Thursday, December 30, 2004

Tsunami Relief "Stingy"

It is wrong to turn a disaster like the Tsunami that swept Southeast Asia into a political commentary. But it is the very response to disasters that defines a person, a society, and the world we live in.

Recently, President Bush has been back-pedaling on his initial meager offer of $15 million of aid. As reported in the Los Angeles Times:
President Bush launched an aggressive defense Wednesday of his administration's response to the southern Asian tsunami disaster, calling critics "ill-informed" and predicting that U.S. aid ultimately would surpass the $35 million in initial cash assistance.

"We're a very generous, kindhearted nation," said Bush, vacationing on his ranch near Crawford, Texas. "What you're beginning to see is a typical response from America."

Bush said that the tsunami had "brought loss and grief to the world that is beyond our comprehension," and pledged that the U.S. would "stand with the affected governments as they care for the victims."

The president's remarks came amid assurances from administration officials that the U.S. response would include a substantial deployment of ships and military personnel. He also announced the formation of a four-nation bloc to coordinate relief efforts and telephoned the leaders of the hardest-hit countries.

The announcements marked an apparent shift in public relations strategy as White House officials sought to rehabilitate the administration's image amid criticism that the U.S. was not offering enough assistance and that Bush personally was slow to respond.

U.S. officials initially pledged $15 million. But the administration upped that to $35 million Tuesday, after a United Nations official was quoted calling the U.S. and other wealthy nations "stingy" when it came to aid.

But what does $35 million mean to America?

Just today in an article in the New York Times, the Pentago indicated a willingness to cut back some expensive military systems.

This is necessary because as the article points out:
Since the November elections, the White House has been under growing pressure to offset mounting deficits and at the same time pay for the unexpectedly high costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which combined now amount to more than $5 billion a month.

That's right $1.25 billion/week. Or $178.6 million/24 hours. And how long would it take to spend $35 million on the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict? A little under 5 hours worth of expenditures on war and destruction.

Aren't the 114,000 deaths and MILLIONS of individuals facing untold suffering worth more than 6 hours of military spending? Could we spare just a day?

A more revealing suggestion was put forward by Matt Pettigrew, a Philadelphia attorney who as was reported today in the Philadelphia Daily News, suggested:
In an impassioned e-mail he sent me and others yesterday morning, Pettigrew noted that while our government is promising $35 million for tsunami aid, President Bush's people are planning to spend $40 million or more on next month's inauguration and the parties afterward.

"Apparently," Pettigrew wrote, "most of the costs are being paid by corporate and individual donors. But, obviously the government will have to foot some of the bill for the overwhelming security, if nothing else."

So it occurred to him that it would be an "amazingly generous and humanitarian gesture to cancel or at least reduce the size of the inauguration parties and parades."

All the millions of diverted private and government money could go for tsunami relief instead.

And what about John Kerry? As reported in the Los Angeles Times before the election, foreign aid is an important part of healing the world. We need to respond to disasters promptly, with assistance proportional to the needs. It is so much easier to help a hungry person, than to deal with terrorism that derives from exploitation of those same problems by extremist elements. As was written in the Times:
Kerry's team may be more likely than previous generations of Democrats to turn to the military. But they are still more inclined than the Bush advisors to see military force as only one arrow in a quiver that includes diplomacy, foreign aid and economic ties — what one leading Democratic thinker has called "soft power."

In an election where voters may weigh national security more than in any campaign since 1980, Democrats agree the political challenge is to convince Americans their approach won't only improve the nation's image abroad, but its security at home.

"I think that Democrats can make foreign policy a net plus for us in this election if we can convince the American people that we are both tough and smart," said Rubin, an advisor who just joined Kerry's team.

"Tough on terrorists, tough on the states that take actions that are unacceptable, but also smart enough to understand that problems that will come home to bite the American people won't always come in the form of state-sponsored activities.

John Kerry, I would like to say the world needs you to pull them from the water. And I believe that. But even you could not prevent the death and destruction of the horrific Tsunamis. But a Kerry Presidency at the helm would know that America must once again lead the fight against catastrophe and suffering around the world as vigorously as it leads the fight against terror.



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