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Foreign Aid, Self-Help

October 13, 2005

Marx once remarked that historical events occur twice, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce.
In the wake of the devastating earthquake that killed at least 35,000 in Pakistan and India, the United States is once again being penny wise and pound foolish. Repeating the administration's initial "stingy" response to the December Asian tsunami, Secretary of State Rice in Islamabad offered $50 million in American emergency aid. If ever the United States had an opportunity to bolster President Musharraf and improve our standing among Muslims in Pakistan and around the world, this is it.
Back in December 2004, I argued in "Doing Well by Doing Good" that the initial Bush response to the Sumatran tsunami was both indefensible on humanitarian grounds and counter to American self-interest. With the debacle in Iraq, American standing among allies and foes alike was (and largely remains) in tatters. A massive program of American foreign aid to tsunami-ravaged countries could help reverse those negative perceptions, an important consideration in the global war against Al Qaeda. And the United States can certainly afford that investment; as a percentage of GDP, countries such as Norway and Denmark spend 8 times as much on foreign aid.
As it turns out, the Bush administration ultimately saw the light and earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars for tsunami relief. That aid had exactly the desired effect. According to a June 2005 Pew survey of global opinion of the United States, views of America in the overwhelming Muslim nation of Indonesia changed markedly. Since 2003, the percentage of Indonesians with a favorable opinion of the United States jumped from 15% to 38%. 59% of Indonesians surveyed said the U.S. takes into account the interests of their nation, up from 25% in 2003.
Once again, the United States has an opportunity to do well by doing good. Let's not miss that chance.
For more background, see:
"Doing Well by Doing Good: The American Opportunity in Global Tragedy."

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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