The worldwide outpouring of aid and sympathy for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami has been one of the most heartwarming news stories of week. Around the world, people opened their wallets with financial assistance to the stricken nations even as they flocked to prayer services at houses of worship. The United States topped the world in generosity that came not just from our government but from thousands of inviduals who tapped into their own pockets and credit cards. The online bookeller Amazon alone raised more than $6 million in 48 hours for the International Red Cross–all private donations from generous Americans.
Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the usual media gripers surfaced to find fault somehow with the American effort, and of course, with President Bush. First we had to listen to Jan Egeland, the Norwegian head of the U.N.’s humanitarian office, lecture us for our “stinginess”–that’s code for low tax rates. The U.N. idea is that we should pay up the wazoo to our government the way the Scandinavians do, which should then funnel the dough to the U.N. for its bureaucrats to dole out. No Amazon, no Red Cross, no faith-based charities, just big transfer payments to super-governmental organizations and plenty of jobs for those who work for them.
Then we had to hear about how the U.S. government–that is to say, Bush–didn’t do enough for the stricken victims. Here’s Nation columnist John Nichols carping:
“When other world leaders rushed to respond to the crisis caused by last Sunday’s tsunamis in southern Asia, George Bush decamped to his ranch in Texas for another vacation. For three days after the disaster, the only formal response from the White House was issued by a deputy press secretary. Finally, after a United Nations official made comments that seemed to highlight the disengaged nature of the official U.S. reaction to one of the worst catastrophes in human history, the president appeared at a hastily-scheduled press conference to grumble about how critics of his embarrassing performance were ‘misguided and ill-informed.'”
(Those “critics,” by the way, were Egeland and crew.) The idea, according to Nichols, seems to be that if Bush had flown from Crawford, Texas (where he was with his family on the day after Christmas when the earthquake struck–was there something wrong with that?), to Jakarta, he could have stretched out his arms over the sea and halted the waves. We know that Bush is religious, but he’s not God. Bush did initially pledge “only” $15 million in U.S. aid right after the quake and when the known death toll was perhaps a fifth of the 100,000-plus that it is now, but he quickly upped the U.S. ante to $350 million. That still doesn’t satisfy Nichols and the Nation-heads.
Then, propounding exactly the opposite view, are the critics who say that we’re doing too much for the tsunami-struck countries and hence ignoring disaster victims in other parts of the world. Here’s an editorial in todays’ Washington Post:
“[It’s] hard to avoid marveling at the haphazard pattern of global empathy. Around the world, disasters that cut short hundreds of thousands of lives unfold constantly — malaria kills 1 million people a year, AIDS kills about 3 million and the current genocide in Darfur has claimed perhaps 300,000 lives so far. Moreover, the tsunami is not the sort of disaster for which outside help is most crucial.”
The idea here is that Thailand, Indonesia, and India are relatively prosperous as Third World countries go, so we should let them fend for themselves.
So which is it, America-blamers? Are we not doing enough for the tsunami victims, or are we doing too much? Either way, the U.S. and the Bush administration lose as usual.
I say: let’s split the difference–keep the tsunami charity going but try some of that famous American “stinginess” on the U.N. As Mark Steyn writes in today’s Washington Times:
“That Pfizer has given $35 million, which is more than most G7 governments have chipped in, doesn’t mean anything. That Amazon.com’s customers donated more than $6 million in 48 hours doesn’t count. The ships and troops send by America are of no consequence. What Jan Egeland means when he talks of ‘stinginess’ is you’re not ponying up enough taxpayer bucks to his departmental budget. That’s the only measure of global compassion that matters, and he doesn’t want to have his time wasted with a lot of chit-chat about any of this other stuff: It’s my way or the highway, he says — if, indeed, such a thing is said in Norwegian. Anyway, it’s Norway or the doorway. As it happens, the United States pays 40 percent of Mr. Egeland’s budget. But, even if the budget was tripled and the U.S. paid 70 percent of it, that wouldn’t be enough.”
No, whatever America does is never enough.