By Justyn Dillingham
The world is still – literally – ringing from the aftermath of last month’s tsunami, an apocalyptic earthquake-generated tidal wave that swept through southern Asia and killed more than 150,000 people.
Chilling images of the tragedy, which struck 13 countries around the Indian Ocean, were broadcast around the globe. It soon became clear that this was the most devastating natural disaster in decades.
Donors everywhere were quick to open their hearts and their purses – with the notable exception of the richest country in the world.
In the wake of the tsunami disaster, President Bush had a golden opportunity to restore the reputation of the United States, which he seriously damaged with his ill-advised and arrogant war on Iraq.
In a few days, he could have made a serious assault on the deep enmity felt for our country in many parts of the world – some of which is due to envy of our power and prosperity, and more of which is due to resentment of our one-dimensional foreign policy.
Instead, he managed to blunder almost every step of the way.
First, he failed to make a statement about the crisis for nearly three days. In a scene reminiscent of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” while the rest of the world reeled in shock, Bush was relaxing at his ranch in Texas.
When he finally got around to addressing the disaster, his initial pledge was astonishingly miserly: $15 million. Evidently the Ghost of Christmas Future made a late visit to the Oval Office, because Bush had a subsequent change of heart and upped the pledge to $35 million on Dec. 29. For a nation that drops $45 million on the military every hour, that’s still not much of a donation.
Finally, after thoroughly embarrassing the rest of us with his stinginess, Bush pledged $350 million – only then to be dwarfed by Australia, Germany and Japan, who donated $764 million, $664 million, and $500 million, respectively.
What happened? Team Bush is so laser-focused on the war on terrorism that they were simply ill-equipped to handle a humanitarian mission.
Whether or not one agrees with the president’s foreign policies, it’s impossible to deny that he’s made himself an unpopular man in many parts of the world. More importantly, he’s also made the United States unpopular.
If the United States had rushed to the aid of the tsunami victims, we would have considerably improved our reputation in a region of the world that doesn’t exactly associate us with generosity.
We’re a long way from the America that generously stepped in to rebuild a ruined Europe after World War II. According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States contributes 15 percent of the world’s foreign aid – a far cry from 1950, when it contributed 95 percent.
All we had to do was respond the way we did half a century ago and we would have gone a long way toward regaining some of the global goodwill we attracted after Sept. 11 – and that we squandered in the following years.
There’s only one bright spot to this debacle: Ordinary Americans reacted with genuine feeling and empathy to the disaster. U.S. charities raised more than $337 million to help tsunami victims, making it possibly the greatest sum of aid ever collected for a foreign crisis.
It’s enough to make you wish we’d elected one of those ordinary Americans instead.