by Walter Brasch
President Bush was justifiably upset. A cyclone four days earlier had destroyed a large portion of Myanmar, and the country's military junta was still refusing humanitarian aid. "Let the United States come to help you, help the people," Bush pleaded with the junta. "We're prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who've lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation," said the President, "but in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country."
With more than 20,000 dead, possibly 40,000 missing, and close to one million homeless, the junta made it clear that it, not the international community, would provide whatever humanitarian aid was necessary.
A week before the cyclone hit, President Bush extended sanctions against Myanmar by another year because of what he called that junta's "large-scale repression of the democratic opposition." Paranoid about anything that could threaten its power, the junta was frightened that the United States would use the cyclone as a reason to invade the country.
The junta's response the first week of May was little different than the international concern almost three years earlier. It wasn't the destruction of villages and the rice farming industry, but the destruction of cities and the shrimp industry. It wasn't a cyclone named Nargis, but a hurricane named Katrina.
It's been well documented that the Bush–Cheney Administration, with its head in Iraq, wasn't prepared for a natural disaster. Like the leaders in Myanmar, the Bush–Cheney Administration was slow to inform the people, and slow to act during the crisis. Less known is that President Bush refused innumerable offers of assistance to the people of the Gulf Coast.
More than 20 countries—including Israel, Mexico, China, England, and the Dominican Republic—quickly offered humanitarian and financial assistance. President Bush's first response was to tell the audience of ABC-TV's "Good Morning, America":
"I'm not expecting much from foreign nations because we hadn't asked for it. I do expect a lot of sympathy and perhaps some will send cash dollars. But this country's going to rise up and take care of it. . . . You know, we would love help, but we're going to take care of our own business as well, and there's no doubt in my mind we'll succeed."
Cuba, which has one of the best health care and disaster response systems in the world, offered substantial medical supplies and 1,600 physicians, most of them specialists. Rejected.
Venezuela offered $1 million, in addition to oil and humanitarian supplies. Rejected.
Russia offered medical supplies, evacuation equipment, a water cleansing system, a rescue helicopter, and 60 persons specially trained in search and rescue operations. Rejected.
Germany sent a military plane carrying 15 tons of emergency provisions. The United States denied it landing rights.
Not only did the federal government reject humanitarian offers from other countries, it either rejected or ignored offers by the American people and its own governmental agencies.
Before the storm hit, Amtrak offered trains to evacuate New Orleans. Ignored.
The Forest Service, shortly after Katrina came ashore, offered water-tanker aircraft to fight the fires. Ignored.
The Coast Guard, which would fly more than 20,000 rescue operations, offered 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel to Jefferson Parrish. The federal government refused to allow delivery.