America and Americans: Beautiful.
Just about everybody knows now about the epic, unspeakably horrific Sumatra tsunami that killed perhaps 200,000 on Dec. 26 and left up to 5 million homeless in 12 South Asian countries.
And many have heard the complaints - particularly early on - about America the parsimonious, the stingy, the chintzy, the niggardly, the miserly, the cheap. They heard as well the slam at President Bush, who is said by unredeemable cynics to have remained too long at his Texas ranch instead of hastening to his principal workplace a la Germany's marvelous, sensitive Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
(The complaint recalls the fault-finding after 9/11, when the president was ripped as unconcerned and disconnected for finishing a story he was reading to Florida kindergartners before re-boarding Air Force One for Washington.)
Leading the charge against American generosity were, among others: the United Nations' Jan Egeland: "It is beyond me why (the U.S.) is so stingy, really." France's Jacques Chirac: "Washington is deliberately circumventing the United Nations and wants to compete with the international organization." Vermont's Sen. Patrick Leahy, disparaging an early administration commitment of $35 million in tsunami aid: "We spend $35 million before breakfast every day in Iraq."
Let's get real.
Former President Clinton has dismissed the latest dump on the insufficiency of President Bush individually and America generally as "a bum rap"; the incumbent president's father has termed it "a bunch of malarkey." The president himself finds America "a very generous, kindhearted nation." All are right.
At this writing, the U.S. has pledged $350 million in tsunami humanitarian aid; that number does not include - as such accountings never do - U.S. military spending (currently running about $25 million per week and consisting of 21 ships, 13,000 personnel, 14 cargo planes and more than 90 helicopters). Nor does it include - as such accountings never do - private (individual and corporate) commitments rolling in at a clip of about half-a-million dollars per hour.
Here's what The Wall Street Journal said in a Dec. 31 editorial:
When it comes to this sort of giving, nobody beats Americans. According to a 2003 report from the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. international assistance to developing countries in 2000 was $56 billion. Yet just 18 percent of that was 'official' government assistance. Some $33.6 billion - or 60 per cent - came from the private sector. Corporations shelled out nearly $3 billion. Religious groups weighed in with $3.4 billion. Individuals provided $18 billion. To say nothing of funds from foundations, private and voluntary organizations, or universities.
The U.S. does disaster relief and reconstruction better than any country in history. Formal American aid usually runs about one-third of the total given following disasters. In 2004, U.S. disaster relief was $2.4 billion. In 2003, U.S. development aid was nearly twice the amount from No. 2 giver, Japan. Time after time, America arrives first and delivers the most. Others talk about doing something; America acts.
Mired in incompetence and corruption, the U.N. sits around discussing. (Maybe there's a lesson, for instance, in its efforts even to define aggression, which took about two decades; at this writing the U.N. has at last proposed a definition of terrorism, not as yet adopted.) Twelve days after the tsunami, Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team still hadn't reached the area because it couldn't locate adequate aircraft. In crises, first calls are made not to the U.N. and Canada and the like, but to America because it is the most likely to respond.
America is equally a good heart in advancing liberty, for freedom is what America is fundamentally about.
The principal wars of the past century took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans who went when called to defend or extend liberty abroad. They are doing so still, in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the truest sense, American military spending is a crucial form of foreign aid.
Not only are American troops suffering and dying overseas today. They are standing sentinel in the Balkans, rebuilding cities in Afghanistan, restoring schools and roads and utilities in Iraq.
In 2004 combined international spending on defense totaled more than $950 billion - with the U.S. accounting for nearly half. In 2003 the U.S. spent 3.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. In contrast, France spent 2.5 percent of its GDP on defense, Britain 2.4 percent, Germany and Japan 1 percent, etc. That can be construed to mean the U.S. is more imperialistic and bellicose. It more likely means that in dollars and lives, America is vastly more committed to establishing the liberty elsewhere that we enjoy here.
And maybe that is why the Arab world is about to have more elections in the next 30 days than it has had in the past 40 years. Maybe it is why terrorism seems on the decline in Colombia. Maybe it is why women are voting and getting real educations for the first time in thousands of years in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe it is why, partly, that Mikhail Saakashvili is in place in Georgia, Lech Walesa in Poland, Arpad Goncz in Hungary. Maybe it is why Viktor Yushchenko compares his election in Ukraine (in his words) "to the fall of the Soviet Union or the fall of the Berlin Wall
Disaster relief. Reconstruction. Freedom's advance. America moves.
As Dwight Eisenhower said, "America is great because she is good."
As are Americans:
From sea to shining sea.