Goodbye, Abraham Lincoln

The withdrawal of the USS Abraham Lincoln from the Aceh region this week marked the end of the relief phase of tsunami response and the beginning of another.

changeover went without much fanfare, and perhaps that is appropriate. However,
it strikes me that the role the U.S. military played in the early stages of
relief was pivotal and should be noted. These men and women made the difference
between lives saved or an even greater loss of life in the days immediately
after the earthquake.

I watched
military helicopters que, load and lift-off at the Banda Aceh airport one
afternoon in a continuous flow of material aid. They were the only link to
people in areas isolated by damaged roads and bridges. It was one time that I
was very pleased to see our tax dollars at

Writing in the New
York Times Magazine
, James Traub says a new paradigm of foreign
policy was born off the coast of Aceh. The use of “soft power” to persuade in
contrast to the brute force of arms (as in Iraq) has become strategically
important. While I am very skeptical about connecting humanitarian aid to
political goals, I do believe that the careful use of military personnel and
equipment in situations such as this could help stabilize potentially
destabilizing flash points when crises occur in addition to the obvious benefit
of saving lives.

But Traub also
points to another fundamental change that has occurred and we who care about
humanitarian values should take note. This is the power of intangibles such as
culture, values and institutions, in particular the media, churches, and
non-governmental humanitarian organizations,

It’s two-fold. It’s messaging and
action. Both influence attitudes. At the core of this point is the value of
effective communication in our world of globalized

Those groups that were
able to frame tsunami response as a comprehensive, long-term effort illustrate
the value of strategic communications and its impact on humanizing a world that
can sometimes be pretty frightening. My hat is off to them because they
recognize that the task isn’t only to deliver hard goods, it’s also to deliver
messages that persuade us to see the world through the lens of our common
humanity. They gave us hope. That’s a powerful

The men and women of the
Abraham Lincoln, along with other military personnel, carried out their tasks
with compassion and competence. They brought order to a multinational effort
that included thousands of civilian volunteers and military personnel from many,
many countries. They have left an indelible, positive impression.

Crises are opportunities for
change. If new, more inclusive communities arise from the rubble of the
tsunami, then something positive will have emerged from this great tragedy. The
people of the region are showing remarkable strength and resiliency. With the
right inputs and favorable public policy they can rebuild vital, inclusive

If policy-makers in the
U.S. learn that compassion and generosity are powerful means to creating a more
stable and inclusive world, then they will have learned an important lesson.
And if the humanitarian community learns that how we tell stories about our
world can lead to a more constructive vision of the world, we will have learned
a remarkable lesson.

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