Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in morning television appearances, chafed at a top U.N. aid official’s comment on Monday that wealthy countries were being stingy with aid. “The United States is not stingy,” Powell said on CNN. Although U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland yesterday withdrew his earlier comment, domestic criticism of Bush continued to rise. Skeptics said the initial aid sums — as well as Bush’s decision at first to remain cloistered on his Texas ranch for the Christmas holiday rather than speak in person about the tragedy — showed scant appreciation for the magnitude of suffering and for the rescue and rebuilding work facing such nations as Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Indonesia…In Britain, the predominant U.S. voice speaking about the disaster was not Bush but former president Bill Clinton, who in an interview with the BBC said the suffering was like something in a “horror movie,” and urged a coordinated international response.
Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the president was confident he could monitor events effectively without returning to Washington or making public statements in Crawford, where he spent part of the day clearing brush and bicycling. Explaining the about-face, a White House official said: “The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn’t want to make a symbolic statement about ‘We feel your pain.'” Many Bush aides believe Clinton was too quick to head for the cameras to hold forth on tragedies with his trademark empathy. “Actions speak louder than words,” a top Bush aide said, describing the president’s view of his appropriate role. Some foreign policy specialists said Bush’s actions and words both communicated a lack of urgency about an event that will loom as large in the collective memories of several countries as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks do in the United States. “When that many human beings die — at the hands of terrorists or nature — you’ve got to show that this matters to you, that you care,” said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.
So far, unfortunately, this country’s actions in response to a tragedy of this magnitude aren’t speaking loudly enough.