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January 03, 2005

Responding to Pressure

The Poor Man observes that John Podhoretz is off the ball. Here Podhoretz is on December 31, attacking those who wish the United States to give not minimal but substantial aid to the victims of the South Asian tsunami:

New York Post Online Edition: commentary: THE political and ideological exploitation of perhaps the worst natural disaster in all our lifetimes is almost beyond belief — were it not for the fact that nothing these days is beyond belief. Even as tears spring into the most hard-hearted person's eyes at both the unimaginable scope of the tragedy and at the wrenching individual stories of loss, opinion leaders just can't help themselves. They are using this cataclysm as little more than cheap debate fodder about the nature and character of the United States, its president and its citizens.

Don't misunderstand. It is fine and proper to have a debate and discussion about the degree of generosity the United States could, should and must show in the wake of this literally earth-shaking event. But at this moment, the United States is not the issue. The foreign-aid budget of the United States is not the issue. Our government should not be the focal point of the discussion right now.

Don't we owe the dead, dying and injured the minimal grace not to convert their suffering into a chat-show segment — the latest left-right clash over the Bush presidency?...

Here is the Washington Times--which did get the memo--on January 1:

U.S. pledges $350 million relief - The Washington Times: Nation/Politics - January 01, 2005: President Bush yesterday announced that the United States will commit $350 million to help tsunami victims in the Indian Ocean region, more than the combined contributions of Europe's richest nations. "Our contributions will continue to be revised as the full effects of this terrible tragedy become clearer," Mr. Bush said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this epic disaster."... The United States pledged $4 million the day after the tsunami struck. That amount was increased to $15 million on the second day of the crisis and to $35 million on the third day. Mr. Powell said yesterday's "tenfold increase" in U.S. aid "is indicative of American generosity, but it also is indicative of the need, as the need is great and not just for immediate relief but for long-term reconstruction, rehabilitation, family support, economic support that's going to be needed for these countries to get back up on their feet."

And the Poor Man says:

The Poor Man: Message Reversal: It's not pretty, but it's the way things work. Governments have to give out large chunks of money in response to tragedies like this one, because governments and governments alone have the crazy money that can make a difference.... John Podhoretz's bawling that criticizing the President's selective moral concern = hating dead babies is the sign that political pressure is being felt, and the Moonie Times' oo-ing and ah-ing... is the sound of the pressure doing its job. Again, not nice to look at, but it moved $300+ million in the right direction...

But Podhoretz needs to be ore on the ball: if he wants to survive, he needs to learn when it is time to switch and start saying that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

Posted by DeLong at January 3, 2005 09:53 AM

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Personally, i don't think that podhoretz is smart enough to be that on the ball.

Posted by: howard at January 3, 2005 10:01 AM

The U.S. upping the aid package is clearly a sign that the criticism worked. The Bushies just can't resist the opportunity to say how much more generous they are than other countries. Sorry, no mention of how Japan gave more, and that per capita, we're still behind in the giving.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope at January 3, 2005 10:59 AM

Actually, the US contributions have been so stingy that it would not have been difficult for private charity to have come up with far more substantial sums. If 100 million Americans write a check for ten dollars, that's a billion dollars.

We can predict that Bush will not come through with the full $350 million. As with Africa, where the promised sums never materialized, I'd be surprised if Bush permits more than a tenth of the promised amount reach the disaster area. Much of it will be misdirected into military aid or placed in the pockets of US corporate donors.

I resent the abrogation of responsibility by the US government. This puts the onus for caring for the poor and the distressed on a relative few. Meanwhile, the most selfish and cynical take a free ride on our backs. Were it not for private charity, Americans would be welcome nowhere.

Posted by: Charles at January 3, 2005 11:11 AM

Sorry, I stopped reading the first sentence after he wrote "perhaps the worst natural disaster in all our lifetimes." He presumably couldn't be bothered to research where this disaster actually ranks, figured that it's the worst one that *he* can remember, and added "perhaps" just in case there were some other ones. Given the sloppy background work, why should I assume to find anything of value in what follows?

I'm not a paid journalist, so I apologize for mistakes in the following, but it is important to understand the scope of this disaster. (Why important? Well, for one thing, it brings us back to reality and saves us from blathering on David Brooks-fashion about God and Nature when we ought to be figuring out how to help.)

Here's what I found. I appreciate corrections:

This looks like the largest immediate loss of life from natural disaster in over a decade. According to the following article (found easily through google) it's the most deadly tsunami ever. http://www.nbc10.com/news/4030540/detail.html Bangladesh has had at least two floods exceeding the current death toll from the tsunami. An earthquake killed at least 255,000 people in Tianjin, China in 1976. Some estimates put the number at over 600,000 http://www.disasterrelief.org/Disasters/010417quakes2001/ I'd say that this was "perhaps" the worst natural disaster in my lifetime if the larger figure holds, but there are those alive who might remember much larger ones. (e.g. 3 million deaths from Yangtze River flooding in 1931).

