Bush Slams 'Stingy' Criticism

AP Image Ingested via Automated Feed
AP
Provoked by a depiction of Americans and other Westerners as "stingy," President Bush countered that image Wednesday, pledging more U.S. help well beyond the $35 million promised to tsunami victims in Asia.

Meanwhile, his administration was trying to figure out where the additional money will come from to help relieve a disaster whose death toll was widely feared would exceed 100,000.

Bush's

added the president's displeasure to other voices in his administration who had chafed at a U.N. official's suggestion that the world's richest nations have been less than generous in giving international aid.

"Well, I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed," Mr. Bush said from his Texas ranch. "We're a very generous, kindhearted nation, and, you know, what you're beginning to see is a typical response from America."

Bush also indicated much more help can be expected soon to help thousands of victims cope with the widespread devastation from the earthquake-generated tsunamis. He noted the United States provided $2.4 billion "in food, in cash, in humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year. ... That's 40 percent of all the relief aid given in the world last year."

But the journey from the $35 million to potentially $1 billion or more in help for the tens of thousands of latest victims is fraught with bureaucratic twists.

First, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which distributes foreign aid, will have to ask for more money, since the initial $35 million aid package drained its emergency relief fund, said Andrew Natsios, the agency's administrator.

"We just spent it," Natsios said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "We'll be talking to the [White House] budget office ... [about] what to do at this point."

Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the Joint Chiefs of Staff operations director, said several U.S. warships and helicopters were being diverted and would provide fresh drinking water. The Pentagon also has C-130 transport planes bringing tents, blankets, food and water bags.

At least $81 million has been pledged so far in help for South and East Asia from dozens of countries and relief groups, said the Geneva-based U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"There's no doubt there'll be more than that," Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. officer in charge of coordinating the international response from Switzerland, said Wednesday. "The size of this thing is a challenge."

Measuring U.S. generosity depends on the yardstick.

The United States prefers to use a tally of development aid kept by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, made up of 30 rich nations. That measure shows the United States spent almost $15.8 billion for "official development assistance" to developing countries in 2003. Next closest was Japan, at $8.9 billion. The U.S. spent billions more in aid dollars on such matters as AIDS and HIV programs and U.N. assistance.

Another OECD measure, however, shows none of the world's richest countries donated even 1 percent of its gross national income. The highest, as of April, was Norway, at 0.92 percent; the lowest was the United States, at 0.14 percent. Such figures prompted Jan Egeland — the United Nations' emergency relief coordinator and former head of the Norwegian Red Cross — to question the generosity of rich nations.

"We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries," Egeland said Monday. "And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really. ... Even Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become."

Egeland told reporters the next day that his complaint wasn't directed at any one nation.

Natsios was quick to point out that foreign assistance for development and emergency relief rose from $10 billion in President Clinton's last year to $24 billion under President Bush in 2003.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday that "we do not have anything to apologize for."

Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed his annoyance this week at suggestions of U.S. stinginess, saying the total international aid effort will run into the billions of dollars and "clearly the United States will be a major contributor."

On Wednesday German Chancellor Gerard Schroeder called on creditor nations to suspend debt repayments from Indonesia and Somalia to help in their recovery from the quake-tsunami disaster.

Germany will propose the measure at a meeting of the Paris Club of creditor countries in January, Schroeder told reporters. Indonesia and Somalia are the only two nations with debt repayment agreements with the Paris Club out of the dozen nations ravaged by this week's catastrophe.

Former President Bill Clinton also grabbed the spotlight in Europe with a BBC interview in which called for a coordinated relief effort.

"It is really important that somebody takes the lead in this," he told the BBC's Today program.

Clinton's remarks caused displeasure at the White House, according to the Washington Post. The newspaper said Bush aides criticized the former president for being too quick to get in front of the cameras.

"Actions speak louder than words," a top Bush aide told the newspaper.

A White House spokesman said Mr. Bush could monitor developments at his Texas ranch without the need of a return to Washington or a public statement.

"The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain,'" a White House official told the newspaper.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bush chose to break his silence.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.