Jeb Bush, brother of President George Bush, and governor of our own great state of Florida, was asked to visit the Indian Ocean to assess the damage done by the Tsunami on December 26th. Jeb was asked because of the experience he gained this past summer in Florida after four hurricanes struck our state within weeks of each other.
While he was there, Jeb kept a diary of what he saw and who he met. Remember the Norwegian who was whining that the wealthier nations weren't giving enough? Jeb saw him. Here's what he wrote on January 5th:
Tonight, I saw the Norwegian guy who heads the disaster operation at the UN. He was speaking as though his agency was in charge of the Banda Ache operation. In fact, we saw no one from the United Nations on the ground.
No one from the UN on the ground? This was 11 days after the Tsunami. Where were they?
Given the magnitude of the need, the relief assets on the ground are not nearly enough. There is little organization either.
I won't focus on the death and destruction Jeb wrote about. We know about it and you can read it here. I will highlight what was said about US relief efforts.
Foreign Minister ...Surakiart and subsequently, Prime Minister Thaksin were very appreciative of the US support and said so publicly.
Foreign Minister Surakiart is running to be the next Secretary General of the United Nations. This could be a good thing for the US.
Foreign Minister Wirajuda of Indonesia ...was sincerely thankful for the support the US has given to Indonesia.
Our last meeting was with President Yudhoyono (Republic of Indonesia) at his Presidential Palace. He was grateful for our country’s support and expressed it publicly in front of the press gaggle. The guy was just elected President in October and now has to shift his focus on this natural disaster.
Just elected to office and now has to focus on a disaster. Sound familiar?
Our country is doing the right thing by aggressively lending a hand to the countries of South Asia. It is the right thing to do morally and is part of tradition of generosity which has defined our country. It is the right thing to do politically since the tsunami has created an opportunity particularly in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, that we are not hostile to them or their religion.
International relief is very different than disaster relief and recovery in the United States. The lack of a chain of command, the lack of clear lines of responsibility and the huge logistical challenges to provide assistance make it much harder to help. It is not like the county/state/federal relationship which while not perfect, functions faster and more effectively.