Desperately Seeking Dubya


WASHINGTON, D.C.—President Bush’s disappearing act in the face of one of the world’s greatest natural catastrophes in recent memory just raises new questions about what he’s all about. For the rich blue blood to kick back on his Texas ranch while an entire region of the globe attempts to recover from the tsunami that appears to have killed more than 100,000 people—many of them children—is beyond belief.

The president did pause to call for a coordinated disaster relief team, but it wasn’t enough to keep even bureaucrats in Washington from finding his behavior odd. “Kind of freaky” was the way one of them put it to The Washington Post.

While Bush stayed home, his aides were playing politics, looking askance at the move by former president Clinton, who almost immediately spoke up from Great Britain about the need for coordinated international response. “Actions speak louder than words,” a top Bush aide told the Post, referring to Bush’s view of his appropriate role. But by the time the White House had started damage control on its tsumani response, Clinton, not Bush, had become the voice of the American conscience.

The U.S. is formally pledged to give upwards of $35 million in relief, compared to the EU’s $40 million and Japan’s $30 million. And when you compare the tsunami aid with spending on the Iraq war, for which Congress has appropriated $80 billion-plus, our contribution is peanuts. Even compared with this year’s Wall Street bonuses, totaling $15.9 billion, it seems piddling.

American officials are talking about eventually giving $1 billion in aid over, but that will have to be approved by Congress.

As for the U.N. official’s comment on Monday about us being stingy, the president had little patience. “Well, I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed,” Bush told the AP from his Texas ranch. “We’re a very generous, kindhearted nation, and, you know, what you’re beginning to see is a typical response from America.”

After the tidal wave, South Asia faces a health crisis of scarcely imaginable proportions due to the lack of clean drinking water.

In part that shortage has to do with sanitation systems wrecked by the disaster, but South Asia was already facing a water crisis more intense than in many other places. While global water consumption is expected to double every 20 years, more than one billion people in the world now cannot obtain fresh drinking water. An analysis of the world’s water supply issued in October 2000 by the World Resources Institute states that overall the system is so degraded that “its ability to support human, plant, and animal life is greatly in peril. The poor nations of South Asia face a water crisis even more severe than in other parts of the world. It is caused by industrial agriculture, with its massive reliance on polluting pesticides and fertilizers, along with industrial development occasioned, at least in part, by the export of manufacturing industries from developed countries like the U.S.”

Any meaningful response to this crisis will require the extended assistance of places like the United States, which can afford to help, and which now profit from the region’s cheap labor.