How Many Deaths Will It Take 'Til We Know...
The enormity of the Sumatran Tsunami defies comprehension. I have not written of it until now because I have a slow and reflective mind, and the right words in a row do not come to me easily or facilely when confronted with appalling facts, instead of appalling ideas.
It is both a calamity and a tragedy. The calamity is that an immense, unpreventable, and uncontrollable natural disaster has killed, and may still kill, tens of thousands of people. The notion that a "warning system" would have made that much difference is mere whistling in the dark. Forewarned of something on this scale is in no way forearmed. The calamity requires our prayers (if they are sincere) and our help (whether it is sincere or not). Pray, if you believe in prayer, and give, whether you believe in anything or not.
The tragedy is how all of the world not directly impacted by it is responding to it. The calamity is so vast, so terrible, that it should have been treated by all on this planet as a universal catastrophe dwarfing any national or ideological considerations. It really does not matter which country is "stingy" or not. It really does not matter who "takes the lead" in coordinating the relief effort. It does not matter that the private person known as George W. Bush took days to say something about it. And it does not matter that the private person known as Bill Clinton said something about it immediately. It is beyond all that.
But it does matter that several days passed before the President of the United States officially commented on the calamity. It matters a great deal. And what matters about it is what used to be known as "leadership" and "government".
In the past, the moral authority of the United States in the world came from both doing and saying the right thing in a timely manner, without being prodded to do so. This is "leadership".
In the past, the President of the United States and his inner circle were ready to lead on a moment's notice, both saying and doing the right thing in a crisis, conscious that the world depended on that immediate response of leadership. The cabinet officers, the diplomats, the "presidential advisors", and the speechwriters down in the basement were as ready and primed as the Air Force was to get the planes up on 15 minutes notice. This is authoritative, full-time, "government".
Neither of these conditions obtains today. We have a part-time and lackadaisical government without the moral authority to lead the world. And there is one sole cause for this: the United States made war in Iraq without adequate reason and has left it an unmanageable shambles which allows no serious attention to be paid to anything else outside of our borders. I am, of course, giving the current government the benefit of the doubt that they are actually interested in paying attention to anything else.
The tragedy of world-wide bickering over the Sumatran Tsunami has one source: the policies of the United States Government over the past two years. A majority of the world considers us, to some greater or lesser degree, bad neighbors and not moral leaders. I happen to think that they are justified in doing so. But even if you don't, the bad odor in which this country now subsists around the world is a fact, the fact has causes, the causes are in Washington (when they are not in Texas), and the cure for it could be in Washington: full-time government.
The Bush Administration was given a golden opportunity to lead last Sunday, to give immediate evidence that America really is a good neighbor and a moral leader. They blew it. Period.
After being prodded, the United States government will do its best to help, and by bickering over the prodding we will probably prod other governments to do their best, too. We have proved that the world can get along without our moral leadership, and, therefore, without any moral leadership whatever. But it is a lesser world for it.
Maybe in a few years we can fix this problem. We can always hope.