May 14, 2008

CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE: Thoughts on disaster relief:

THERE is a certain familiarity to the concomitant series of actions and reactions when disaster strikes in the world. The US stands ready, willing and able to offer assistance. It is often the first country to send in millions of dollars, navy strike groups loaded with food and medical supplies, and transport planes, helicopters and floating hospitals to help those devastated by natural disaster.

Then, just as swift and with equal predictability, those wedded to the Great Satan view of the US begin to carp, drawing on a potent mixture of cynicism and conspiracy theories to criticise the last remaining superpower. When the US keeps doing so much of the heavy lifting to alleviate suffering, you’d figure that the anti-Americans might eventually revise their view of the US. But they never do. And coming under constant attack even when helping others, you’d figure that Americans would eventually draw the curtains on world crises. But they haven’t. At least not yet.

So it was last week. The US stood ready to help the cyclone-ravaged Burmese people. It did not matter that Burma’s ruling junta was no friend of the Americans. With more than 100,000 people feared dead and many more hundreds of thousands left destitute, US Air Force cargo planes loaded with supplies and personnel started arriving in nearby Thailand to begin humanitarian operations in Burma. . . . The resentment that comes from needing the military and economic might of the US translated into the most absurd criticism. Jan Egeland, the former UN boss of humanitarian affairs, cavilled about the stinginess of certain Western nations. His eye was on the US. Former British minister Claire Short was equally miffed, describing the initiative by the US and other countries as “yet another attempt to undermine the UN”, which was, according to her, the “only body that has the moral authority” to help.

I love moral authority as much as the next guy, but the UN’s moral authority is a mighty hard sell given that the UN club includes the most odious regimes in the world, such as Burma. And notice how the UN’s moral authority did not quickly translate into helicopters laden with food and water?

It never does. More like briefcases full of untraceable cash, in the wrong hands.

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