Saturday, January 08, 2005

Tsunami and Iraq


Stingy or Not?
On December 27th the White House announced its support for the tsunami disaster relief in South Asia by donating $15 million. The day after the announcement, while the world was still coming to grips with the extent of the disaster, a frustrated United Nation official Jan Egeland called the United States announcement “stingy”. Egeland’s statement, a Norwegian who heads the United Nations' humanitarian-aid activities, marks the ongoing tensions between the White House and the UN, which played itself out in yet another worldwide issue.

What followed that statement was a rebuttal by the White House while the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powel met with Kofi Annon in New York for damage control a few days later. Within two days, the donation pledged was more than doubled to $35 million. However, the amount still did not justify the images of heartache and shocking vacation videos played on television screens during the nightly news.

The pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer Inc. which had just suffered a blow from a recent Food and Drug Administration report on its pain relief drug Celebrex, jumped on the opportunity for some good public relation maneuvering. Pfizer offered $25 million for the relief effort and encouraged its employees to do the same with a matching gift program. Regardless of the reasoning behind Pfizer’s announcement, they single handedly challenged the United States of America on taking the lead on contributing money and help in South Asia.

Eventually, the American people pitched in to the extent which the outpouring of donations of food, medicine and money out paced the distribution channels in the region. Currently Doctors Without Borders urges donors to contribute to its general fund to help with their other ongoing projects globally as they have been well supported in South Asia. On a much smaller scale, I covered an assignment for the Associate Press in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn on December 31st. Approximately a dozen children with, a non-profit organization baked cookies, brownies and cupcakes to sell door to door to raise funds for children in the tsunami hit areas. I was touched by the generosity of this poor neighborhood of Brooklyn. It seemed as if they were waiting for somebody to show up so they could shower them with whatever change they had in their pockets.

As we speak, the United States Marines and Navy are in full force, taking the lead in relief work, dropping food, and transporting the sick in the hardest hit areas. Colin Powel has personally visited the region and the victims. The money and help is coming in the way that is expected of America and Americans.

The issue is not that the White House is or was “stingy”. The issue is foreign policy and people who advise the President on such matters. The issue is proper assessment of the situation and rushing to announce ill-fated communication. This is the same administration who insisted on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This is the same White House with false intelligence on almost everything in Iraq. This is the same group of advisers around President Bush who are responsible for the death of over 1,300 American service men and women and God only knows how many thousands and thousands of Iraqis.

The issue is that we are the wealthiest and the most capable of all nations in the world, yet President Bush can not obtain proper briefing on the magnitude of the largest natural disaster in the world. This is no different than Iraq when it comes to intelligence gathering prior to start of the war.

So far, the legacy is ‘bad data in bad data out’.

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