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Laura Bush's Disastrous Diplomacy

In fact, despite the first lady's claim that Burma was blocking delivery of international aid, "Richard Horsey, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that the Burmese authorities 'are receptive to international assistance' and that 'discussions are taking place in New York and on the ground about what is needed, what the U.N. can provide and how to get it to the people.'

"U.N. officials said hundreds of thousands of people -- left homeless after the storm flattened fragile bamboo-and-thatch homes -- are in urgent need of clean drinking water and shelter. Teams from the local Red Cross have already begun distributing plastic sheeting and water-purification tablets from existing stockpiles in the country, but Horsey said far more will be needed, given the scale of the disaster."

Andrew Buncombe writes for the Independent: "The secretive military junta that has ruled the impoverished nation for two decades took the unprecedented step yesterday of issuing an urgent appeal for international help. . . .

"[A]t a meeting of foreign diplomats, Burma's Foreign Minister, Nyan Win, said he feared that 10,000 people could be dead and the worst of the damage was in the delta area. The diplomats were told that Burma welcomed international humanitarian aid including roofing materials, medicine, water-purifying tablets and mosquito nets. The first shipment of nine tonnes is due to arrive from Thailand today."

The Independent's editorial board writes: "If Burma's rulers have accepted that this disaster is too big for the country to handle on its own, and that relieving the suffering of their stricken people should take precedence over their hermit instincts, this is progress of a kind. The decision to open the country a crack is still progress, even if the response is born of fear for the regime's survival. . . .

"There have been times, though, when some real good has come of such aid efforts, when dire need has forced open not just the doors of government ministries, but minds of closed societies as well."

Richard Walden blogs on "Most of us in the relief business have strong views pro or con about the governments of countries whose people we help. But when disaster strikes, a bad or ineffective local government is an obstacle to be danced around not bludgeoned to death thus guaranteeing it will not allow the entry of urgent humanitarian aid for its people.

"Laura Bush read the administration's long-standing talking points on Myanmar while simultaneously demanding that its government accept a team of US disaster officials to make an independent assessment of its needs. That the International Red Cross, the United Nations, the European Union and a number of highly competent relief agencies were already on the ground doing exactly that did not seem to matter. Giving Laura a mike and a little halo seemingly was the intent, especially with George W. Bush's popularity hovering at 27% in the polls."

The first lady tried to make a big deal of the aid the government had already provided: "Americans are a compassionate people and we're already acting to provide help. The U.S. has offered financial assistance through our embassy." But that financial assistance has thus far amounted to a total of $250,000 -- a mere trifle considering the scope of the disaster.

An Inappropriate Segue

And then she started talking about Jenna's wedding.

As reports: "A White House press conference given by First Lady Laura Bush took a bizarre and insensitive twist when the focus of the conference, the devastation wrought by a powerful cyclone in Myanmar, switched to Jenna Bush's upcoming wedding."

Andrew Malcolm blogs for the Los Angeles Times that "alas, MSNBC's directors in New York, who were carrying the Q and A part of her appearance live, left up the caption from the earlier part -- 'Breaking News First Lady talks about deadly cyclone in Myanmar' -- and continued showing looped news footage of the devastation while the bride's mom obligingly answered wedding queries about their idyllic country getaway, their daughter's happy day and getting their first son in the family."

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