Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Vacation -- all I ever wanted

Why is the United States initially pledging only about half as much as Spain to help the victims of the South Asia earthquake and tsunamis that killed more than 100,000 people this week and left millions homeless? And why did President Bush wait until today to make a public statement on the disaster? Both are good questions, but the answers lead in dramatically different directions.

The low initial relief aid number, which has been much bandied about in the press today, looks bad on the surface, but it likely isn't indicative of the amount of aid that the U.S. government intends to give. Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the few remaining Bush administration officials still held in wide international esteem, estimated that U.S. assistance to the tsunami victims will eventually exceed $1 billion, and I suspect he's right. Common sense also dictates that relief money can't be spent effectively before officials can set up the infrastructure to disburse aid where it is needed most. Bush's failure not to pledge hundreds of millions of dollars up front might be a public-relations gaffe, but it likely doesn't suggest an unwillingness to help.

What's more troubling is that Bush didn't comment publicly on the destruction until today, three days after the monster waves crashed down on thousands of unsuspecting people. Swift condolences from a U.S. president admittedly provide little direct comfort to disaster victims half a world away, but they mean a lot to those countries' leaders, and it's hard to underestimate their importance in maintaining our country's international image as a place full of caring, generous people. The United States has some fences to mend after the Iraq war, and a quick expression of sympathy for earthquake victims in Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation, certainly could have helped.

As it is, Bush's delay gives the world the impression that a natural disaster with a six-digit death toll just isn't enough for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world to interrupt his vacation.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question, and I'm asking this because I really don't know. Did other countries come to our aid when all those hurricanes hit Florida earlier this year? How much did they give us to help out country? If we got any international aid (from actual countries, not international organizations), it's news to me, and then maybe that should be publicized more. We might assume some of these countries hate us, but then learn that some are actually helping us.

But onto your discussion. An immediate statement from Bush is the worst thing he could have done, as (1.) it would have taken off some of the focus on the impact of this disaster; (2.) would have been premature given the ever-increasing death toll (which hopefully will not increase from its present number), so Bush apologizing for the untimely deaths of 50,000 looks dumb later when the tolls hits six digits, plus Bush can't very well pledge a certain amount immediately if the death toll numbers are still coming in; and (3.) it would make Bush and the U.S. look like an attention-whore and disingenuous.

But had this happened on U.S. soil, an immediate response would have been necessary, as Bush could give hope and pledge near-immediate aid to those affected, would show that the administration is doing what it can for the people of their own country, and would show that Bush cares. Granted, an early response to this situation would show those affected that Bush cares, but I think the possibility of negative feelings towards Bush due to the timing of it outweighs the potential for actually helping those affected feel good. Plus, the hope would be mostly empty, as the U.S. could not help them as quickly as they could help those affected by a domestic disaster.

Hope that's not too many words and too little punctuation.


10:47 PM  
Blogger Alabamian said...

So the United States shouldn't worry about sending relief aid to tsunami victims because Sri Lanka and the Maldives didn't send any money to Florida hurricane victims? Sorry, I don't follow the logic there.

Here's all I wanted from Bush: a brief statement the next day that said we don't yet know the extent of the damage, but we're sorry for your loss, and we'll do whatever we can to help you. I don't think that would have distracted too much from the horrifying images of destruction we've been seeing in the last few days, and it would hardly be attention-whoring. It would just be a signal to the world that the U.S. president felt the deaths of thousands of people, even if they weren't Americans, merited an immediate reaction.

11:50 PM  

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