President Bush said yesterday that the U.S. response to the deadly tsunami has led to a dramatic change in the perception of Americans in many Muslim nations and suggested that this new image could help in the fight against terrorism.
With former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton by his side, Bush said the $950 million pledged by the United States for victims of the Indian Ocean disaster has paid dividends beyond providing much-needed financial assistance to the region. "I think the world is beginning to see a different impression of America," he said. He cited a poll and anecdotal evidence to support his claim.
Bush, who was criticized in the immediate aftermath of the disaster for reacting slowly and some said stingily, met privately with his father and Clinton, whom he had tapped to head a nationwide fundraising campaign, to discuss the relief effort. The former presidents reported that more than $1 billion has been raised from private donors to help the victims.
"Every little place we went, people came up and thanked us," said Clinton, who toured the region with Bush's father. "When you relate to people on a human basis, you send a message that our common humanity matters more than our differences," he added. "When people believe that, America wins, the cause of freedom wins."
The tsunami left about 300,000 people dead or missing and destroyed huge swaths of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and several other Asian countries. Most nations are contributing money for the relief effort, but Bush decided early on to use the disaster to show a more compassionate side of the United States. Some White House officials said this could help convince people in Muslim nations that America can be a force for good.
"I am heartened that the good folks of Indonesia, for example, see a different America now," Bush said. "They see a country which, of course, will defend our security, but a country which also cares deeply about suffering people, regardless of their religion, that when we find a Muslim child suffering we weep just as equally as when we find another child that suffers."
After the former presidents stopped by the Oval Office, they were to play in a fundraising tournament in Florida organized by pro golfer Greg Norman.