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Friday, December 30, 2005

Missed Opportunities

by digby

I've been thinking about what might be the biggest cock-up of this metaphorical war on terrorism and there are so many that it's hard to limit it to just one. Invading Iraq has to be the grandaddy, but Gitmo, abu Ghraib and letting bin Laden go at Tora Bora rank right up there. (Speaking of bin Laden at Tora Bora, I don't know why this story by Seymour Hersh about Konduz has been flushed down the memory hole.)

Making enemies of the entire world wasn't such a great idea. Secret prisons in Europe not so much either.

After giving it some thought, I think that it's possible that our biggest mistake in dealing with radical islam is our failure to respond with everything we had to the Pakistani earthquake. And we should have done it in tandem with our response to Katrina and the Tsunami, with a full-on international disaster response led by the United States. If we can afford to spend a billion a week on this misbegotten war, we could have come up with a plan to help these poor people all over the world, even in our own country, who were the victims of natural disasters. Bush should have been all over the TV. He should have gone to Pakistan personally and made a pledge to every single victim there that we would do everything we could to help.

I know that sending Karen Hughes around to share her experiences as a suburban mom with poor women in Indonesia is extremely useful in changing our image overseas, but this was a tremendous opportunity lost.

Instead, we pretty much did nothing to help the people who live in the very center of militant radical islam. Husain Haqqani, Kenneth Ballen of the the Carnegie Endowment wrote last November:

The most critical location for immediate international engagement is not Iraq or Afghanistan but Pakistan.

The devastation in Pakistan from the earthquake is as devastating as Southeast Asia's tsunami last year. But the international response has fallen short. The death toll has risen to 87,000 and the severe Himalayan winter is only weeks away. Equally horrendous is the number of people displaced - three times as many as those affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami. And yet international assistance provided following the tsunami dwarfs the aid provided to Pakistan. Eighty per cent of the aid pledged for the tsunami (more than $4-billion) was given with two weeks. Pakistan so far has only received $17-million, just 12 per cent of aid pledged. According to the United Nations, pledges to date total only 25 per cent of what is needed.

For the tsunami, 4,000 helicopters were donated to ferry life-saving aid to stricken areas, and in Pakistan just 70 - even though there are almost three times as many people who need the food and shelter to survive than after the tsunami.

International humanitarian assistance doesn't just save lives, it helps fight the war on terror. According to post-tsunami polls conducted by the Maryland-based, non-profit group Terror Free Tomorrow, support for Osama bin Laden dropped by half as a result of international assistance to tsunami victims in the world's largest Muslim nation.

In nuclear-armed Pakistan right now - another of the world's largest Muslim nations, where 65 per cent of the population think favourably of Mr. bin Laden - radical Islamist parties are mobilizing and are in the vanguard of those helping in the most-stricken areas. The void left by the Pakistan government, the United States and the international community has been filled by Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Al-Rasheed Trust, both groups linked to al-Qaeda, as well as Jammat-i-Islami, the leading radical Islamic party in Pakistan.

Even Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao had to acknowledge that the radicals are now "the lifeline of our rescue and relief work."

In fact, radical Islamic groups have vigorously opposed U.S. and international aid because they know this will weaken their propaganda efforts. In a speech last week, Jamaat's leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, said, "The Americans are [providing relief in Pakistan] to damage the solidarity of the country, and will work for materializing their ulterior motives."

The United States and the world community must now do nothing less than spearhead a response similar to that following the tsunami, not only for self-evident and overwhelming humanitarian needs but also for long-term national security.

I know that it would have been difficult to muster the relief effort after Katrina, but that's what leadership is about. If the administration really wants to fight the scourge of Islamic terrorism, they need to come up with something other than torture, imprisonment and incoherent military occupations to do it. Coming to the rescue in this terrible disaster --- or at least visibly mustering an international response --- would have gone a long way toward helping our allies regain some faith in our good intentions and persuade the people most vulnerable to al Qaeda's arguments that we are not the great Satan. We didn't do it.

But maybe Karen Hughes can go over later this year and share her secret for eliminating ring around the collar, so that's good.