5 January 2005

beating around the Bushes in a catastrophe

There is a proposition floating around that it is wrong to criticise George Bush for his tardness in recognising the scale of Indian Ocean tsunami. The Un commented on the stinginess of the rich countries in general, and Bush, moved eprhaps by a guilty conscience, snapped back:

Bush on Wednesday dismissed suggestions that America was stingy as "misguided and ill-informed" and set off alarm bells in the relief community by announcing he had assembled a core group of Australia, India, Japan and the United States to coordinate the relief effort.

The move prompted speculation that Bush hoped to supplant the United Nations, which has taken the lead in coordinating natural disaster relief for the past five decades.

But Powell said the group had been formed only because Washington saw a need for a coordination mechanism consisting of countries in the region "with assets, experience and capability that could be brought to bear right away."

The group "might expand slightly but in due course we hope the core group will work itself out of business because we will have brought all of the international organizations into play under the overall supervision and leadership of the United Nations," Powell said.

Comes now Colin Powell, to tell a stunned world:

Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Tuesday he hoped American aid for Asia's tsunami victims would strengthen U.S. and regional security by removing any discontent that could fuel terrorism.

Powell, touring three countries ravaged by the Dec. 26 disaster in which about 150,000 people were killed, said Washington had sent money, ships, helicopters and aircraft for humanitarian reasons.

But there were U.S. and regional security interests in providing aid to help countries recover from such disasters, he told a joint news conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda in Jakarta.

"We hope that through these efforts people will see that the United States is committed to helping those who are in poverty, to those who are not able to educate their children, to those who are looking for jobs and need a country that is based on law and order," said Powell.

"We believe it is in the best interest of those countries and it's in our best interest and it dries up those pools of dissatisfaction which might give rise to terrorist activity," he said.

It seems strange that the Bush administration can argue that disaster relief is actually a security matter and that its partisans then demand that such efforts be above criticism. Evading criticism led directlyto the Iraqi diaster. Democracries are supposed to flourish on criticism and George Bush is not supposed to be, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion.

For the record, New Zealand blogger, No Right Turn has put together a table giving current aid cmmitments on a per capita basis. At the time Bush sought control of the aid effort through the core group the US was not, and still is not, the largest aid contributor. Other than the customary backhander to the UN, what is the core group for? Is Bush proposing to send Halliburton into Aceh to repeat their sterling performance in Iraq?

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