Published on Friday, December 31, 2004 by The Progressive
Bush Bumbles Disaster Relief
by Matthew Rothschild
It took Bush four days to rouse himself from languor and address one of the greatest disasters of the last 100 years.
And when he did so, he was his usual truculent self, labeling the U.N. relief official who called Western countries stingy as “very misguided and ill-informed.”
Bush said that the U.S. gives more aid than any other country or groups of countries, though the EU gives more than we do, as The New York Times pointed out in an editorial.
And as a proportion of GDP, the United States ranks at the bottom of the scale in aid among industrialized countries. Many give almost three times what Washington does, by this scale.
At his press conference Bush boasted about the $35 million (though, according to the official White House website transcript, he misspoke and said “billion” instead of “million”) that the United States has already pledged, and vowed that this was just the beginning.
But $35 million is a paltry sum when you consider the U.S. budget is $2 trillion and when you consider the crying need for emergency aid right now.
It’s also a paltry sum in comparison to the $13 billion that went to Florida for hurricane relief, but that was during the election season, and Sri Lankans and Indonesians and Indians don’t vote here.
Or contrast the $35 million to the $100 billion a year the U.S. is spending for Bush’s misbegotten war and occupation in Iraq. It’s about one three-thousandth the amount.
In typical Republican fashion, Bush stressed the importance of private, voluntary aid, as opposed to public aid, and so he urged Americans to give generously. “It’s very important for Americans who want to give to provide cash to organizations that will be able to focus resources and assets to meet specific needs,” he said.
While there is no reason why Americans who can afford it shouldn’t send money, our government has a much greater wherewithal to help solve this problem than individual Americans do.
Emergency humanitarian relief is one of those things that our government, as our collective representative, should take the lead on. Individuals don’t have an air force to deliver the aid.
Privatizing relief will not solve the problem of the millions of people in ravaged Asia now vulnerable to disease.
Bush should find money in the budget, or ask Congress for an emergency spending bill.
Trumpeting what “a very generous, kindhearted nation” we are won’t get it done. Nor will going back on vacation.
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