While watching the evening news these last few days, I learned that the Bush Administration has allocated something like $50 million in aid to Lebanon to help with the obvious humanitarian crisis that now exists there. No problem there.
However, the average person on the street in Lebanon doesn't see millions of dollars being transferred from the US Treasury to the Lebanese government or other aid agencies. What they are seeing, though, is Hezbollah front and center with bulldozers, dump trucks, food, and housing assistance. Hezbollah is responding quicker to the crisis in southern Lebanon than FEMA responded to the crisis in New Orleans. Perhaps FEMA should consider outsourcing relief work to Hezbollah the next time a major disaster strikes in America.
Not only are the citizens of Lebanon not seeing a tangible American involvement in relief or reconstruction efforts, but there is growing sentiment that America is, in fact, the source of the death and destruction. As John Berman noted in his piece at ABCNews.com, "...as Hezbollah cleans up the rubble, it's also hanging signs amid the destruction that say 'Made in USA.'" Even though the US remained on the sidelines militarily, it is no secret that Israel gets the vast majority of its military hardware from the US. So, in a sense, the destructive power unleashed in southern Lebanon was, quite literally, "Made in USA."
Jon Alterman, a former State Department official who is the head of Middle East studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, "We're coming in when there's a sense that we stood by the destruction of Lebanon by an ally, with U.S. weapons, and didn't complain. So we may be too late."
If the future of America's efforts to promote democracy and human rights in the Middle East hinges largely upon winning the hearts and minds of the citizens of Middle Eastern countries, then where the hell is America in all of this? America needs to be viewed as more than an arms supplier to Israel. I don't mean to downplay the cash assistance offered by the Bush Administration as insignificant, in and of itself, but it seems to me that if the Bush Administration was really forward-thinking, they would have had a disaster relief team ready to go the instant hostilities ended. If the Lebanese were to see Americans (not volunteer or non-governmental organization types, but the US Army or other obvious agents of the American government) helping to clear rubble and rebuild roads and bridges or hand out food or provide temporary housing, even on a small scale, that would send a message to the local population that America really is interested in promoting a positive future for those people and that would send a message that a wire transfer from our treasury to a Lebanese bank could never accomplish.
I think the Bush Administration missed a real opportunity here. Then again, as with the August 6, 2001 Presidential
Daily Briefing that outlined Osama Bin Laden's intent to attack America, as in the days of forewarning of Hurricane Katrina, including satellite images of the storm that clearly depicted a likeness of a human fetus (per Tim Grieve at Salon.com), and as with the non-stop stream of data indicating that global temperatures are on the rise, the Bush Administration has put together an impressive track record of missed opportunities.
This begs the question: Where the hell is Bush's policy of pre-emption when we actually need it?