How much would be “enough?”
Senator Patrick Leahy perfectly captured world opinion when he said he “went through the roof when I heard them bragging about $35m. We spend $35m before breakfast in Iraq.” But the United States wasn’t the only country caught behind the public opinion 8-ball. Practically every Western government has had to ratchet up to avoid being embarassed by their own citizen’s generosity.
George Bush’s original response of $35m wasn’t stingy, it was uncalculated. As often seems to be the case, he was on vacation when it hit the fan, and he hadn’t really got the whole picture yet. But how much, exactly, would be “enough?”
I honestly believe it was the first number that popped into his head. When it became plain that American corporations’ donations would easily top the $100m mark, Bush multiplied by ten and came up with three hundred fifty million dollars.
Now that’s reaching a bit deeper into the ol’ pocket. But when Bush announced that the US, India, Japan, and Australia would coordinate the relief effort, he was criticized for “undermining the UN” in a crisis where it was exclusively the UN’s role to respond.
(If you have been following the UN “oil-for-food” scandal you understand why our president might not jump at the chance to hand over huge amounts of cash to the UN right now. Maybe after a change of leadership. Even George Bush can recognize corruption when he sees it in someone else’s camp.)
Not all aid can be measured in money. We’ve sent an aircraft carrier to desalinate seawater for people to drink. Huge US cargo planes took off hours after the accident to move what resources could be collected toward the affected area. Satellite data was made available almost instantly. In fact, much of our navy in the area almost immediately began steaming toward the disaster zone.
It’s traditional to make predictions at the new year, and here are mine:
- No matter how much aid we give, it won’t be enough to satisfy some people
- A tsunami warning system will be built in the area, and the US will be a major contributer to it
- Since many of the countries hit were friendly toward the US, Islamists will say this was Allah’s punishment
- US fundamentalists will say something similar, only the god and the reason will be different
- The art of “disaster relief administration” will be greatly advanced by this experience. It could serve as an opportunity for nations to improve their information-sharing and handling of aid.