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NYT: Disaster Strategy: The Soft Heart and the Hard Sell

Author: Donald G. McNeil Jr.
August 21, 2010

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Donald G. McNeil Jr. examines the political and geostrategic implications of U.S. foreign aid to Pakistan in the wake of heavy floods that struck the country in August.

Let's all hope that Egypt, Turkey and Jordan soon get hit by a nice flood, earthquake or volcanic eruption.

Why? Because they're down with Pakistan at the bottom of lists of countries that pollsters say hate the United States. And, according to students — and some administrators — of foreign aid, recipients of disaster relief fall in love with America, at least briefly.

Disaster relief as geopolitical valentine “has an unseemly aspect,” said J. Brian Atwood, President Bill Clinton's chief of U.S.A.I.D., the United States Agency for International Development, who is now dean of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. “We shouldn't be using it to proselytize. Helping others has always been an American value.”

But, he added, let's not be unrealistic. Politics does creep in.

It is rare that America finds itself so overtly facing off against an ideological foe as it is said to be now in Pakistan's flooded river valleys. Discussions of the global response inevitably mention that Islamic charities were first on the scene, often adding some have “links to militant fundamentalists” or words to that effect.

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