In the three weeks following the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck Southeast Asia there has been ample discussion over the amount of money each country has given to the relief efforts. The controversy was started by the words of U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, who said on December 27, a day after the tsunami, “It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really. Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least, (of) how rich we have become.” The next day though Egeland retracted his prior statement, remarking, “The international assistance that has come and been pledged from the United States, from Europe and from countries in the region has also been very generous.”
The fact that Egeland apologized and retracted his remarks should have been the end of the story, but it was too late, because the media was already running his first comments incessantly. Feeding off the media frenzy the president’s critics had a line of attack on him, and accused his foreign policy of being negligent of those most in need. Among their chief points was the Administration’s alleged lack of attention to the situations in Darfur, Haiti, and of course, Southeast Asia. Sadly, those critics were looking to score cheap political points and decided to ignore the reality of the situation in those various regions.
In Southeast Asia, the U.S. military, acting as a relief agency, were some of the first outsiders to survey the damage and provide relief to the area. The head of the U.N. operation in Indonesia noted “It’s absolutely life saving. We are thrilled that Americans are doing that. They are the only ones who have the capacity to reach those parts of the population right now.” Egeland added to the praise saying “The American helicopters are worth their weight in gold.” Administration critics though looked past the lifesaving done by the U.S. military and instead acted like a Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officer and looked straight to the bottom line. They ignored the work of the brave men and women serving in our military and concluded that the U.S. pledge of $350 million was not enough.
Never mind the fact that donating a large amount of money won’t do very much good if the relief workers cannot get to the people in need of help.
These sort of critics oppose the President regarding everything he does and cannot envision him doing anything right in the international community. They would much rather see the United Nations playing the leading role in the relief effort, which means they were especially torn on December 29 when the United States announced that it had created an informal core group of countries, with Australia, India, and Japan, as the first wave of serious international response to the situation.
Then, on January 6th, an entire week and a half after the disaster happened; the United Nations was finally able to take charge of the relief efforts.
In the other areas of the world that critics claim the U.S. is neglecting there has been none-to-little progress made by the U.N. In the Darfur region of Sudan the Sudanese government continues to arm a militia responsible for the slaughter of thousands of people and the displacement of a million more. The Security Council though refuses to pass U.S. sponsored sanctions on the genocidal Sudanese government. Meanwhile in Haiti, the United Nations has actually achieved some success by managing to get Haiti’s leaders to sign a plan for elections later this year. During 2004, the U.S. contributed over $113 million to Haiti, and is going to give $150 million in 2005. Such statistics hardly make a case that these places are not cared about by the United States. Also, it should not be forgotten that the United States still pays for 25 percent of the United Nation’s regular budget and 31 percent of the peacekeeping budget.
Sadly, this unnecessary debate over ill-founded claims of negligence occurred because of Egeland’s comments and because of the impatience of some with their government’s response to an ever-changing situation. This is disturbing because countries should be given time to evaluate and analyze frequently changing situations before making financial commitments. Then countries should make donations based on what they can give and in what form they can give it.
After all of that, if the people don’t like the actions of their government, then they can complain and/or be like the millions of Americans, who have privately given over $337 million. Along with the government’s $350 million, the U.S. donation of over $687 million may not be the most, but it sure is not stingy.
Russell is a LSA freshman and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.