Responding to an Asian crisis

It's an amazing irony that Bill Clinton, of all people, should be the first American up to the microphone to snipe at President Bush's tsunami response, less than four days after the catastrophe. Of course, nobody could outrace a United Nations bureaucrat for the honors, but Clinton's effort still wins him "progressive" style points in this informal branch of the Olympic Games. Besides the impropriety of an ex—president sniping at a sitting president, it's a contemptible thing in itself. Investor's Business Daily  has one of the best editorials scorning the ex—president's disgusting performance, but many other media organs are muted on the subject.
Using the cocktail chatter language of the Davos and United Nations VIP lounge crowd, Clinton had the gall to claim President Bush's response isn't fast enough, when what he really means is that Bush is not particularly willing to turn Americans' billions over to the international bureaucratic racketeers, the people who brought us the Oil for Food scam.
Clinton is not only a compulsive showboater, though, he is also an unusual hypocrite. While Clinton takes potshots at Bush, the mind reels at his own performance in Southeast Asia during his presidency.
Six years ago, Southeast Asia underwent another huge catastrophe, the great Asian Currency Crisis of 1997—1998. It was a terrible destruction of wealth and savings, impoverishing and — yes — killing, while ending hope and spreading despair in Asia's dynamic emerging Tiger economies.  Less than a generation earlier, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia bravely lifted themselves out of begging—bowl poverty, while Malaysia ascended the economic ladder toward  cutting edge industrialization and Singapore became world—class city state. That crisis robbed Asians of their futures. And while President Bush vowed to lead the tsunami cleanup efforts,  Bill Clinton ignored the great Asian Crisis for months before acting. When he finally got around to it, he exacerbated the problem by turning it all over to multilateral agencies, delaying Asia's recovery. Quite a performance.
When the great Asian crisis hit, Asia's economies came to a standstill. Millions of people were thrown out of work in countries with no welfare or unemployment benefits. Skyscrapers and subways rusted half—built where they stood, McDonalds stores had to sell rice patties to remain in business, because people had so little money. Asians starved or stewed their own pet cats. They burned the rainforest for firewood. They begged in the streets. Hotel rates at the Bangkok Oriental, probably the world's most storied and luxurious hotel, tumbled to $75 a night, a fire sale. People talked bitterly about the loss of their savings and jobs, even in Singapore.
The crisis was also extremely violent, culminating in anti—Chinese riots that killed about a thousand people in Jakarta and overthrew an old ally of 30 years, President Suharto of Indonesia. No less than six major governments were overthrown, toppled or voted out. This crisis re—ignited long—dormant civil wars in Aceh, Indonesia and in southern Thailand. It brought mob violence and the reemergence of witchcraft in East Java. Cannibalism in West Kalimantan in Borneo reappeared. And this crisis served as an incubator for something Southeast Asia had hardly seen in its famously laissez faire history: the ugly rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the hardest hit crisis areas. The correlation is very precise. What happened in Asia in 1997—1998 was the economic equivalent of total war.
Which brings us back to Clinton. What was his reaction to the great crisis that hit Southeast Asia during his term? Literally nothing. Zero. He sat on his hands and blamed the victim for a good six months after the worst crisis ever to hit our friends and allies in that wonderful part of the world. Ice—cold Clinton had no idea what to do. I remember the bitterness I heard on the streets of great Asian cities about it — in Yogyakarta, in Bangkok, in Kuala Lumpur, in Penang, in Singapore — about his indifference to the suffering in Asia during those terrible months.
Pleading for help, stricken Thailand reminded Clinton of its singular support of the United States during the Vietnam War (take a look at Thailand's geographical neighborhood and ask yourself if that wasn't a sacrifice.) War—protestor Clinton evidently decided that was an even better reason to stick it to Thailand.
Pleading for help, pivotal Indonesia, which had created a historic platform of stability in the wake of the Vietnam War that helped the rest of the Asian Tigers emerge, got even less than indifference. President Suharto got a menacing U.S. aircraft carrier headed toward Jakarta and a message from Clinton warning him to resign or meet Marcos's fate. Clinton was quite the ally of Southeast Asia, it seems.
Clinton also sent incompetent Al Gore to Malaysia to insult his very host government and make common cause with street demonstrators protesting domestic issues, something even the protestors did not appreciate, particularly when he started mouthing the slogans of Indonesia, a country he evidently mixed up with Malaysia.
When Clinton finally got around to doing something, his solution to the worst economic crisis to hit Asia was to turn it all over to the international bureaucrats. He didn't lift a finger to help our friends and longtime allies, but instead fobbed it all off to the IMF. And this, after the IMF had already played a key role in creating the crisis! This would be like turning the administration of postwar Iraq to the corruption—plagued United Nations, which created the conditions for the Iraq war in the first place. Clinton was all—talk, and in the end let the international bureaucrats handle it. Which is precisely what Clinton is proposing for President Bush to do now.
Fortunately, President Bush doesn't pay attention to backseat drivers with poor driving records. The Washington Post has a (barely adequate) article about it here, showing that President Bush has no intention of turning Asia over to the international bureaucracies in its hour of need as Clinton did, but instead will lead the critical crisis cleanup in this shattered part of the world in the name of the United States. Our hands—on President is in it to solve the problem, putting the great seal and the name of the United States on it. He's not interested in employing bureaucrats or generating position papers for the next Davos conference. 
All the talk about the U.S.'s lost status in the world isn't going to impress Asians who see their rescue ship come in from the United States under Bush. If anything, President Bush is doing this precisely because he understands the need for the U.S. to recover its good name in the ugly wake of the Clinton damage and indifference, his lingering legacy in that region of the world. As in so many other situations, Clinton was a man of words, while Bush is a man of deeds.