Monday, October 31, 2005

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Hey, Karen Hughes!!! Over here!!! It's about Pakistan!!!

Dear Underscretary of State Hughes:

Hey there. Sorry to shout again. I hope you've recovered from any jet lag suffered from your recent Middle East listening tour.

Anyway, I wanted to write you about Pakistan. You may or may not know that they've suffered a pretty devastating earthquake there recently. The U.S. has already dispatched aid to the region, but the amount that has been allocated pales in comparison to the aid dispersed after the tsunami in late 2004/early 2005.

The reason I bring this up is that the tsunami aid brought about a tremendous amount of goodwill in places like India and Indonesia. There's already some evidence that the aid sent to Pakistan is helping to burnish America's image in a distinctly anti-American portion of the globe. Anne-Marie Slaughter reprinted one letter on America Abroad that makes the point in a plain manner:

[H]aving just visited the region and spoken to many community leaders across the NWFP and Pakistani-held Kashmir, it is apparent that there is a tremendous strategic opportunity for the United States and its allies. For a fraction of the cost of what is spent in other arenas of the War on Terror, an extremely volatile region and country's hearts and minds can be won over. All that is required is a very substantial, very visible US relief effort.

To date, the US has provided helicopters and commitments of up to $50 million. What is needed-- for adequate relief and for this opportunity-born-of-tragedy to be capitalized upon-- is not a contribution, but a massive US presence and effort. The entire country is desperate, the entire Muslim world is watching; I cannot overstate how glaring and massive the opportunity is.
My sympathies for Pakistan aside, the US can buy a great deal of affection and moral currency by responding to this emergency-- it must not let this be just another cause for further alienation.

This is one of those instances where the U.S. can do good and do well by following through with significant relief and humanitarian efforts. It's the best kind of public diplomacy you could ever buy. And bear in mind that the costs of inaction here would be considerable. As Zahid Hussain reports in Newsweek International:

Islamist groups have gotten kudos for their response to the crisis; their vast networks of well-disciplined cadres quickly spread out across the devastated areas of Kashmir to provide food and shelter. "Ordinary Pakistanis have outshined the Army," says author Ahmed Rashid. The fact that such work bolsters their public image—dented by Islamabad's tamping down of the insurgency in Kashmir in order to improve relations with the United States and India—is not lost on their leaders.

In the New York Times last week, Alexander Saunders put forward a very interesting aid proposal:

The earthquake in Pakistan has left millions homeless. Umar Ghuman, Pakistan's minister of foreign investment and a longtime customer of my foundry supply company, has asked me to help find housing for as many of these people as possible before the onset of winter in the next few days.

Tents are not protection enough, and conventional prefabricated houses are neither readily available nor easy to ship. The solution, then, is to think of something less conventional, like the work shed-greenhouse combinations sold at Sam's Club and other retailers. Such sheds - small (882 cubic feet), plastic, weather-tight, insulated and portable - retail for around $2,000. Two hundred thousand of these houses - temporary homes for a million people - would cost less than $400 million....

This is an opportunity for the United States to present to the world a product of our manufacturing ingenuity delivered by our military might. The United States needs to regain credibility with its friends throughout the region, and the people there need housing desperately....

We need to do this now, not next week or next month. Winter - with mountain blizzards, powerful winds and subzero temperatures - will come to the Himalayas in days. The commercial air freight system is already shipping blankets, tents and medical supplies. That's a good start, but it is in no way adequate for housing people in winter.

This sort of proposal needs someone at the deputy or principal level for it to fly.

How about it, Karen?

posted by Dan on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM


Karen won't act on this. But the Walton family and their company's CEO might. They did an extraordinary job following Katrina and, if connected with the right folks in Pakistan (and perhaps in the Navy) could do similarly great deeds there.

posted by: thibaud on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Karen Hughes recovered well enough from the rigors of her Middle East trip to make another one to Indonesia and Malaysia, Dan. Press accounts (see, for example, this:,2933,173084,00.html) make clear she was as much a human punching bag in Southeast Asia as she had been in Egypt and Turkey.

I agree with the point of how urgent this situation is. To get something accomplished, Dep. Secretary of State Zoellick would probably have to be put in charge. Ms. Hughes can be given the job of preparing talking points for the President on whatever it is we decide to do.

posted by: Zathras on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but it's impractical. By the time you get the money from Congress and gear up the procurement and transport systems, it's going to be spring (of 2007). Lay $400 million on the table and other good ideas will pop out of the woodwork to compete, delaying the decision and action. (I seem to remind an architect writing an op-ed after Katrina proposing some shelters for those evacuees.)
Look at the speed [sic] with which the U.S. rebuilt Iraqi facilities.

