfeld's resignation (again), or the Social Security debate, or new allegations of prisoner abuse, or continuing violence in Iraq.

The truth is that, just as the UN was better suited to removing Saddam and co-ordinating new elections for Iraqis, the UN is better suited to co-ordinating disaster relief on a scale like this. That is - and should remain - one of its primary reasons for existence.

Bush's initial response has been not only stingy, but also typically self-interested, divisive and against the best interests of the tsunami's millions of victims.

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Update: From the Washington Post:
Some foreign policy specialists said Bush's actions and words both communicated a lack of urgency about an event that will loom as large in the collective memories of several countries as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks do in the United States. "When that many human beings die -- at the hands of terrorists or nature -- you've got to show that this matters to you, that you care," said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

There was an international outpouring of support after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and even some administration officials familiar with relief efforts said they were surprised that Bush had not appeared personally to comment on the tsunami tragedy. "It's kind of freaky," a senior career official said.

... each of the richest nations gives less than 1 percent of its gross national product for foreign assistance, and many give 0.1 percent. "It is beyond me why we are so stingy, really," he told reporters.

Among the world's two dozen wealthiest countries, the United States often is among the lowest in donors per capita for official development assistance worldwide, even though the totals are larger. According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of 30 wealthy nations, the United States gives the least -- at 0.14 percent of its gross national product, compared with Norway, which gives the most at 0.92 percent.

5 comments:

Rik said...

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Soldier's Dad said...

Ghandi,


The USS Abraham Lincoln produces 400,000 Gallons of fresh water a day. That's enough drinking water for 1 million people.

It cost $3.5 Billion to build. It's the single largest humantarian aid facilty on earth.

Rachel in London said...

| Bush announced a US-led "Coalition" ...
| The news came as a total suprise,

The US vultures have started to circle over the Indian Ocean. God preserve all tsunami-hit countries from "US-led" coalitions. Not one dollar of the reconstruction work should given to US companies. Not one dollar, not one cent. Why should the US get fat on the misery of yet more millions of people, in addition to trying to offset their trade deficit by their "planned misery" in Iraq? Halliburton, Cheney, Rumsfeld - piss off for eternity.

The US military famously "do not do body counts" of the approximately 20,000 Iraqi civilians they slaughtered in Iraq. This week, however, 12 countries around the Indian Ocean that are much less technologically advanced than the US but - evidently - have a million times more humanity have managed a "body" count of 125,000; and it is only now, because the corpses are so many and so badly decomposed, that they may have to stop counting.

The US military base in Diego Garcia was warned of the tsunami, by Miami. Why in hell did the US military at Diego Garcia not warn any of the other countries?

This morning, the British Government has pledged £50million of aid, and the British people have given £32million so far (to be distributed through the Disaster Emergency Committee, which uses only 1 per cent for administration) - £32million and counting.

| Many Bush aides believe Clinton was too quick
| to head for the cameras to hold forth on
| tragedies

Yes, Clinton has a heart. Bush has none. Clinton was on all the "flagship" tv and radio channels in the UK - not holding forth on tragedies, no, he was making sensible and practicable suggestions about long-term support for the disaster area. Bush was nowhere. I am no great fan of Clinton but, compared to former President Clinton, the current American president is a neanderthal.

Lone Ranger said...

I can't tell you how much contempt I have for someone who would politicize a disaster of this magnitude. I will never understand how liberals can look at such human suffering in the abstract just to push their political agenda.

gandhi said...

Ranger,

Who politicized this disaster? The UN official's comments were directed at Western leaders generally, they were quite correct and those nations have since responded by increasing aid.

Bush politicized the disaster by announcing this stupid coalition. Instead of organising real aid, officials are wasting time trying to set up this bogus control group.

Anyone knows centralized, experienced control is critical to bringing quick, co-ordinated relief in these situations, and the UN - along with agencies like CARE/Oxfam/etc - is best suited to doing this.

Bush's delayed and inappropriate response to this disaster is even worse than his seven-minute sting reading My Pet Goat after 9/11. He is no leader, he is a stooge.

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