As the body count from the tsunami rises, America's international reputation plummets to new depths, thanks to the Bush administration's smugly incompetent response.
While other world leaders immediately put forward action plans and solid donations, Bush has spent most of the past critical week on holiday at his Texas "ranch," riding his mountain bike and avoiding the press. Predictably, only allegations of stinginess increased the White House's initial measly offer of $15 million for the relief effort to a grand total of $35 million.
But it's unfair to say the Bush administration is stingy - it just has different priorities. The White House has so far requested roughly $100 billion for the occupation of Iraq in FY 2005, which translates to about $8.3 billion per month, or over $270 million per day (eighteen times more than the administration's first offer of help to tsunami victims). And that's only Iraq. The US military budget request for FY 2005 was 420.7 billion dollars - double that of China, Russia, the UK, France and Germany combined.
Of course, perpetual war requires a lavish arsenal so the US spends further billions each year perfecting its weapons of mass destruction. In 2004 alone, a full $6 billion was earmarked for federal biological weapons programs, dedicated to destructive pursuits including bringing back elements of the 1918 Spanish flu (which killed 40 million people) and producing even deadlier strains of anthrax. Meanwhile the US budget for nuclear-weapon activities in fiscal 2004 topped $6 billion, which is twelve times more than it spent on securing/reducing existing stockpiles or on non-proliferation efforts. Also factor in the $10 billion Bush requested in FY 2005 for his failed missile "defense" program, a budget almost double what the Department of Homeland Security pays for the crucial activities of customs and border patrol.
In other words: it's not a problem of money. The Bush administration has ample funding available for war and increasingly barbaric means of killing, just not much left over to help out in global humanitarian catastrophes.
How ironic that Bush uses Christianity as a cynical PR tool but fails to grasp the biblical proportions of this tsunami disaster. How glaring that the administration brags about its superior morality and devotion to family values, but shows no empathy in the face of overwhelming human tragedy. And how embarrassing that after the outpour of love and support the US received with 911, this is all our government can come up with in return.
Heather Wokusch is a free-lance writer. She can be contacted via her web site: www.heatherwokusch.com.