Ties that bind

September 07, 2005

THE OFFERS of disaster assistance coming from rich countries such as Japan, France and Germany are not surprising given the huge relief effort taking place in New Orleans and the breadth of the death and destruction left in Hurricane Katrina's wake. What is surprising, and somewhat hurtful to America's national pride and can-do culture, are the offers of help from poor countries usually on the receiving end of U.S. aid.

The Dominican Republic, Romania, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Belarus, El Salvador, even Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, and others have offered modest assistance. While President Bush said last week that the U.S. could take care of itself, the State Department now says that after consultations with the White House, "no offers of assistance that can help alleviate the suffering of the people in the affected areas will be refused."

This is a wise decision. The offers, whether $500 million worth of oil products from wealthy Kuwait, $100 million in cash from Qatar, or just three airplanes from Russia, blankets and food from Brussels, or a modest $25,000 from tsunami-battered Sri Lanka, are all meaningful. By graciously accepting the aid - even from Venezuela and Cuba, whose offers come with clearly political motives - we show the rest of the world that even the most powerful and formidable country needs friends in time of tragedy.

The U.S. has always been - and despite Katrina, will continue to be - the one country that all others turn to first in times of disaster. Even as offers of aid continue to pour in, American aid is saving lives in some of the poorest and most tragic corners of the world. Foreign aid, whether distributed abroad by the U.S. or received here from elsewhere, can make an increasingly politically polarized, economically imbalanced, and socially and religiously fractious world seem smaller, closer - and, most of all, better.

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