- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The tsunami which struck South and Southeast Asia two years ago next Tuesday, killing approximately 220,000, seems to be off the minds of many governments. As the BBC reported this week, several countries have given only a small fraction of their tsunami-aid pledges. Communist China pledged $301 million to Sri Lanka but has so far delivered just $1 million. France promised $79 million but has only delivered $1 million. Spain pledged $60 million but has yielded — you guessed it — $1 million.

Dare we say it: That’s stingy. Stingy, and a welch on a promise. Seven figures, that psychological palliative of choice, just isn’t enough.

Call it ungracious and boorishly American, but we’d point out that the United States is heads and shoulders above these countries. Recall that the United States was singled out as “stingy” shortly after the tsunami by U.N. Undersecretary of Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland, whose subsequent P.R. blitz entailed lots of backtracking. No one is calling the United States stingy now.

The U.S. government’s pledge of $350 million is 38 percent fulfilled, the BBC found, which is sub-optimal but still much better than the above donor-poseurs. Then factor in two other much bigger items: the U.S. military and private giving. The U.S. Navy and other arms of the military made the rescue and recovery effort possible. The cost is known but to Pentagon bean-counters, perhaps not even them. Then there is private charity. A recent study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University found that private U.S. donations to tsunami victims totaled $3.16 billion. Twenty-five percent of Americans gave.

Humanitarianism remains an American strong point. Its impact on lives speaks for itself, but its geopolitical merit is also clear. Studies have shown its probable impact on attitudes toward the United States in the Muslim world, and it’s one of the few positives to be found in U.S. public diplomacy. Favorable opinion of the United States in Indonesia increased measurably after the tsunami aid effort, as it has following other U.S. crisis missions in the region. Here’s a case where good deeds and self-interest coincide. Someone tell the French.

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