The Airing of Grievances
Monday, January 03, 2005
First, the Good News - Then Cozmo Rates Our Response
The good news is, aid seemed to finally be arriving to those most in need of it yesterday. All over the affected region, from Aceh Provence in Indonesia and Tamil controlled eastern Sri Lanka, to the Andaman islands. Even though, as the Indonesian head of CARE International has descibed the situation on the ground as "absolute chaos," US and other international relief efforts are reaching their targets. Although the picture is bleak right now, the world is stepping up like never before to help. As for words to discribe what is going on at the ground level in Aceh, I will turn to Seahawk pilot Lieutenant-Commander Joel Moss said from the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. "All the villagers started coming out of the woodwork, telling us they needed help. They said there were a lot more wounded people further inland up in the mountains." Clearly, people in the affected areas will be needing our help for some time.

An Indonesian man from a remote village in Aceh is carried from a US Seahawk helicopter in Banda Aceh to receive medical attention. Picture courtesy of Reuters

A few thoughts about the current aid program. Do I think the US and its people are doing enough to help? Certainly. Private people are opening their checkbooks and giving generously. Concern over the actual dollar figure donated by the US Government now is foolish. The key is that people get the help they need. In that respect, I am once again in awe of the ability of the US military (once directed to do so) to deliver. If pictures like the one above, or videos like this (click on Tsuamni Relief Arrives from 1/2/05) don't make you proud of our military, well then you are not a patriot.

My continuing issue is how distant the President's public persona about this tragedy. First off - during the first three days after the tsunami, even as evidence mounted that with was a disaster which the world had never seen, was totally unacceptable. England and France's prime ministers were in the open, motiving to help the area (if slowly), and Bush was clearing brush and riding bicycles. Also, he only authorized minimal funds be disbursed to the State Department for immediate relief, and then had his staff trumpet $15 million (less than half what will be spent on his inauguration in a month) as if it were the height of charity. This sent a message to the world that "It's really crappy what is happening in Southeast Asia, but hey man, I'm on vacation - Please leave a message and I'll get back to you later."

Then, on Wednesday, he finally roused from his vacation stupor, only to deliver a bombastic speech defending his lack of action for the first few days after the tsunami. During the speech, he upped our committed aid ten-fold. Also, as a balm, he chose to send his brother with White House whipping boy Colin Powell - nominally because of Jeb's experience with disaster relief, but really because he doesn't trust Colin Powell since he is outside of the Bush White House "Circle of Trust" (and once you leave the circle, you cannot get back in, ever). Personally, I don't dispute the fact that Jeb Bush, as governor of Florida, has as much experience in disaster relief as anybody. The problem is, the entire world is half-convinced of the idea that Bush fancies himself an emperor who inherited his title from his father. By sending his brother as his most trusted emissary - well, lets just say that it does nothing to disavow the world of its fears about Bush.

At the end of a week, we have one bizarrely worded speech from the President and numerous decisions of questionable merit. Moreover, I get the feeling that Bush is using this whole thing as a way to tweak the nose of the UN. In all, Bush's behavior has been almost entirely inappropriate.

In all, my grades for US response to this tragedy are as such:
US People - A - I didn't expect people would care this much to meek, poor people halfway around the globe. Bravo.
US Military - A+ - See above.
US President - D - Without his speech on Wednesday in front of his ridiculous "Western White House" banner, this would have been a solid F. Just failing America and the rest of the world again.
US State Department - B - Helping early and often, but clearly reigned in by the President's performance.
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