Walter Brasch

The Politics of Humanitarian Aid


After Cyclone Nargis ripped through Myanmar’s Irrawaddy delta area, the Bush administration was wringing its hands over the Myanmar ruling junta’s delay in approving international aid, which is interesting, considering how the Bushies responded to offers of international aid after Hurricane Katrina.


Commentary By: Walter Brasch

President Bush was justifiably upset. A cyclone four days earlier had destroyed a large portion of Myanmar, and the country’s military junta was still refusing humanitarian aid. “Let the United States come to help you, help the people,” Bush pleaded with the junta. “We’re prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who’ve lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation,” said the President, “but in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country.”



With more than 20,000 dead, possibly 40,000 missing, and close to one million homeless, the junta made it clear that it, not the international community, would provide whatever humanitarian aid was necessary.


A week before the cyclone hit, President Bush extended sanctions against Myanmar by another year because of what he called that junta’s “large-scale repression of the democratic opposition.” Paranoid about anything that could threaten its power, the junta was frightened that the United States would use the cyclone as a reason to invade the country.


The junta’s response the first week of May was little different than the international concern almost three years earlier. It wasn’t the destruction of villages and the rice farming industry, but the destruction of cities and the shrimp industry. It wasn’t a cyclone named Nargis, but a hurricane named Katrina.

Bush Goes on Safari to Find Friendly Faces

President Bush is in Africa this week, sulking because he didn’t get his way.

In one of the rare times the past seven years, the House of Representatives, now under Democrat control for the first time in 12 years, defended the Constitution and refused to allow the President to bully it with a program of fear mongering. He really tried, though.

In a Feb. 15 speech, the President, mad at yet another delay in voting on the Protect America Act, harrumphed, “[B]y blocking this piece of legislation our country is more in danger of an attack. … [T]he House leaders must understand that the decision they made to block good legislation has made it harder for us to protect you, the American people.” Not through with his saber-rattling, the President declared that not only would he veto an extension he would cancel a scheduled visit to five African nations and, maybe for all we know, hold his breath until the House acquiesced to his will.

In August, Congress had passed the Protect America Act, designed as a six-month temporary “fix” to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The modified Act would have further strangled Americans’ civil liberties by reducing judicial oversight and by removing the constitutional provision from FISA that for federal law enforcement to obtain a court warrant for surveillance, it needed to show probable cause that the target is a “foreign power” or an “agent of a foreign power.”

However, the most controversial part of the Protect America Act was that it gave immunity to several national telecommunications companies, which had willingly acceded to government requests to illegally and secretly monitor the phone conversations of millions of American citizens. If the 40 lawsuits currently on file were to proceed, significant information about the government’s illegal and unconstitutional actions the past six years would be revealed.

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