Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Bush to America: We're broke; You pay for tsunami aid

As of September, 2004 the Iraq war and subsequent occupation cost $119 billion (source: factcheck.org). The US deficit for fiscal year 2004 was $422 billion (source: CBO), the largest deficit ever recorded (though not a record on a percentage-of-GDP basis).

After the massive tsunami disaster in Asia, the United States promised $35 million in aid. The UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, then quite appropriately admonished all rich nations for not offering more aid. The Bush administration then increased their donation to $350 million.

The $35 million offer is outlandish in its insincerity. But even the increased $350 million is a shameful, shameful pittance. Let's put our apparent priorities into perspective:

$350 million in aid vs Iraq's $119 billion == 0.29%

Our aid package is less than one percent of what we've spent on Iraq. That's 340 times more money for Iraq than we've pledged to help the hundreds of thousands suffering in Asia. Another $60 billion is allocated for Iraq in 2005 (with some going to Afghanistan). Yet we can only offer $350 million as an initial donation? Japan - hardly known throughout the world as a generous nation - increased its initial $30 million pledge to $500 million. Shame on us.

The Bush administration's solution then is to ask private citizens to pay for disaster relief ourselves. Should private citizens and corporations contribute to disaster relief? Without a doubt.

But how aggravating and ingenuous is it of our President to implore the citizens of this country to give all they can when his own administration has fallen so far short of the mark? We are a generous, good-hearted people. And our government is the most powerful aggregation of our collective resources and wealth. Our government is the tool through which we can help the rest of the world. This administration should be leading the way rather than just imploring the rest of us to do what's right.

I'm not so naive as to think we can just magically hand over any sum of money we choose. Of course there are consequences. But when our deficit has already reached $422 billion it's hard to argue that another one, two, or even five billion dollars in aid would make much of a difference to our bottom line. The international respect that a genuine aid package would garner would have been worth the cost. But now it's too late. Our bad reputation has been made even worse.

And of course the US is mustering its military forces to aid however it can. This certainly is admirable and significant. But even taking this into account, we're still not doing enough. When Congress weighs in on the aid package they'll have an opportunity to increase it as they deem fit. Let's hope they show the world some leadership.

I didn't want my tax dollars to be wasted on Iraq but they were. I do want my tax dollars to be spent as international aid but that's not really happening. How fucked up is that?


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