Hurricane Katrina

It is heartening to see so many foreign nations pledging aid to the U.S. in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. You expect it from our buddies like Japan and Canada, and they are joined by all the major nations from Mexico to Belgium, Australia to Italy, all over the world.

But look who else is on the list: China, Cuba and Venezuela. China doesn’t really cooperate with anyone, of course, and everyone knows we don’t see eye-to-eye with Cuba, not since whatever it was that happened with that bay and those pigs 40 years ago. And you probably forgot that we don’t get along with Venezuela, until Pat Robertson declared that their president, Hugo Chavez, should be assassinated (followed by Robertson saying he didn’t say that, followed by Robertson apologizing for saying it). Yet there they are, China, Cuba and Venezuela, pledging money and other aid. Chavez even offered to send troops to New Orleans to help quell looters, though I suspect the U.S. will politely decline the offer.

Even little Sri Lanka has donated $25,000 — a true widow’s mite, coming from the impoverished country that was hit so hard by the tsunami last winter. Other countries from that area have also pledged aid, eager to return the generosity shown by the U.S. in December.

Foreign nations, as well as many of our own leaders, have expressed outrage at the sloppy manner in which our agencies have responded to the disaster. Unlike a terrorist attack, Katrina was foreseeable and, in fact, foreseen. And even if she hadn’t been, it was clear once she struck that the devastation was beyond precedent. And yet days later, chaos is still the rule as survivors struggle to find food, shelter and medical treatment.

President Bush has been criticized for not responding to the crisis more quickly and with greater force. And I have to say that in this case, I agree with his critics. Bush managed to leave a vacation with miraculous speed to fly to Washington to try to save Terri Schiavo’s life, an action that was both unnecessary (he could have signed the bill from wherever he was) and with obvious political ramifications. Yet here he is vacationing when Katrina hits and it takes days to respond in any meaningful way. (Flying over the annihilation doesn’t count. That is approximately the same as watching it on CNN.)

Now, I wasn’t aware of the caliber of Katrina’s devastation at first, either. I don’t watch TV news, so it was the next morning’s paper that clued me in. For the first 24 hours, I was ignorant of just how bad things were down there.

Thing is, I’m not the president. The president has staff and advisers to alert him to these things, and to let him know how bad things are when a crisis emerges. And, let’s face it, he probably watches TV news, too. There is no excuse for him not to have known the level of destruction, and if he did know, then there’s no excuse for him not to have acted more swiftly.

But issues like Bush’s leadership and FEMA’s preparedness and all that can wait for the hearings that will inevitably occur in the coming weeks. Right now, the important thing is to do what we can to help. Money seems to be the most precious commodity at the moment. The Red Cross is at the ready, as ever, and they have made the following banner ad available. (You’ve probably already seen it on other sites; due to the Red Cross’s server being overloaded, this is the soonest I’ve been able to get to it.) Please click on it and give whatever you can spare. I have no doubt that all donations are welcome, no matter how small, and no matter how much you normally hate America.