I ran into one of my elderly suburbian neighbors the other day. Following an exchange of pleasantries, our conversation turned to the tsunami. My neighbor, after expressing his shock at the extent of the tragedy and the horrific images on TV, criticized Bush for offering excessive aid to the affected countries while other countries "hardly lifted a finger to help." It just so happened that the next day, listening to the radio (NPR?), I heard someone remark that Bush's tsunami aid package, even after he doubled it, is equivalent to the amount the U.S. spends in Iraq every four hours! In other words, we could simply pull out of Iraq one day earlier and triple our aid (which has already been doubled). Of course, Bush and company--being the great geniuses they are--have probably calculated that bombing apartment blocks and shooting wounded old men in mosques is more likely to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world than a massive aid effort to Indonesia, and who am I to disagree with them? And I'm sure that the one extra day in Iraq, if subtracted from the thousands of days the U.S. will occupy the country, might make a huge difference in "bringing democracy to the region." Yet the sight of our "compassionate conversative" leader claiming the moral high ground for throwing a few pennies at the greatest natural disaster in human history does kind of stick in my gullet.
Daily Kos claims that the tsunami is an indication that the U.S. military is over-extended in Iraq:
The tsunami disaster in fact illustrates the unpredictable consequences of our dangerously high troop-commitment in Iraq. Who knows where troops will be needed next? (This is grimly reinforced by the mounting realization that the tsunami disaster is implicated into the geopolitical terrain of 9/11, as Indonesia is the world's largest muslim nation). I think Bush's delay was in part caused by this sense that "diverting" resources to Asia could reflect badly on, or get entangled in, the Iraq war. But, in this very sense, Bush's delay (with all its terrible consequences) also provides the first evidence that the Iraq war is, in fact, entangled in this disaster.
Ratboy's Anvil posted an excellent NY Times article on his site.
Are We Stingy? Yes
President Bush finally roused himself yesterday from his vacation in Crawford, Tex., to telephone his sympathy to the leaders of India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia, and to speak publicly about the devastation of Sunday's tsunamis in Asia. He also hurried to put as much distance as possible between himself and America's initial measly aid offer of $15 million, and he took issue with an earlier statement by the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, who had called the overall aid efforts by rich Western nations "stingy." "The person who made that statement was very misguided and ill informed," the president said.
We beg to differ. Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities.
The American aid figure for the current disaster is now $35 million, and we applaud Mr. Bush's turnaround. But $35 million remains a miserly drop in the bucket, and is in keeping with the pitiful amount of the United States budget that we allocate for nonmilitary foreign aid. According to a poll, most Americans believe the United States spends 24 percent of its budget on aid to poor countries; it actually spends well under a quarter of 1 percent.
Bush administration officials help create that perception gap. Fuming at the charge of stinginess, Mr. Powell pointed to disaster relief and said the United States "has given more aid in the last four years than any other nation or combination of nations in the world." But for development aid, America gave $16.2 billion in 2003; the European Union gave $37.1 billion. In 2002, those numbers were $13.2 billion for America, and $29.9 billion for Europe.
Making things worse, we often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged. And back in 2002, Mr. Bush announced his Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year, but the account has yet to disperse a single dollar.
Mr. Bush said yesterday that the $35 million we've now pledged "is only the beginning" of the United States' recovery effort. Let's hope that is true, and that this time, our actions will match our promises.
Also check out Bull Moose, PBA HQ (tsunami pictures), Pinko Feminist Hellcat, Mediacrity (What to do in a tsunami), Gxangalo (Esperanto article), The Command Post (links to relief organizations), and Comments from Left Field (with a $250 donation challenge).