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Better Than Spending it in Iraq

Maybe American aid to tsunami victims will do some good.

by James Leroy Wilson
January 6, 2005

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The estimated death toll of the tsunami in Southern Asia continues rise, by some 10,000 per day. The United States responded with a foreign aid package of $350 million.

It doesn’t sound like a lot on the face of it. It is the cost of making the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and amounts to one dollar out of every 6400 the federal government spends. But, to be fair, it’s a lot more than most pork-barrel projects Congress finances.

As of this writing, Germany, Japan, and Australia have given more, and especially in Australia’s case, proportionally a far greater amount. But this is a question of distance. Indonesia isn’t exactly a near neighbor of Australia (who is?) or of Japan, but the stability of Southeast Asia is very critical to them. The last thing Australia wants are Indonesian boat people.

If something similar happened in North America, or anywhere in the Americas, we’d expect, and would be expected, to contribute far more, and wealthy European and Asian countries far less. And the USA is big enough and wealthy enough to recover from its own natural disasters without foreign help.

To me, the amount doesn’t sound like very much because of the $100 billion the President is going to ask Congress to continue the War in Iraq. That’s nearly three hundred times as much, in addition to what we’ve already spend and, any way you slice it, a major discretionary spending item.

You could say that we owe it to Iraq, since we are almost completely responsible for the destruction there. We supported Saddam Hussein’s political career and, after he became President, his invasion of Iran. We financed much of that war, where the bulk of his war crimes and crimes against his own people occurred. We gave the green light for him to invade Kuwait. He complied substantially with our demands to dismantle much of the weapons we helped him build. (His “defiance” which angered us so much, was more about style than substance - a way of saving face rather than being totally humiliated.) We still imposed the most punishing embargo in world history, leading to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqis. And then, our invasion has cost Iraq another 100,000 lives and further destruction of their infrastructure.

I don’t know if, in modern world history, one nation has treated another nation, which posed no threat to the first, so harshly for no reason. No wonder the number of insurgents are growing, and why they are merciless against Iraqis who cooperate with the Americans.

But the problem in Iraq is not financial. $100 billion is not going to fix the problem. The problem is keeping order. Saddam Hussein kept order. He was merciless against political opponents, and rebels such as the Kurds, but a nation that deifies Abraham Lincoln can’t have it both ways. We hypocritical Americans believe that what Abraham Lincoln did - shutting down anti-war newspapers in the north, imposing martial law and arresting tens of thousands of northern dissidents, and waging total war against the civilian population of the South - was necessary to save the Union. But the Saddams, Milosevics, and Putins of the world are not allowed to engage in wars against minority sections of their republics. Keeping their countries together makes them human-rights abusers and war criminals.

Americans can not, and will not ever, be able to keep order in Iraq. Our presence is the problem there. Yes, if we leave, the Iraqis will probably fall into civil war. But this is a problem that we can’t solve. It doesn’t matter how many Iraqis, at least initially, supported the American occupation. Guerilla movements are hardly ever majority movements. Most Iraqis want peace. Peace might not be possible if the Americans leave, but it is certainly impossible if we don’t. Our presence is only wasting American blood and treasure, and destroying America’s diplomatic credibility elsewhere in the world.

It is ironic that the formerly secular, religiously tolerant people of Iraq, the safest place for Christians in the Middle East, has now turned into the jihad capital precisely because of our efforts. Many are turning to radical Islam as a form of nationalism, much as Asian radicals in several countries turned communism into a nationalist movement. More ironic still, the insurgents, whom radio talk show hosts call cockroaches to dehumanize them and belittle their cause, feel great compassion for the many Moslem victims of the tsunami earthquake.

We are angry at the Iraqis who resent the fact that we’ve waged an unprovoked military campaign and economic embargo against their country for 15 years. We refuse to recognize that they are victims, in many ways more tragic victims than those of the earthquake because their suffering was American-made. We can’t help them; we only pull out and leave them alone, or make things worse.

I am no fan of foreign aid, especially government-to-government foreign aid, because most foreign governments can’t be trusted. But some evils are definitely lesser than others. If the United States military can provide the transportation and manpower to deliver food and medicine to tsunami victims more quickly than any other agency, then I have no problem with that. There are definitely worse things we could be doing, and have done, with our money and our military.

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