Thursday, December 30, 2004

Stingy aid

Seriously. So the U.S. pledges $15 million to a disaster relief effort that will cost somewhere in the BILLIONS of dollars. And we're supposed to jump up and down when the dollar figure is raised to $35 million? The NYTimes puts it best:
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.
I guess that's part of the shock. Many people have become so accustomed to thinking, "Oh, the U.S. is a huge superpower, so I'm sure they must give plenty of aid to others in need" I guess what's obvious to me isn't exactly the same to others. Do people REALLY think that we spend 24 percent of our budget on foreign aid? We give them nothing, which makes sense if you consider that most people see foreign aid as nothing more than handouts, which are despised by many on the right (and left). Of course, foreign aid is more than handouts, but that's a rant for another day.

The other disappointment from this scenario relates to the War on Terra. From an article in yesterday's Post:
Gelb said what appears to be a grudging increase in effort sends the wrong message, at a time when dollar totals matter less than a clear statement about U.S. intentions. Noting that the disaster occurred at a time when large numbers of people in many nations -- especially Muslim ones such as Indonesia -- object to U.S. policies in Iraq, he said Bush was missing an opportunity to demonstrate American benevolence.

"People do watch and see what we do," he said. "Here's an opportunity to remind people of the good we do, and he [Bush] can do it without changing his policy on Iraq or terrorism."
Juan Cole also has some interesting things to say:
If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising).
Is anyone else missing Bill Clinton right now? While some might mock all the trips that Clinton took to various parts of the world, they were definitely one of the reasons he was able to enjoy the international support that he did. Not only that, but would Clinton DARE to lowball an aid offer? And tarnish his good name? HA! Bush is working from the other direction, however. Offer just enough aid to get by, and not a penny more. And I believe it was Cheney who once told the preznit that "deficits don't matter", so why aren't we spending like there's no tomorrow? That's what we do in our own Congress, remember? Cole has more:
Indeed, the worst-hit area of Indonesia is Aceh, the center of a Muslim separatist movement, and a gesture to Aceh from the US at this moment might have meant a lot in US-Muslim public relations. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sniffed around Aceh in hopes of recruiting operatives there, being experts in fishing in troubled waters. Doesn't the US want to outflank al-Qaeda? As it is, the president of the United States is invisible and on vacation (unlike several European heads of state), and could think of nothing better to do than announce a paltry pledge. As Harris and Wright rightly say, the rest of the world treated the US much better than this after September 11.
Looks like not even the War on Terra can interfere with the President's vacation. Way to stay the course, sir!

EDIT: That Daily Kos is linking to the same articles as I am!

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