Blame America First!
Guess what, folks: George Bush and the evil United States didn't cause the tsunami. Without the U.S.'s generosity, those who suffer so grievously in that region would suffer even more. That's hard for the knee-jerk Bush hater to accept, and they're searching high and low for some way to blame the president (including his having the audacity--the gall! the insensitivity!--to go ahead with his inauguration) and the United States for something--anything--related to the tragedy in Asia.
Though the tsunami brought us stories both of horror and of kindness, "Not everyone distinguished himself," writes Peggy Noonan. "What to say of those who've latched on to the tragedy to promote their political agendas, from the U.N. official who raced to call the U.S. stingy, to the global-warming crowd, to administration critics who jumped at the chance to call the president insensitive because he was vacationing in Texas and didn't voice his sympathy quickly enough? Such people are slyly asserting their own, higher sensitivity and getting credit for it, which is odd because what they're actually doing is using dead people to make cheap points."
Andrew Natsios, the head of US Agency for International Development, lauded our generosity last night on the Newshour with an incredulous Gwen Iffil. It was a terrific interview. Natsios--who seems to be that rara avis: an international bureaucrat who doesn't look down on the United States--particularly addressed fellow U.N. bureaucrat Jan Egeland's slurs about U.S. stinginess:
NATSIOS: I have written books on this. I've been doing this work for 15 years. Jan Egeland is a friend of mine; we're the biggest donor to fund his office and his staff.
I called him and said, Jan, what are you talking about? He's talking about development assistance, not disaster relief. For disaster relief, it's simply nonsense. He doesn't know what the data shows.
If he did, he wouldn't have made that comment. He told me he was misquoted and he was speaking about development assistance.
What he did not know is that President Bush has arranged the largest increase in development assistance since Harry Truman.
The budget when Bill Clinton entered office for ODA, Official Development Assistance, which is an international formula used by 27 countries that are donor governments, was 10.6 billion dollars. In 2003, it was $24 billion.
You've had a 140 percent increase. We're well beyond what the president committed at Monterey and at Johannesburg. There is a huge effort to combat HIV/AIDS, the millennium challenge account. My food aid budget has been increased hugely. So Where Was God?
A lot of people, including my colleagues at Beliefnet, have been trying to fathom the theological meaning of the horror in Asia. As Janet Daly notes in the Daily Telegraph:
"Natural disasters make the best case for unbelief because they are not even susceptible to the theological explanation of human evil - that without the capacity to make immoral choices, men are not truly free: the ability to do good would be meaningless if we did not also have the ability to do evil.
"The whole point of the human condition is to choose to do what is right rather than what is wrong. But an earthquake has no motive and no free will. It just is what it is. A tsunami does what it does. It sweeps away the blameless and the helpless without reason. So where is the divine purpose in that?
"In fact, there is no logic in the sceptic's argument - or, at least, not the logic that he assumes. If terrible events are to constitute evidence that God does not exist, then every wonderful event - every cured cancer patient, every child rescued from a fire - has to be evidence that He does. The unbeliever would, by his own reasoning, have to accept that all the fortunate things that have ever happened were proofs of God. Not that the rising number of unbelievers is linked to rationalism.