December 30, 2004

The Politics of Disaster

Greetings, Jawa Report Readers. I am Mike, otherwise known as The Maximum Leader from The good Dr. Rusty invited me to guest blog during his vacation, and I am now going to take him up on his offer. First I would like to tip my hat to the other guest bloggers here who have really done a tremendous job in Rusty’s absence. (Humm… Perhaps doing a better job than Rusty himself? Do I smell a coup?)

I wanted to comment on the ongoing tsunami disaster. I, aside from the feelings of compassion for the victims and survivors of the Asian Tsunami that we all feel, have some other comments to make on this disaster.

And by the way, check out the Command Post for a comprehensive listing of charities to which you could donate.

Some of the science concerning what has happened is quite fascinating. The Earth's rotation itself may have been affected. And islands around the earthquake area may have actually moved. Some islands, rather than moving, appear to have been swallowed by the sea.

Scientists also are reporting that while there will be aftershocks, they do not anticipate more killer waves. One hopes this is a minor blessing.

And, outside the science of the tsunami there is, as always, the politics of disasters. Much hay has been made concerning the "stingy" comment from Jan Egeland of the United Nations. At the time the comment was made the US had contributed $15 million to disaster relief. At the time the comment was made, that $15 million represented the largest donation from a western nation to date. The US has now donated $35 million to relief. President Bush pledges more money and other aid.

I was stung by the "stingy" comment. As were many others. That comment showed a number of things. First off it showed the insularity of the world in which so many UN officals live. They don't understand anything outside their organization, and they only see the UN as an altruistic world-government-in-waiting that only needs more money from rich countries to solve the world's problems.

The second thing it showed was a stupendous ignorance of how the US appropriates money. In case you didn't know (and I don’t suspect the informed readers of The Jawa Report wouldn’t know this), the President or Secretary of State don't just take money out of the Treasury and spend it. It is appropriated by Congress. It can only be appropriated by Congress. Every year the Congress appropriates money for the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) for disaster relief. Money is also appropriated for other departments to be spend for disaster relief. It is this previously appropriated money that is being spent now. Additional funds will need to be voted on and approved by Congress. And in case commentators didn't know it, Congress is not in session right now. Our nations law-makers (and money appropriators) are on holiday and will not be back until around January 10. This limits the amount of money the United States has to allocate to relief at this point. Why isn't that little tidbit being reported?

Do not fear, we will donate more. We will be the leader in this effort. Just as we always are. In 2004 nearly a quarter of all money given in relief for natural disasters around the world came from the US. We are the largest donor in these situations. We may have been a little slow to act (and even that claim is debatable), but we are in it for the long haul.

And all this talk of relief by governments doesn't even begin to count the millions that will come from normal Americans donating their own money from their own pockets to help those people around the world they've never met, seen, or in some cases heard of before. We are the most generous people in the world, and we rarely get credit for it.

Now I mentioned that we may have been a little slow on the uptake. I believe that President Bush was too slow in making some sort of visible public statement of compassion. I do not feel that the President doesn't feel compassion for the suffering (as was implied by Matt Lauer on the Today Show this morning – Lauer and his guests speculated that the President didn’t care because he didn’t know anything about the region). The President and his staff probably wanted to wait and get more information before speaking publicly about what the US response would be. While that may be a smart move tactically, it was not a smart move from the perspective of image-building. The President should have made some brief remarks sooner and said that details of the US response would be forthcoming.

I do not doubt that the role of the US will be great in this relief effort. I only hope that the full role of the US will be appreciated when all is said and done. That is very unlikely, but I can still hope.

Carry on.

This was cross posted on

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