Middle Eastern Contributions To

Middle Eastern Contributions to Tsunamic Relief in Context

Someone on an email list drew my attention to the following exchange from last week, with Tucker Carlson talking to Leslie Gelb, a fromer president of the Council on Foreign Relations, shown at 10 pm on Weds. Dec. 29 on CNN Newsnight.

Carlson, who doesn’t know anything at all about the Middle East, might be excused for not knowing that at the time he was speaking, Saudi Arabia had already pledged $10 million to the tsunami relief effort a day before he made his ignorant remark. Gelb should have known better. I’m beginning to think he seldom does (he is also the one with the bright idea to break up Iraq, which would be a world-class catastrophe, not least for US security).

CARLSON: Well, I got the sense from the remarks from people we’ll say in the background from the White House of two things, one that they thought the president really was waiting to figure out what the scope of the aid would be and that when he figured that out he’d say something about it.

And, second, that this is sort of an unfair attack since, for instance, Kuwait, a Muslim country and a very rich one has pledged only $2 million and nobody is criticizing Kuwait or, for that matter, Saudi Arabia, which I don’t think is going to come through.

GELB: Well, I’ll criticize them. They’re cheap.

Somebody named John Farmer has picked up this meme and run with it. Farmer has even less excuse, since he was mouthing off after much more information was available.

As of 1/1, Reuters was reporting these responses to the tsunami from Middle Eastern countries:

–Qatar, $25 million

–Saudi Arabia, $10 million

–Kuwait, $2.1 million

–Algeria, $2 million

–Libya, $2 million

–UAE, $2 million

–Turkey, $1.25 million

I have suggested before that if you want to compare the donations, you can’t do it in terms of absolute numbers. You have to look at the population of the country and at its per capita income.

The announced Saudi contribution of $10 million is probably about $0.66 a citizen on a per capita basis (I don’t think the Saudi citizen population can possibly be over 15 million no matter what Riyadh says). The second US offer of $35 million was about 12 cents per person. Since US per capita income is approximately 4.5 times that of Saudi Arabia ($8500 Atlas method), however, the Saudi contribution should be seen as about $3.00 per citizen on a US scale, with regard to the real per capita burden. So the Saudi was a generous initial offer in comparison to that of the US.

The USG is now pledging about $1.19 per person ($350 million).

The Qatar offer of $25 million is about $250 per citizen.

The Kuwait offer of $2 million is $2.00 per citizen or $1.00 per person if guest workers are counted. Either way, it is comparable to the US offer on a per capita basis, and Kuwaiti per capita income is about half that of Americans. So any way you cut it, the Kuwaitis are not being chintzy unless you want to say Americans are moreso.

The Libyans are giving about $0.36 per person, and their per capita income (purchasing power parity method) is a little over $6,000. That is about 1/7 of the US per capita income, so their contribution burdens the Libyans the same way a roughly $2.50 per person contribution would burden Americans. Remember, the USG is currently giving a little over a dollar a person.

The current Australian pledge of $60 million is about $3.00 per person.

It is obvious that if we take their populations and actual per capita income into account, the offers made by many of these governments are generally more generous than that of the United States. A lot of Middle Eastern countries have small populations, so even if they gave a lot per capita, it would look small in absolute numbers. Apparently US pundits don’t know things like the citizen population of Kuwait or the per capita income of Libya, and can’t be bothered to look them up.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (the foreign ministers of Muslim-majority countries) is offering to coordinate aid from the area, and is calling for Muslim countries to give the utmost.

And, civil society organizations are also swinging into action in places like Qatar.

What explains this misplaced American high dudgeon? Petroleum wealth seems often to be coded by Americans as undeserved and also as automatically making people rich. But this impression is exaggerated. Petroleum probably only accounts for about a fourth of Libya’s gross domestic product. And the Saudi per capita income of about $8,500 per person per year (Atlas method) compares poorly to the US average of $38,000 per year per person. (And remember, these are averages and since both countries have a lot of billionnaires, ordinary people actually make much less). Americans don’t seem to understand that on an average they are several times richer than the average Saudi.

It is particularly unfair to blame Kuwait, which has a reputation of doing great, professional little development projects in Africa and elsewhere, and which is still recovering from Saddam’s brutal occupation and sabotage. Since Tucker Carlson thought the recent Iraq war was so great, isn’t he grateful to Kuwait for allowing itself to be used as the launching pad? What does an Arab country have to do to get a break from the US talking heads? Sue to become the 51st state?

I wonder if Gelb or Carlson will ever apologize to the Kuwaitis and Saudis (or whoever “they” are, who are “cheap”), and whether their incorrect statements will ever be retracted.