Wednesday, December 29, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

I concur with Bryan of Arguing with signposts… and his assessment of the early warning problem and the tsunamis of earlier in the week. The bottom line is that when something like this happens, we want to blame somebody or something. It is, as I noted earlier, a key part of our modern mindset.

Bryan rightly dubs the speculation about might have been “irritating.”

Another irritating element of this story (from some quaters) are the gripes that a) Bush didn’t say something immediately (sorry, I really don’t expect, or want, an immediate reaction to everything in the world that happens from the President). Further, since any words he would utter are symbolic only (and the victims hardly have TVs to watch him on), then what difference does it makes whether there was an immediate reaction? I will grant that no doubt President Clinton would have been better at the cameras making a speech. Still, we are talking pure symbolism here.

Nevertheless, one gets thoughtful criticisms such as the following from MSNBC’s Eric Alterman:

Is this president interested only in killing people, [emphasis his] but can’t be bothered when given the chance to help save them? His morally callous parsimony in the face of this, the greatest natural disaster in modern history, seems determined to give the rest of that world exactly that impression. George W. Bush shames our nation with large talk and small deeds; with his want of character and smallness of spirit.

Then we get this genius advice from Juan Cole:

If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising).

Does Dr. Cole really think that what a disaster site needs right now is a visit from a foreign dignitary, with the security, pomp and whatnot that that would require? Does the Indonesian government really need to be distracted by such a visit? Should resources that are needed for diaster relief be diverted to deal with a visiting President? And if Bush did go, would he not be vilified for grandstanding? Cole knows more about the region than I ever will, and holds a far more prestigious position that I will ever have–nonetheless, his analytical powers on these kinds of issue fail to impress.

b) Another irritation is the immediate criticism that $15 million was a “paltry” sum (also a Cole criticism). My, but many are quick to criticize. As we know, the number is already at $35 million and will certainly rise from there (quite considerably). And, as I noted earlier, such a figure does not include all aid (such as food, transport costs, the services of the hospital on the USS Abraham Lincoln, private monies and so forth. Again, Cole allows his ideological blinders get in the way of his thinking: anyone who paused for a minute when the initial figure was announced would have known that figure would grow. It isn’t as if the President has a giant checkbook out of which he can write checks at will. Assessments have to be made and processes have to be followed.

I mean, gee whiz, people: the event took place late Christmas Day (our time)–about 4 days and two hours ago, more or less. Is it really reasonable to expect that by now we would already know how much money will be spent in aid? We don’t even know the extent of the damage yet.

And certainly, it is rather unfair to criticize the US and its relief efforts, at least in a comparative sense. As the NYT notes:

Andrew S. Natsios, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, said on Wednesday that American funds for disaster relief alone were $2.4 billion last year, 40 percent of the worldwide contributions for this purpose. “We are by far the largest donor,” he said. “No one even comes close to us.”

Now, one can criticize the whole of the international community for not giving enough in absolute terms, perhaps. However, no fair argument can state that the US is, any any relative sense, “stingy” with its aid money. Further, it is our military hardware (planes and ships) that often are the only mechanism for rapid distribution of aid.

A horrible tragedy has taken place: ultimately millions will be affected by these events, yet the first reaction of many is to use this event the criticize the President and the US in general. I simply don’t understand it.

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3 Responses to “More on the Politics of Disasters”

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  • pt
    1. Christopher Cross Says:

      Had Bush personally held back the flood waters, the left would fault him for the traffic jams such an event would cause.

    2. Meezer Says:

      They would have been right on board with the “We’re tired of Manna!” crowd, too.

    3. The Misanthrope Says:

      I went on a rant today about Bush’s lack of responsiveness he was more than a bit late for such disaster, not to mention, our standing in the world community is very low and every little thing will help, especially in the Muslim community.

      I have a question for you. Why is China not responding as the economic giant that they have grown to be?

      We very much enjoy your blog.

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