When cities collapse

The news coming out of southeastern Iran is horrifying. Estimates now range from 22,000 to more than 30,000 dead. Thousands more have lost everything and are without shelter in the winter cold.

Atrios provides a link to the National Iranian-American Council, which offers suggestions for how you can help the earthquake victims.

I was pleased and encouraged to see this report from the BBC, "US aids 'axis of evil' Iran."

The United States has put aside political differences to send help to the earthquake-hit area of Iran.

It joins a list of nations from Britain to China who are contributing teams or resources to help victims.

President Mohammad Khatami appealed for assistance, saying the devastation was too great for Iran to handle by itself.

Some rescue teams have reached the south-eastern city of Bam, but hopes are fading that they will be able to find many more survivors in the rubble.

In Washington, the Bush administration made a rare direct contact with Iranian officials to offer assistance.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Iran's permanent representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, held telephone talks about humanitarian aid.

"Given the urgency of the situation we deemed direct contact to be the most appropriate channel," state department spokesman Lou Fintor said.

The White House said teams of 200 civilian experts would be sent to Iran, once described as part of an "axis of evil" by US President George W Bush.

Two US planes carrying food and other aid landed in Kerman, the provincial capital, early on Sunday — the first US aircraft to land in Iran for a decade.

A tragedy like this underscores the clumsy limits of a categorical phrase like "axis of evil." What do words like "good" and "evil" mean in the face of calamity and suffering?

When the earth beneath us shakes and cities fall, good and evil cease to be merely convenient, abstract political categories.

America, God bless it, really does want to be good — and quite often it succeeds. I'm proud and pleased to see that our leaders are able to set aside other considerations to take part in the heartening international outpouring of aid.

The BBC also notes — although not in so many words — that while the world's wealthiest nation and only superpower is responding commendably, it is not taking a clear leadership role in this effort:

… a disaster response team heading out from Los Angeles was earlier put back on standby after a request from Tehran.

A plane carrying emergency workers from Virginia had to turn back after mechanical problems, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Aid teams from Europe were among the first to arrive in Iran in the crucial first hours after the earthquake.

The world has changed since Sept. 11, 2001. This new context requires not only increased vigilance (a task we've scarcely begun), but also increased magnanimity (a task we haven't even begun to think about). The latter is just as important as the former, and may be just as important as any military effort in America's vaguely defined global "war on terrorism."

I discussed the importance of magnanimity in two earlier posts:

"The Path Not Taken: How to make allies and influence international opinion"

"We Can Help. We Should Help: A superpower can and should do more than just blow things up."

Both of which draw heavily on Jack Hitt's article "A Bully's Pulpit," from Mother Jones.

Anyway, please try to find room in your prayers and in your wallet this week for the people of Bam, Iran.

  • oh

    Great post. It seems the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari recently praised U.S. magnanimity as well. If only the U.N. would respond in kind. (All of the following comes from Zebari’s recent testimony to the U.N.)
    Mr. Zebari: Saturday was a historic day for Iraq. We Iraqis have waited so long for our nightmare to be over, and now Saddam Hussein has finally gone, along with the fear, the genocide and the terror that he inflicted, and he is never coming back. Instead, he must now answer to the Iraqi people for his crimes against humanity. At last Iraqis can begin the long-overdue healing process of seeking unity, peace and national reconciliation without the shadow of evil hanging over them…
    On behalf of the Iraqi people, I would like to thank the Coalition for its part in delivering this mass murderer into the hands of the people he brutalized for so long so that justice can finally be done…
    Iraq is a country traumatized by a legacy of decades of unimaginable human suffering, gross violations of human rights and the effects of systematic policies designed to rip our country apart along ethnic or religious lines. What you see today is an unprecedented effort among leaders and political, religious, ethnic and sectarian groups to unite against the tyranny of the past and work together to build a democratic future for our people…
    We call upon the Members of the United Nations to look beyond their differences over the decision to go to war in Iraq and come together to forge an international consensus. Settling scores with the United States-led coalition should not be at the cost of helping to bring stability to the Iraqi people. This squabbling over political differences takes a backseat to their daily struggle for security, jobs, basic freedoms and all the rights the United Nations is chartered to uphold…
    One year ago, this Security Council was divided between those who wanted to appease Saddam Hussein and those who wanted to hold him accountable. The
    United Nations as an organization failed to help rescue the Iraqi people from a murderous tyranny that lasted over 35 years and today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure. The United Nations must not fail the Iraqi people again. After eight months of liberation, Iraqis are slowly beginning to get back on their feet with the help of their allied friends, and they are eagerly awaiting the help of the international community, led by the United Nations. And so we ask you today: please put aside your differences, pull together and work with us and all those who have contributed and sacrificed so much, to realize our shared objectives of a sovereign, united and democratic Iraq.
    http://ods-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N03/657/15/PDF/N0365715.pdf


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