US Humanitarian Aid Again Labeled 'Stingy'

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:22pm EDT

( - The U.S. has already committed $350 million to the tsunami relief efforts underway in Southeast Asia and President Bush wants Congress to approve another $600 million, but a humanitarian aid expert Friday nevertheless asserted that "when it comes to relative generosity, [America has] a long way to go."

The remarks by Dr. Susan Rice, a senior fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., were similar to those made by United Nations Undersecretary for Human Services Jan Egeland, who shortly after the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami declared that America's early response to the crisis was "stingy."

Appearing Friday at a George Washington University panel discussion, Rice repeated Egeland's criticism, alleging that America's overall humanitarian approach is "stingy." She spoke broadly about America's responsibilities and priorities in the world, touching not only on the tsunami relief operation in Southeast Asia but also on the U.S. presence in Iraq and the alleged genocide in Sudan.

The U.S. "ought to be doing what we are doing in the military capacity," she said in reference to American servicemen and women distributing aid and helping rebuild countries ravaged by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

"We have a stake in its successful reconstruction," she added, because U.S. assistance is already helping turn the opinion of the heavily Muslim population of Indonesia in favor of the United States.

But Rice condemned U.S. operations in Iraq.

She said the U.S. invasion of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq was "a mistake" and that even after the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq, is "not convinced we can yet succeed," in helping Iraqis establish freedom and democracy in their country.

"We need to invest in democracy promotion from the grassroots," Rice said, "not from the barrel of a gun.

"We can only best secure our interests ... if we have the cooperation" of other nations, Rice said, and that cooperation will exist if the United States is better able to "demonstrate that we care about the concerns of others."

Helle Dale, the director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, challenged Rice's charge that America's response to the killer tsunami was "stingy." The U.S. has "done more good in [the area of the world affected by the tsunami] than any other organization or country," she said.

"The way our system is structured," Dale said, "Americans tend to be more generous in terms of private donations," rather than official government aid.

Dale told the student audience that "all three areas (Iraq, Sudan and the tsunami-affected region) have humanitarian consequences."

She stressed the importance of completing the job in Iraq because "we have an obligation as the occupying power." But Dale warned against involving the U.S. military in stopping the alleged genocide in Sudan. It's better to work with international organizations to solve that crisis, she said.

"As tragic as [Sudan] is ... it has no impact on America's national security," Dale said. In contrast, Iraq became an important military venture because of a perceived threat to America's national security, she added, and has since become a humanitarian effort.

Gayle Smith, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, argued that because the problems in Iraq are a result of "a war of choice," America must shift more of its humanitarian aid to Sudan and Southeast Asia.

"Our engagement is defined by what we're against more than what we're for," Smith said of America's image abroad. She said that by improving its public image as a humanitarian power, the United States will rally more international support for its efforts to expand democracy and freedom.

Campus Progress, a division of the Center for American Progress, sponsored the event, which was advertised as part of a "new effort to strengthen progressive student voices, counter the growing influence of right-wing groups on college campuses and empower new generations of progressive leaders," according to the Campus Progress website.

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