Thursday, December 30, 2004

On relief aid

Interesting post by Captain Obvious over at Tacitus, and I'm just gonna post the lion's share of it:

Well, amazingly, it seems that the blogosphere, the conservative media, and the Administration are cranking up the "Our Allies Secretly Hate Us" spin to hyper-centrifugal levels with this little soundbite. Although the Gadflyer points out that nowhere did Egeland single out the US for specific criticism, that doesn't stop Bill Sammon from giving us a classic example of How to Lie With Headlines with a piece in the Washington Times entitled "U.N. Official slams U.S. as stingy over aid". And today, Bush went on the record to miscontrue Jan Egeland's comments as a direct attack on the United States:

    "Well, I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed. The -- take, for example, in the year 2004, our government provided $2.4 billion in food, in cash, in humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. That's $2.4 billion. That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year, was provided by the United States government. No, we're a very generous, kindhearted nation."
(Of course, it's good to keep in mind that when government officials start throwing out numbers in press conferences, those numbers only occassionally have any relationship with reality. In this case, according to USAID's FY 2004 report, page 35, of the $10.5 billion of US aid distributed for strategic goals, only $653 million was for humanitarian response. But anyways).

Today, of course, the standard press corps script is that Egeland has "backed down" from his remarks, thus lending an air of "we were right, he was wrong" authority to the story. An example is this doubly mendacious headline from the New York Daily News: "UN Big Calls US miserly, Recants". How did he "back down"? By claiming that he was "misinterpreted". Defending one's original comments is a curious way of backing down from them.

Why is this silly brou-hah-hah important? For the simple reason that such a bristly attitude is not only reinforcing our enemy's misperceptions of the US as a recalcitrant bully, but that by also snubbing our allies, it's that much harder for us to unite with them in being a positive force for good in this world.

And most importantly, Egeland's comments have the unforunate property of being true: when measured by their ability to give (the same metric that the right cheerfully uses to insult Blue America's generosity), the western world does very poorly, and the US ranks right down at the absolute bottom. I mean no disrespect to those who do give, but we can do better than that.