Dan Drezner wrote a really entertaining open letter to Karen Hughes about how the US could help out Pakistan with regard to the recent earthquake, and in doing so improve US-Islam relations immensely. Indeed after US involvement in Indonesia subsequent to the tsunami, polls showed that hostility to the US decreased dramatically.
The money quote:
The reason I bring this up is that the tsunami aid brought about a tremendous amount of goodwill in places like India and Indonesia. There’s already some evidence that the aid sent to Pakistan is helping to burnish America’s image in a distinctly anti-American portion of the globe. Anne-Marie Slaughter reprinted one letter on America Abroad that makes the point in a plain manner:
[H]aving just visited the region and spoken to many community leaders across the NWFP and Pakistani-held Kashmir, it is apparent that there is a tremendous strategic opportunity for the United States and its allies. For a fraction of the cost of what is spent in other arenas of the War on Terror, an extremely volatile region and country’s hearts and minds can be won over. All that is required is a very substantial, very visible US relief effort.
To date, the US has provided helicopters and commitments of up to $50 million. What is needed– for adequate relief and for this opportunity-born-of-tragedy to be capitalized upon– is not a contribution, but a massive US presence and effort. The entire country is desperate, the entire Muslim world is watching; I cannot overstate how glaring and massive the opportunity is.
My sympathies for Pakistan aside, the US can buy a great deal of affection and moral currency by responding to this emergency– it must not let this be just another cause for further alienation.
This is one of those instances where the U.S. can do good and do well by following through with significant relief and humanitarian efforts. It’s the best kind of public diplomacy you could ever buy. And bear in mind that the costs of inaction here would be considerable.