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Why doesn't the U.S. take credit for aiding Pakistan?

Islamabad -- Hundreds of Americans have been working their butts off to help Pakistan cope with their flood disaster, and they haven't been getting much credit for it -- including from me.

I wrote last week from a village called Pir Sabak in northwestern Pakistan that U.S. flood relief wasn't evident there, or along the way. "The U.S. military has been working hard to provide flood assistance, but most of that is invisible to Pakistanis," I noted. That seemed to me to be a missed opportunity -- and characteristic of a weird misfire in U.S. public diplomacy. For a superpower, we can be oddly shy about advertising our good works.

I talked more about this problem with U.S. officials managing the relief effort, who felt their colleagues' work had been slighted. They're right; America has been making a big effort to help the flood victims, more than any other nation. But I'm more convinced than ever that the way we're doing it -- providing food aid through the U.N., for example, and focusing on transporting it rather than taking credit for its distribution -- reduces its public impact.

Here are some statistics that I didn't mention in my earlier column and should have: The U.S. government has provided a total of $362 million in aid; there are currently 26 U.S. military helicopters in Pakistan supporting relief efforts; four to six C-130 and C-17 cargo planes are transporting people and assistance every day; the U.S. has moved over 20,000 refugees and 13 million pounds of relief supplies.

William S. Berger, who heads the disaster assistance response team for the U.S. Agency for International Development, says the Pakistan flood is the worst natural disaster he's seen in 20 years of dealing with such crises. "We did an amazing job here. Why is it not more widely known?" he wonders. That’s a fair question.

Brig. Gen. Michael Nagata, an Army Special Forces officer who's the deputy military attaché at the U.S. embassy, has switched the past two months from focusing on security issues to supervising flood relief. "Our first priority is helping these people," he says, rather than bragging in the Pakistani media about it.

Maybe that makes our assistance true humanitarian aid, offered to help people rather than gain political benefit. But unselfishness has its limits. American do-gooders can make anonymous private contributions if they want. Our public assistance should get some return. In a country as anti-American as Pakistan, it doesn't make sense to be quite so low-key.

So, to clarify: American soldiers and civilians here have been making a difference in helping the desperate flood victims, and their work shouldn't go unsung, by Pakistanis or visiting columnists.

By David Ignatius  | October 4, 2010; 6:32 AM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Comments

"In a country as anti-American as Pakistan..." the article says, to which I add, "...perhaps we should ignore their woeful tragedies, since they hate us no matter what we do."

Aid to Haiti? Of course. Haitians like us, and we like Haitians. And they're our neighbors.

Pakistanis? The people who held victory parades for 9/11? And harbor al Queda? And now want our help? Oh, please.

Posted by: roblimo | October 4, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

We have an awful, awful propaganda/publicity system. USIA is woeful. And the laws governing our publicity are so strict and onerous we would have a hard time putting the American flag on our products, anyway. (It might influence Americans back home).

We have so forgotten WW-III i.e. the Cold War that we simply can no longer conduct activities abroad which reinforce our national interest. We cannot even fight a war without battalions of lawyers and the ICRC trying to prosecute our soldiers ever day.

So forget about us ever getting credit for anything anywhere. We are helpless as babies, passing our candy around in a world full of wolves, naive to a fault, idealistic to the danger, with a left full of self hate and loathing for their own country.

Posted by: wjc1va | October 4, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

Dear David Ignatius
I always read your column with interest. The sign in procedure kept me away from posting comments.But your "including for me" pushed me to comment. First of all I would like to pay tribute to you and the people who are working for the flood relief in Pakistan. Despite the fact that American people in general and US army (govt) in particular are all the time extend help to Pakistani govt and people, but the people of Pakistan always oppose any good will gesture by US and you know the reason! Why? This is precisely what you have tried to dig out through your worthy column. I think we all know the problem lies with the decade old US govt policies! And the drones attacks are the latest provocation.
I am a university professor, an advocate and also looking after a civil society. But I am also an old settler of Islamabad; "The Beautiful" its no longer beautiful, I don't see foreigners smiling and shopping freely anymore! Why? And I know the causes as you know about the causes of hate for Americans but couldn't do anything!
In the end let me assure you that there are a lot of people who understand your efforts but the faulty system does not let them recognize.
I am doing in my humble capacity to create awareness about the misconceptions and the cultural gap between the 2 nations-you are already doing a fine job. good Luck:)

Posted by: Bullah | October 4, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The Pakistanis are our enemies, by the decisions of their Government and their people. Handing them candy is not going to change their minds, don't you get it ? THEY HATE US. Just ask them or read any Pakistani papers.
To get Pakistan to stop sheltering Bin Laden and other jihadis the only way is to treat Pakistan as the enemy they are. Blockade Karachi, ban travel by their very corrupt elite, strike into the Tribal areas with Infantry.