Posted by: Paul Callahan at January 3, 2005 11:36 AM

Bush and the US were lobbed a huge softball to repair world relations and score points with the Muslim world. Maybe Bush is just now realizing the political points to be gained by US leadership. Remember his father lost many political points for failure to respond to a devastating hurricane in a timely fashion. Imagine if al Jazeerah were broadcasting footage of American soldiers rushing relief supplies to mosques and Red Crescent in Indonesia instead of blowing up Muslim cities in Iraq.

Posted by: bakho at January 3, 2005 11:39 AM

Funny how you wake up one day and what was vital (and annoying) is suddenly moribund. Thus Decter and Podhoretz. They have been retired almost overnight, haven't they! They'll go on opining, but their irrelevance has caught up with them. They're (never thought I'd say this) FUNNY.

Posted by: PW at January 3, 2005 11:42 AM

I don't see the point. The US gov't was in early with large sums in cash (not with huge commitments, but rather with large sums), and later committed huge sums and an enormous assistance force in a matter of short days. They did this FAST, certainly as fast as any other national government. It's true that the verbal commitment to huger sums was slower for the US than for other government, but this hardly seems significant so long as the actual funds were provided, increased to meet the need, and then the commitment was made.

Other national governments have been wonderful in their responses as well.

Frankly, I see nothing but praise for all the helping governments involved.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 3, 2005 11:45 AM

Anonymous, the critiques are: a.) bush failed to grasp the severity of the disaster; b.) by failing to grasp it and instead continuing to clear brush and ride bicycles (or whatever he does all day down in crawford), bush showed the rest of the world what he thinks about deaths that aren't of americans; c.) by failing to respond in a meaningful way, bush lost a chance to appeal to Muslims around the world; d.) by failing to respond in a timely way, bush lost a chance to prove that he really does care about humanitarians considerations, and that his blather about iraq wasn't just an attempt to hide the fact that he exaggerated the wmd threat.

it's about leadership, and for the umpteenth time, bush proved he doesn't have any....

Posted by: howard at January 3, 2005 12:05 PM

And by upping the ante only after serious pressure to do so (both domestically and internationally), he lost the moral high ground and made it seem as though the money was being provided reluctantly rather than generously.

While Bush has publicly pooh-poohed "I feel your pain" responses as propaganda, this was a situation that merited, even required, exactly such a response.

Bush was handed an opportunity on a silver platter and he fumbled it. Belated generosity won't remove the initial sting and the initial confirmation of his role as "ugly American" everywhere around the world.

Posted by: PaulB at January 3, 2005 02:02 PM

And if this perception of Bush seems unfair, because once upon a time four days was "an immediate response," well, tough, no one forced GWB to run for president. He gets to make some of the rules but not all of them.

Posted by: sm at January 3, 2005 02:18 PM

Is there a media outlet that is aggregating the donation volume from all US sources and presenting that as the measure of the generousity of the population of the US?

Why should the US govt take money from me involuntarily, to give to Indonesians or anyone else? I've gladly given money directly by contributing to the Red Cross. There is no govt silly-string attached to Red Cross money (e.g. money that can only be used to buy goods from US miliary contractors).

Posted by: another libertarian bob at January 3, 2005 05:43 PM

Here is a thought, bob, maybe there is something to be gained by all Americans when our government lends a hand. Why rely on the whims of libertarians, or pin our hopes on their republican doppelgangers, when we need a national showing? No matter what you and the rest of the randians believe, nations matter, and a great deal more than people like you will ever be willing to acknowledge.

Posted by: masaccio at January 3, 2005 07:25 PM

A.L.B. wrote: "Why should the US govt take money from me involuntarily, to give to Indonesians or anyone else?"

Because it is in the best interests of the U.S. and its citizens to do so.

Posted by: PaulB at January 4, 2005 06:49 AM

Well, according to the news today the money is coming out of an already-existing appropriation for something called roughly the "US International Aid Agency" or whatever. (I don't know how to hyperlink to a hardcopy newspaper ;>).

That agency has a total to-give budget of 384 million, so they are sortof unhappy to say the least.

And we also see where that number came from: "Hey Dick, I gotta do something but I don't want to spend any money. What's already appropriated?"

We'll see, as has been discussed, if that agency gets "topped off" when the Great Imperialist Off-Budget Crusade gets its next blood transfusion.

But that idea came from the Democratics, so it will be dismissed on those grounds alone.

Posted by: a different chris at January 4, 2005 07:02 AM

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