Tsunami Relief and Missed Opportunities
Russell Berman of the Hoover Institution makes a couple of good points that I’d like to synthesize:
Lessons Learned from the Tsunami (The Stanford Daily)
As the toll from the tsunami continues to mount, it has become clear that this catastrophe was also a political turning point. No governments may have fallen, but some deeply held political myths and beliefs have not been able to withstand the force of the tidal wave that changed the world.
First and foremost, the myth of Islamic solidarity has been shattered. Even though most victims in Indonesia, the most populous Islamic country on the face of the earth, are Muslim, the support flowing from Arab governments has been pitifully small. The decades of petrodollars and the years of high gas prices have apparently not put the oil-rich Middle East in a position to afford to offer much help to Muslims in distress.
But as Islamic victims receive support from the non-Islamic world, the already dubious claim that the general opinion of Muslims in the Middle East might be predisposed to rise up against the West becomes simply untenable.
In the face of a real disaster, neither the fundamentalists nor the Baathists nor the anticolonialists have done much at all. In contrast, the energy of the Western relief effort is likely to put a deep dent in the anti-Western Ã¢€” and especially anti-American Ã¢€” propaganda of the Islamicists.
Second, the generosity of the developed world has been considerable, especially from such regional neighbors as Japan and Australia but also from the United States and Europe. The tendentious suggestion that the United States was Ã¢€œstingyÃ¢€ failed to note that the Ã¢€œold EuropeanÃ¢€ powers initially proposed relatively low offers of aid as well. Only as the real extent of the disaster became clear did these amounts grow to many times their original size.
When the Bush administration made its first commitment, critics argued that, by pledging at such a low level, it missed a golden opportunity to show genuine good will towards the Muslim world. I thought that some of these criticisms went too far, but the general point was taken: given our current foreign-policy priorities, perhaps we should have erred on the side of magnanimity.
On the other hand, we can probably say that the Muslim world missed a golden opportunity, as well. It could have shown up the “stingy” United States as it helped needy victims, but it apparently punted. In the long run, that might matter a great deal more than the administration’s starting point.