Since Christmas night, when I first heard of the massive earthquake off of Indonesia and that several hundred people might have been killed by a massive tsunami, I have watched the numbers climb. The numbers killed have worn me down and somewhat numbed me in a way that I can only think about this tragedy and very little about what is happening in normal, day to day life.
This must be one of the worst natural disasters of all time, and George Bush decided to stay home clearing brush on his land and enjoying good, safe times with his family. George Bush has me beat on religion, particularly in the clever ways he publicly displays his faith, but I am drawn to what he said in one of the presidential debates with Al Gore when Bush said that Jesus was his favorite philosopher.
What would Jesus do now, Mr. President? Would he have gone about his normal day and routine, waiting to hear news about just how big this whole thing was, before he uttered a word about one of the most horrific natural disasters of all time?
I wrote something on the day of the quake — but I have been unable to write about this tragic situation since and haven’t wanted to address other public policy questions I have been working on. Everything seems so small compared to what everyone is seeing on television now. And what we are seeing in Phuket is the manageable, relatively ordered side of this debacle. The worst are in those places in Indonesia where tens of thousands died, but without the networks of support and media that Thailand has been able to muster.
Phuket was bad, but it’s clear to me that there are places that were several orders of magnitude worse and we aren’t seeing much of that on television.
It sickens me that Fox News is wrapped up in whether it was appropriate or not for a United Nations official to call American aid levels stingy. I admire Jan Egeland who made the comment because his job is to get aid to those people and places hit by this quake and tsunami — and his comments shamed American policymakers into immediately doubling what we had previously offered.
And still, this paltry commitment of official U.S. dollars is less than the cost of the parties of next month’s inauguration for President Bush’s second term.
I have two short thoughts on this.
First, before the first Gulf War, Japan was ridiculed by many for not doing more to contribute to the world’s coming collision with Saddam Hussein. Richard Solomon, then Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific and now President of the U.S. Institute of Peace, admitted that he had prodded Japan publicly for not putting its soldiers on the line in the Gulf War — and shamed them into contributing $13 billion in cash for the effort. The Japanese people were the only citizens on the planet to impose a tax on themselves to pay for that war. Japan actually did a great number of things proactively before the Gulf War went hot — offered desalinization facilities and gas masks as well as conducted a huge global survey of supplies and sources for materials needed in desert combat.
But the bottom line is that Richard Solomon wanted money from Japan, not soldiers, not gas masks, not desalinization facilities — he wanted the cash. By publicly embarrassing Japan, Solomon got what he wanted. Jan Egeland did the same.
Secondly, America is supposedly great at complex systems integration. We have financial resources to offer, as do many other countries, but the skill set that this country has to offer is managing the integration of many processes into one powerful effort that can produce a sum far, far greater than its parts. Why are we not in the center of this massive response and recovery effort, acting as the systems integrator for the world’s contributions to the region?
We are not there because our President does not understand or fathom the technical competencies of this nation that he leads. We should be out in front ferociously and vigorously helping these people. It cannot be allowed to stand that the American president can act indifferently to 116,000 plus dead, many more injured, in one of the greatest natural disasters of our time. What was he thinking?
When the much more minor earthquakes hit Los Angeles, splitting my living room wall, killing many in a Northridge apartment complex, and causing part of the Santa Monica Freeway to collapse, Japanese firms cancelled many of their parties and donated the funds to local charities helping those who had been harmed by that earthquake. This was a good idea — and I want my Japanese friends to know that I and many others remember well their generosity.
George Bush has been anointed and sworn in once already. Some great parties were had in this town. We don’t need a second round.
President Bush, ask those who have raised the $50 million for your inauguration to add it to that which individuals and taxpayers have put forward to help those who have had their lives, families, and homes destroyed.
Cancel your parties and demonstrate for the entire world what compassionate conservatism, and a compassionate America, really are.
That kind of gesture would be a far more successful stabilizer of global affairs than the next $50 BILLION your request from Congress for our war in Iraq.
– Steve Clemons