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.