Or we could spend another 10 years begging our enemies to help us while they laugh and cash our billion dollar bribes .

Pakistan is not even a real country, if serious pressure is put on it it will fold like a cheerleader on Prom night.

Posted by: devluddite | October 4, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

David:

There is a cultural deficit and a trust schism. Humans help other humans in need--not because of political benefits but because it is the right thing to do.

One cannot use drone bombs on a daily basis and expect Pro-Americanism to grow in Pakistan. One US helicopter kills Pakistanis and one US helicopter saves lives. Is Pro-Americanism supposed to grow?

Many Muslim and Arab countries have made anonymous donations for flood relief efforts. That is the good way. Reminding a friend in need about how much he has been helped surely doesn't win one friends. Daily reminders of "aid" may be counterproductive.

Most of the US aid simply disappears in US based NGOs which hire US contractors. Reams have been written on how puny the US aid is and how insignificant it is to the US economy (less than 3% of the budget). What Pakistan needs is lifting of trade tariffs on Pakistan goods--which will increase Pakistan exports to the US and the EU. That would be help--a couple of hundred million Dollars is not aid--that is pittance to gratify our own conscience.

Pakistan needs trade not aid.Trade exports will give the money to the textile owners and to the workers and will benefit the US and Pakistan in the long run.

The US obsession about credit displays a level of crassness that amazes me.

The Chinese are not obsessed with this "credit". They just help the Pakistan and the goodwill grows.

Anti-Americanism in Pakistan is a very recent phenomenon. A decade ago most Pakistanis were very Pro-Americans. What happened in the last decade?

For fifty of the past sixty years Pakistan has been an ally of Washington--however after the invasion of Afghanistan and the drone bombings things change dramatically. The opposition is to US policy not against the US or against Americans who are still thought of as good people.

Indians disguised as Americans with fake names (the ones that they use in the Call Centers)jump on the Pakistanphobic bandwagon with nonsensical spurious claims like "victory parades". Pakistan had nothing to do with any of that nonsense and supported the US war against the USSR and the US war against terror.

Editor Rupee News
http://www.rupeenews.com

Posted by: moinansari | October 4, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Pakistan had been an old American ally. Its a relationship of commitments at one time and isolation the next time. No one can take credit more than Pakistan for siding with America in defeating Russia and ending Cold War. Generally American Impression in the Muslim World is at its lowest. Specially for supporting undemocratic corrupt regimes in the Muslim World siding sometimes unjustly with Israel. Secondly people to people bridges have not been built in the Muslim world. Gaps are as wide and divided as ever. Pakistan has been a front line state against terrorism, and had suffered colossal damages more than any other nation. Still an ally despite its problems but the gap is still not reducing primarily due to the lack of clear intentions and corrupt people (supported by US). at the helm of affairs in such countries. No one can be blamed all are equally responsible. Once American ambitions will be over in the region Pakistan will be subjected to isolation, and long time friendship will again get sour. No doubt Pakistan had been helped by US at several crucial times but the friendship relationship depends on the basis of need of the time. I agree that, sometimes sincere and worthwhile support of American people have gone unnoticed. And sincere American people are not credited for their valuable support. We should learn from our mistakes and should be able to build a better relationship.

Posted by: shoaib_farooq | October 4, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

On the one hand, I admire the whole "shining city on a hill" thing and really want to believe that my country, as a matter of principle, is "better than" our baser human instincts ...

And I know that many of the suffering are children and other innocents, largely ignorant of world affairs and as much victims of their regime as they are nature's fury ...

Yet, when I hear that OBL has used as a forum for his latest threat a plea for aid to Pakistan, I really really really want there to be a quid pro quo: "You want our help? Give us bin Laden."

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | October 4, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

From the things I have read my understanding is that the typical Pakistani is much like the typical Tea Party member. They are not interested in truth or facts. They are comfortable with the BS that they believe in.

Posted by: Provincial | October 4, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Bob Woodward quoted Obama calling Pakistan a *cancer* in implementation of AfPak policy in Hindu Kush. Is it possible that the message has also reached the victims of Indus River floods? Let alone Pak/ISI.

Posted by: hariknaidu | October 4, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Bob Woodward quoted Obama calling Pakistan a *cancer* in implementation of AfPak policy in Hindu Kush. Is it possible that the message has also reached the victims of Indus River floods? Let alone Pak/ISI.

Posted by: hariknaidu | October 4, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Bob Woodward quoted Obama calling Pakistan a *cancer* in implementation of AfPak policy in Hindu Kush. Is it possible that the message has also reached the victims of Indus River floods? Let alone Pak/ISI.

