Yet another squandered opportunity

November 01, 2005|By G. JEFFERSON PRICE III

Looking back on the earthquake that devastated South Asia last month, it seems President Bush missed an enormous opportunity to score some points against America's real enemy.

That would be Osama bin Laden, the real villain of 9/11, and his cranked-up fellow extremists who claim to represent Islam but do not.

The opportunity arose when the vast resources of the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world were diverted from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring aid and succor to the millions of people whose fragile lives were further wrecked by the earthquake.

The images of American equipment and manpower launched against targets in Afghanistan and Iraq is provocative and, in many ways, damaging to America's cause. The image of America's might diverted to assist people is a heart-warming act of global solidarity. It represents the hand of friendship and peace. No reciprocity expected.

Looking back on those images, the president might have demanded what bin Laden was doing to help, if he was alive, and if he was not, what his die-hard followers were doing to help.

Mr. Bush could have seized this opportunity to address himself directly to the real enemy. He could have appeared to the world and spoken of the differences between America's fundamental values and bin Laden's extremist fundamentalism.

"To the people of the world," he might have said, "particularly to the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kashmir, who have been devastated by this natural disaster, and to Osama bin Laden, who hides among you and preaches hatred, America is here to help you, as you can see.

"What America wants is friendship and peace with your people. It wishes for you the freedom to live your lives as you desire, free of tyranny and fear, free of hunger and poverty and illiteracy, free to participate as equals in the promise and opportunity of the 21st century.

"So, as many of you can see, we are sending you all the assistance we can on our mighty aircraft, carrying shelter, food and medicine to help you recover from this disaster.

"Somewhere in the mountains near the hardest-hit area of this terrible earthquake, Osama bin Laden is hiding under a rock like a snake, and I have a question for him: Osama bin Laden, see what we are doing to help the people you claim to represent? And what are you are doing to help them? Nothing.

"You have lots of money and you could help, but your resources are devoted to a campaign of death and exclusion. Your resources are devoted to the expansion of a perverted jihad that advances human happiness after death, not on Earth.

"You hide in your cave planning the taking of lives. We are in the skies and on the ground planning the saving of lives."

In the brief moment that the U.S. military was doing just that, such a speech might have made an impression. But the moment was lost.

Mr. Bush's most prominent TV appearance during that time was a rehearsed exchange with U.S. military personnel in Iraq about how they felt the war was going.

The moment was wasted. But this is no surprise, for the Bush administration has squandered the very values exemplified in the aid mission to South Asia, and on the earlier aid mission to victims of the tsunami in Indonesia. It has squandered them on a misguided war and occupation in Iraq that is getting close to costing as many American lives as bin Laden has taken, and the lives of many, many more Iraqis.

Mr. Bush would not think to make the remarks suggested above.

For, truth be told, if just the money it has cost so far to destroy Iraq and try to rebuild it were to be used over the next decade in genuine solidarity with the most deprived and endangered people in the world, they'd think better of us, and so would we.

G. Jefferson Price III was an editor and foreign correspondent at The Sun. His e-mail address is

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