(Washington Post) The Bush administration more than doubled its financial commitment yesterday to provide relief to nations suffering from the Indian Ocean tsunami, amid complaints that the vacationing President Bush has been insensitive to a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.
As the death toll surpassed 50,000 with no sign of abating, the U.S. Agency for International Development added $20 million to an earlier pledge of $15 million to provide relief, and the Pentagon dispatched an aircraft carrier and other military assets to the region. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in morning television appearances, chafed at a top U.N. aid official's comment on Monday that wealthy countries were being stingy with aid. "The United States is not stingy," Powell said on CNN.
Although U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland yesterday withdrew his earlier comment, domestic criticism of Bush continued to rise. Skeptics said the initial aid sums -- as well as Bush's decision at first to remain cloistered on his Texas ranch for the Christmas holiday rather than speak in person about the tragedy -- showed scant appreciation for the magnitude of suffering and for the rescue and rebuilding work facing such nations as Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Indonesia.
After a day of repeated inquiries from reporters about his public absence, Bush late yesterday afternoon announced plans to hold a National Security Council meeting by teleconference to discuss several issues, including the tsunami, followed by a short public statement.
Bush's deepened public involvement puts him more in line with other world figures. In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder cut short his vacation and returned to work in Berlin because of the Indian Ocean crisis, which began with a gigantic underwater earthquake. In Britain, the predominant U.S. voice speaking about the disaster was not Bush but former president Bill Clinton, who in an interview with the BBC said the suffering was like something in a "horror movie," and urged a coordinated international response.
Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.' "
Many Bush aides believe Clinton was too quick to head for the cameras to hold forth on tragedies with his trademark empathy. "Actions speak louder than words," a top Bush aide said, describing the president's view of his appropriate role.
Meanwhile, weren't the news networks shameless in their frequent mentions of the supermodel survivor of the tsunami? What makes her any more important than other victims?