Posted by: hariknaidu | October 4, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

@ Roblimo,

David writes: ".. a country as anti-American as Pakistan". Did it ever occur to you and to David that, since as far back as 1979, what the Pakistanis might have been telling Americans is : "Keep your aid, but also don't meddle in the socio-economic and political affairs of our region?" In fact, it is since around 1969, following the first Indo-Pakistan war and the signing of the Tashkent Peace Treaty between India and Pakistan that this message has been constantly conveyed to Americans by the ordinary people of Pakistan. The episode was marked by the unexplained death of Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri hours after his having signed the Treaty. His death was followed by the successful American bid to have Pakistan's General Ayub Khan accede to the US wish to maintain several military bases in Pakistan to keep a check on Soviet Activities. After 1979, the Pakistanis and Afghans had to suffer the devastation of "Charlie Wilson's War". Only after all these tragedies did the world have 9/11 and the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and several aborted terror plans and a few actual acts of terror. But, the blame for the global financial debacle of 2008, though partly traceable to insane war spending, is entirely the result of American bankster greed.

Posted by: FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER | October 4, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

@ Roblimo,

David writes: ".. a country as anti-American as Pakistan". Did it ever occur to you and to David that, since as far back as 1979, what the Pakistanis might have been telling Americans is : "Keep your aid, but also don't meddle in the socio-economic and political affairs of our region?" In fact, it is since around 1969, following the first Indo-Pakistan war and the signing of the Tashkent Peace Treaty between India and Pakistan that this message has been constantly conveyed to Americans by the ordinary people of Pakistan. The episode was marked by the unexplained death of Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri hours after his having signed the Treaty. His death was followed by the successful American bid to have Pakistan's General Ayub Khan accede to the US wish to maintain several military bases in Pakistan to keep a check on Soviet Activities. After 1979, the Pakistanis and Afghans had to suffer the devastation of "Charlie Wilson's War". Only after all these tragedies did the world have 9/11 and the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and several aborted terror plans and a few actual acts of terror. But, the blame for the global financial debacle of 2008, though partly traceable to insane war spending, is entirely the result of American bankster greed.

Posted by: FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER | October 4, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

There are currently 26 U.S. military helicopters in Pakistan supporting relief efforts. It doesn't matter how many relief helicopters we have in Pakistan, if we have other helicopters killing Pakistani border guards and causing collateral damage to civilians - it is all for naught.

Posted by: alance | October 4, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Envoy Richard Holbrooke said he is spending 85% of his time on the Pkistan situation ............from his home in New York.

Posted by: chatard | October 4, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Agreed, about our work in Pakistan, but also the world over. The U.S. has been so generous for so long with our faces directly in the intense winds of global criticism. But when does the nobility of stoicism become chump-like, especially given the risks we face today? We absolutely should tell governments like Pakistan we're happy to help, but we expect them to pass along news of our aid and assistance to their populaces.

I'm no fool, and don't expect leavening stories of drone strikes with stories of our good works will transform public opinion in such places. But remaining silent during one-sided reporting to the negative is just plain stupid. If nothing else, our front-line folks deserve better.

Posted by: dogwolf | October 4, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

We don't get credit for what we do in Pakistan for two reasons: 1) the Pak government has strict rules about any display of American support because they don't want to look like a puppet and 2) our Communications effort is so awful that things we can talk about get bungled through lack of direction, burdensome bureaucracy and lack of imagination.

Washington spends its time debating whether the Military, State, CIA or USAID should be running the communications campaign while Rome burns.

Posted by: Chas_Martel | October 5, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER,

fwiw, nonsense, bilgewater, STUPIDITY & outright FICTION, posted TWICE, does NOT become INTELLIGENT/truthful information, by magic.

yours, TN46

Posted by: texasnative46 | October 6, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Mr Ignatious; all,

the MAJOR reason that our American volunteers are NOT receiving the wide acclaim that they richly deserve is that we have a POTUS who is "not overloaded with brains", is an "internationalist" & is UNFIT to hold the office that he infests.
in point of fact, BHO doesn't even seem to LIKE the nation of which he is President, much less LOVE America.
(BHO makes "old soldiers" like me GAG each time we see/hear him on TV.- IF this SELF-important, DOLT is the best we can do for a POTUS, we'd be better off without one!)

IF President Ronald Reagan was still in office (or even Clinton or Carter for that matter), he would have PROUDLY "told the whole world" about our self-less volunteers & their self-sacrifice & obvious BRAVERY!

when the volunteers returned to CONUS, RWR would have received them at the WH & perhaps had a parade for them. = BHO is too DUMB to do anything of the sort.

LYING LOSER, thy name is Obama.

just my opinion.

yours, TN46
USA, Retired

Posted by: texasnative46 | October 6, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

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