Boosting the US image through humanitarian efforts

The recent earthquake is not the first time the US has offered an outstretched hand to Indonesia in its time of need. After a giant tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004, some 15,000 American servicemen took part, flying hundreds of helicopter missions to deliver food, water, and medical aid to the victims. The reaction in Indonesia to the visible American effort was very positive. A poll by the respected Indonesian Survey Institute found a threefold increase in the favorable view of the United States, from a lowly 15 percent rocketed to 44 percent.

There was a similar rise of approval for the US in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake there. The US flew more than 4,000 sorties with Chinook helicopters delivering more than 11,000 tons of relief supplies. Nearly 32,000 patients received medical attention. A subsequent poll by the nonprofit Terror Free Tomorrow organization showed that, as a result of the relief operation, favorable opinion of the US in Pakistan jumped from 23 percent in 2005 to more than 46 percent by the end of that year.

The US has a long history of aiding countries around the world after catastrophic events. This is just as it should be. But when the US is engaged in a critical war of words with terrorists and would-be terrorists in the Islamic world, such no-strings humanitarian aid to Muslim countries plays a role in generating a more positive image of Americans and their government.

[Excerpts of Opinion column by John Hughes, Christian Science Monitor]

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