I know that George Bush — after a few days of study, contemplation, and strategic thinking following the December 26th tsunami disaster — decided to weigh in “Big Time” with American aid and support for victims in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Western Africa.
I was dismayed by the slowness of the American response and thought that there was a vital role the U.S. could play in helping to alleviate the near, mid and long-term consequences of this enormous tragedy.
Since so many in the region were Muslims, I thought that showering these communities with support would be an interesting lesson for Muslims skeptical of American intentions in the Middle East. We have sent troops, aid workers, supplies, and money — and in a very large scale — but the central, pivotal role we might have played in engaging in this region’s problems seems never to have quite materialized in my view.
We had a great chance to demonstrate the compassion of our nation — and our commitment to long-term problem-solving in this region. But from my vantage point, despite what we did send, we quickly let concern for tsunami victims become a backburner item in our national consciousness (though kudos to those aid workers and NGOs and U.S. military officials who are and were there).
But not a word in the President’s Inaugural Address or his State of the Union Address. The word “tsunami” did not appear. The fact that America was collaborating arm in arm with many other great nations of the world to respond to one of the great disasters of modern memory did not make it into Bush’s two big prime time moments.
Was it on purpose? Or did he forget on purpose the victims and how this might be a useful benchmark of good U.S. foreign policy?
Treasury Secretary John Snow just did the live “Ask the White House” interaction hour today at 3 p.m. I submitted my question which was:
One would think that if President Bush really wanted to make an impression on the “hearts and minds” part of our foreign policy portfolio, he would have mentioned the victims of the terrible tsunami about a month ago — and America’s role responding. He failed to mention anything about this disaster and its aftermath either in his Inaugural speech or last night in his State of the Union address….not one word. Was this a mistake? Or was it on purpose?
Here is the transcript of the questions the White House accepted.
Unfortunately, Secretary Snow either never got to my question or decided to ignore it.
— Steve Clemons
P.S. I just received a few minutes ago a magazine in the mail called “India Review” published by the Embassy of India (February 2005). The photo on the front is of President Bush signing the condolence book for the tsunami victims at the Embassy of India in Washington on January 3rd. Former Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush as well as Laura Bush are there too. (a version of the picture can be seen here.)
These kinds of gestures matter significantly to those nations who are less well off than America — and that is why the cover of this magazine shows the President’s photo. It really is too bad that he neglected these victims, their villages, their nations, and the many who empathize with their plight in his major political addresses.
— Steve Clemons