To end on a slightly rosier note--the good news about disasters is that they are inevitable. If Condi would go for $10 mill to lay the tracks for this sort of effort in future disasters, we could do good.

posted by: Bill Harshaw on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Bill..I think the *procurement* system is the issue, not the transport system. Give the road, rail, sea, and air carriers the job, and they will deliver. But we do have a problem in getting government procurement to perform in a time scale appropriate for emergencies, as has been demonstrated in Iraq.

posted by: David Foster on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Daniel, I completely agree with you. I grew up in Pakistan and like most places, I don't think its an inherently anti-American country. People are generally moderate and untill the last elections, religious parties have not gotten much support.

However over the last decade with things such as the war in iraq and more perniciously guantanomo, abu ghraib and lots of horror stories of runins with immigration and fbi officials, support has gradually declined to its current level.

This though is the perfect opportunity for America to win hearts and minds and in some places it has already done so. Continued support in getting shelter and providing food and medicine for the homeless will be far more productive than radio stations or tv channels - actions do speak louder than words and it would be gross incompetence to miss this opportunity to build up good will.

posted by: reformist muslim on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Too bad the right-wingers have thier heads so far up thier asses they will not see this great opportunity to be the "good guys" AND help some very nice people. What a shame.

posted by: Mr. Natural on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

Well looks like they appriciated the aid
by firing RPG.

posted by: FPA on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]


Two words in your post sum up this entire administration: gross incompetence. Gross incompetence with every piece of the world they touch - or don't.

posted by: Harold on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

If the U.S. wants to help Pakistan, it should be simply to help those devastated by the earthquake. If you are looking for aid to be translated into goodwill, get ready to to be disappointed. We provide generous aid to Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority - and the U.S. is not exactly going to win Mr. Popularity in these areas. We provide little aid to India, Poland, or the Philippines, where America is still popular. The people in these nations know that aid money is quickly siphoned off or simply stolen by their elites.

Earning goodwill in Indonesia was comparatively easy, since they are so far from the Middle East, that while they reflexively repeat what Arab Muslims say about the U.S., it's not something they think about every day. Plus, Aceh, the hardist hit area in Indonesia, was experiencing years of separatist violence. The Achenese had little or no faith in the ability of Jakarta to help them.

posted by: KXB on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

KXB, I have some issues with your comments on the effects of aid in bringing good will.

Firstly aid given to Egypt and Jordan goes largely to help prop up unpopular, autocratic governments. Contrast this with potential earthquake relief which would involve direct help to ordinary people. It would be a strong case in point that the U.S has a problem with Islamic terrorists and not Muslims in general.

Secondly, the U.S may provide some aid to the P.A but this is inconsequential if it does not use its power to help give the Palestinians a state. You may argue that it is the fault of the Palestinians that they don't have a state but you none the less have to recognise that under circumstances where it is Israel's main supporter it is not likely to be popular.

Thirdly you would be surprised at America's popularity levels in India and helping a country's struggle for independence against communism is always likely to engender good will.

Finally, the issues you speak of regarding distance from the middle east are probably as applicable to northern pakistan.

posted by: reformist muslim on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

In the developing world, aid money (specifically from one government to another) not going to their intended recipients is the rule, not the exception. We have no reason to believe that aid to Pakistan will be different. Pakistan received substantial aid from the U.S. in the 1980s, most of which was stolen. I would guess that if we were to audit the money Pakistan received since 9/11, we would get a similar result. The only way to ensure that aid money goes where it is supposed to is to bypass the local authorities, which is unlikely to happen.

As for the PA, if not supporting Palestinian statehood was the chief reason that America is unpopular there, it should be less so now than in 2000. The PA receive more money now than five years ago, you have a Gaza Strip that has been cleared of Israelis, you have an American president and an Israeli PM saying that an independent Palestine is going to happen, which would have been unthinkable five years ago. America was even kind enough not to pursue the several hundred million dollars that went missing after Arafat died.

I do not have to be surprised at America’s popularity level in India, I can just read about it:

India backs Bush in global poll
January 19, 2005

My argument is not against assisting the victims of the earthquake. Pakistan clearly does not have the resources to deal with the sheer scale of the disaster. But the fanciful notions that by doing so we will become more popular in the Muslim world are silly. And as I am sure everyone heard from their parents while growing, popularity is hardly the most important thing in the world.

posted by: KXB on 10.31.05 at 03:01 PM [permalink]

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