Vive Le Canada

Finding the Truth: Help could lead to better relations
Date: Wednesday, September 07 2005
Topic:


Finding the Truth: Help could lead to better relations
September 06,2005
The Monitor View

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of a huge swath of the U.S. Gulf Coast, many of the world’s other nations — friends and foes alike — have begun offering humanitarian assistance. Whether and how the Bush administration accepts these offers could set a tone for the possible improvement of this country’s image around the globe and could lead to a lessening of tensions between the United States and some of the nations with which we have been sharing a, shall we say, less-than-cordial relationship.

For decades, the United States has been a first responder to the world’s natural disasters. Whether an earthquake in Turkey, a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, or drought and famine somewhere in Africa, the U.S. has been quick to offer money, manpower, food and medical supplies. Since the end of World War II, we have spent trillions of dollars providing humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters outside the United States. Although much of that has come from the federal government, a substantial portion of what the U.S. contributes to help those in need in other countries comes from the individual donations of private citizens and corporations to agencies like the International Red Cross and other, non-governmental aid organizations.


So it was not surprising that in the aftermath of Katrina, many Americans — already disturbed by their own government’s unacceptably slow response to the catastrophe — raised the question: "Where is the rest of the world?"

Well, the rest of the world has started to speak up.

Some of those who have stepped up to the plate are not really a surprise.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who openly criticized the United States for its initial offer of aid in the hours after the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia, was quick to offer all the aid that the Bush administration is willing to accept from the world body. Likewise, most of our traditional friends — England, Germany, Australia, Italy, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Israel and even France, a longtime ally with which relations have been very chilly in recent years — have now offered assistance. From these nations, offers of assistance are not and should not be unexpected.

There have, however, been some significant surprises among those offering everything from money, supplies and equipment to manpower to help the millions of Americans affected by possibly the worst natural disaster ever to strike the United States.

For instance, both China and Russia — our chief adversaries during the decades of Cold War that followed World War II — have offered to come to the aid of Katrina’s victims. China has offered $5 million in aid and says it stands ready to send rescue workers and medical experts if needed. Russia has offered to provide any assistance the U.S. desires.

One of the most astounding offers comes from an unexpected source much closer to home. Cuba’s Fidel Castro has offered to send 1,100 doctors and other medical personnel as well as 26 tons of medical supplies. Is this a sincere offer, or just a grandstand play Castro has made with the strong expectation that it will be rejected by the Bush administration?

For the sake of argument, let’s assume, since this really isn’t a time for bad-taste grandstanding, that the offer is real. What will the Bush administration do in response? Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice already has said no offer of help for Katrina’s victims will be refused.

Hopefully, the president — who was initially reported as saying that the United States would go it alone in aiding those affected by Katrina — will back up his secretary of state’s blanket acceptance of offers of help. To refuse help could easily be viewed by other countries, particularly those who have offered assistance despite being none too fond of us, as "another example of American arrogance."

Acceptance of the offer from Castro might be a first step in melting the frosty relationship we have had with his island nation for more than 40 years. Perhaps it might even move us along the path toward finally normalizing relations with an unfriendly country just 90 miles from our own shores.

Who knows? Maybe moving toward repairing our relationship with Cuba might be a step toward improving our standing with other nations that, despite the generosity we have shown when natural disaster strikes anywhere else in the world, remain disdainful and distrustful of the United States.

Is it just barely possible that such a move could be as effective as invasion and threat of force when it comes to protecting ourselves from terrorism?


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[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on September 7, 2005]

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