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Thursday, Jan 6, 2005, 7:59 am

Disasters, Natural and Man-made

By Brian Cook

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This post is by ITT intern extraordinaire, Christopher Burrow
Let's get the story straight: Colin Powell, our chief diplomat, before he embarked on a half-hour chopper fly-by to witness the tsunami's devastation said the United States bankrolls humanitarian relief in part "because we believe it is in the best interest of those countries and it's in our best interest." Powell noted, "It dries up those pools of dissatisfaction that might give rise to terrorist activity," also adding, "It turns out that the majority of those nations affected were Muslim nations. We'd be doing it regardless of religion, but I think it does give the Muslim world and the rest of the world ... an opportunity to see American generosity, American values in action."
Are these the same values that were in action at Abu Ghraib, or are still in action in Gonzales' prison camp in Cuba, or that are in the planning for the new prison to house suspected terrorists whom the Administration does not want to set free? The Pentagon and the CIA have asked the White House to decide on a more permanent approach for potentially lifetime detentions, including for hundreds of people now in military and CIA custody whom the government does not have enough evidence to charge in courts. These Muslims were hit by the wave of an imperial heavy hand, not an act of nature.
The fact that the ever-dutiful Powell even brought up the dominant religion of those countries most damaged by this horrific tragedy is suspect. It is after all the religion of the terrorists and insurgents, yet the PR campaign seems to say, "See you Muslims, America doesn't hate you." But the numbers just don't add up because what the United States has pledged for tsunami relief ($350 million) is not even what it spends per day in the Iraq war. At best, we are sending a mixed message to the Muslim community. At worst, it is outright hypocrisy. And at the very least, it shows that our government views Muslims as somehow separate from the rest of the world.
Perhaps it is also a campaign to distract the criticism of the president's response time, or the feeble initial offering of aid. Those who instinctually defend the President have already moved on from those complaints by citing Bush's right to a holiday vacation and the generous donations by individual citizens. It should be noted President Bush himself has has yet to donate any money-perhaps he's waiting for the proposed Congressional bill to pass that would allow tsunami donations to be deducted from the 2004 fiscal year.

Brian Cook was an editor at In These Times from 2003 to 2009. He now works on the editorial staff of Playboy magazine.

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