Ex-Presidents Team Up For Charity

Former presidents Clinton (left) and Bush (right), who are leading the U.S. fund-raising campaign for tsunami victims, wait their turn as President Bush signs the condolence book at the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington D.C. 1-3-04
AP
Former President George H. W. Bush said Tuesday the initial response to pleas for private donations for the victims of the South Asian tsunami "has been wonderful" and he and former President Bill Clinton said they are eager to press for more.

"We have no goal in terms of money," Mr. Bush told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "We think this is a long-term effort. There is no dollar figure set, but I can tell you this: Private funds have been pouring in. I'm very, very pleased to be a part of this with President Clinton."

President Bush named his father and Mr. Clinton Monday to head the private relief effort and the pair of former presidents planned a busy schedule of public appearances to push the cause.

The elder Bush warned against misinterpreting Secretary of State Colin Powell's widely reported remark that no more federal money is needed for now.

The former president said, "He doesn't mean enough is enough, that we've done all we can." Rather, Powell meant distribution problems that a short-term injection of money can't solve are preventing the goods in well-stocked warehouses from getting to where they are needed, said Mr. Bush.

Former President Clinton, also appearing on The Early Show, echoed his predecessor's remarks about Powell, saying, "It is true that in a lot of places, the delivery capacity of the people on the ground has reached its limits. But there are still villages that have not been reached in Indonesia. We have no idea what the medical needs, the clean water needs, are going to be. Keep in mind, the food needs are changing every day. There are still places that were devastated that we haven't even seen yet on your cameras."

The confirmed death toll for Asia and Africa stood at 139,410 - almost 100,000 of those in Sumatra - but relief workers said they expect the toll to soar by tens of thousands because surveys of the western coast of Sumatra show it was hit a lot harder than previously thought. Scores of villages have been flattened and in some areas, few survivors have been spotted.

To help in what he called "this urgent cause," President George W. Bush on Monday urged Americans to send money instead of other items and restrict their giving to "reliable charities already providing help to tsunami victims." The Freedom Corps Web site is providing "donate now" links to about five dozen such organizations.

"Cash donations are most useful," the president said from the White House, with his father and Clinton at his side. "I've asked the former presidents to solicit contributions both large and small."

The president plans to make a personal contribution, according to a spokesman, as does Mr. Clinton, who says it will be "substantial."

The president's parents have already gotten started.

"We've sent a check, for Barbara and me, a fairly large check, to Americares," said former president Bush. "But it could well have been any of these other organizations."

In an interview with

, Mr. Clinton was supportive of the Bush administration's efforts so far in response to the disaster.

"The main thing that's important to me is that he has shown compassion," said Mr. Clinton, pointing to the $350 million pledged by the United States and the U.S. Navy helicopters at work in Indonesia now, ferrying emergency supplies.

Former President Bush agrees that the U.S. is on target with the relief effort. "I'm not one of those who want to say - as some official did - say we're being stingy, only to have to retract it once they found out what was going on."

Mr. Clinton adds that while the relief effort might help the U.S. image in that part of the world, being a good neighbor is the reason for doing it.

"We ought to be doing it because we want more people to live full lives," said Mr. Clinton. The message of the relief effort for victims, he said, should be: "We don't care what your religion is, we don't care what your politics are - we hate what happened to you."

Monday, President Bush, his wife, Laura, and his two predecessors paid brief sympathy visits to the embassies of the four nations hit hardest - Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. The first lady brought bouquets of white roses, and the president wrote messages in embassy condolence books, offering prayers as well as promises of U.S. aid.

At the Indian Embassy, President Bush said he planned a visit to the world's largest democracy sometime this year. "In the meantime, though, our country stands with the people who have suffered," he said.

The president ordered that all American flags fly at half-staff this week in sympathy for "the victims of a great tragedy," particularly the many thousands of dead and orphaned children.

Even before the White House campaign, private donations had been running at virtually unprecedented levels since immediately after the earthquake that led to the tsunami.

Meanwhile, the president is getting reports from a delegation he dispatched to the region to assess whether the United States government can do more.

In Thailand, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the nation's leaders, "We are in solidarity with you ... The United States will certainly not turn away from those in desperate need."

Powell said, "The aftermath of the tsunami is a tragedy for the entire world ... I think we have demonstrated in recent days our willingness to provide support."

"Irrespective of how much tragedy is taking place, there will be a way to get food and water and medicine to people," he said. "The long-term recovery issues are the ones that are a greater challenge, and the ones where I think the expertise of our country can be brought to bear to really help people."