'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Tsunami Tragedy 

Haven't commented on this catastrophe because I didn't have anything useful to say.

I'd like to flag Juan Cole's most recent post on the the topic, however. I too noticed as Cole says that a sense of the full scale of the tragedy didn't come through in the American media until yesterday. Cole also makes an excellent point that Bush, by failing to reach out with words and deeds to the people of Aceh, squandered an opportunity to repair relations with the Muslim world:

As John F. Harris and Robin Wright of the Washington Post cannily note, US President George W. Bush has missed an important opportunity to reach out to the Muslims of Indonesia. The Bush administration at first pledged a paltry $15 million, a mysteriously chintzy response to what was obviously an enormous calamity. Bush himself remained on vacation, and now has reluctantly agreed to a meeting of the National Security Council by video conference. If Bush were a statesman, he would have flown to Jakarta and announced his solidarity with the Muslims of Indonesia (which has suffered at least 40,000 dead and rising).

Indeed, the worst-hit area of Indonesia is Aceh, the center of a Muslim separatist movement, and a gesture to Aceh from the US at this moment might have meant a lot in US-Muslim public relations. Bin Laden and Zawahiri sniffed around Aceh in hopes of recruiting operatives there, being experts in fishing in troubled waters. Doesn't the US want to outflank al-Qaeda? As it is, the president of the United States is invisible and on vacation (unlike several European heads of state), and could think of nothing better to do than announce a paltry pledge. As Harris and Wright rightly say, the rest of the world treated the US much better than this after September 11.

Just a little background for anyone who's not up on Indonesian politics: Aceh is a resource rich province in Indonesia that wants to be independent; it's rich in, I think, natural gas. The desire for independence coupled with the importance of its gas reserves has led to the familiar dynamic in which a powerful state is in conflict with a weaker opponent that consistently gets re-cast in the post-911 world such that the state is nobly fighting a war against terrorists. So by visibly helping out the Acehnese Bush could have appealed directly to the sort of people who often turn to people like Bin Laden for guidance and support.

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