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.
| October 4, 2010; 6:32 AM ET
Categories: Ignatius | Tags: David Ignatius
Save & Share: Previous: Declaring a cease-fire on Hitler analogies
Next: The Democrats should run on Social Security
Posted by: roblimo | October 4, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: wjc1va | October 4, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Bullah | October 4, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: devluddite | October 4, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: moinansari | October 4, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: shoaib_farooq | October 4, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ralphinjersey | October 4, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Provincial | October 4, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: hariknaidu | October 4, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: hariknaidu | October 4, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: hariknaidu | October 4, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER | October 4, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: FUZZYTRUTHSEEKER | October 4, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: alance | October 4, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: chatard | October 4, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: dogwolf | October 4, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Chas_Martel | October 5, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: texasnative46 | October 6, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: texasnative46 | October 6, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse