By Anthony Moretti · 2023-08-23 · Source: China Focus
The global community is already watching how the White House handles the devastating situation unfolding on Maui, and the initial response has caused untold numbers of people to scratch their head. We will return to this point in just a minute.
First, let us not deny that one of the reasons for the nonstop attention is that Maui, like all of the Hawaiian Islands, is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and the well-to-do will expect one of their playgrounds to be made as whole as possible and as quickly as possible. Let us also not deny another — and more important — reason: climate change.
Granted, climate change alone cannot explain the fires that ravaged Maui; as one scientist told ABC News, the Canadian wildfires are acting much like those seen on Maui, and environmental and natural conditions also played a role in the destruction. A clear cause for the fires has not been identified, but there is no question that a variety of factors associated with climate change — increased temperatures, strong storms and drought — contributed to the disaster.
Whenever an emergency on the scale seen on Maui takes place, the American people expect that their president will offer reassuring words and a reminder that various mechanisms associated with the federal government will be used to assist in aiding the wounded and displaced, comforting the families who have lost loved ones and guaranteeing economic support for everyone in the affected area.
Yet, inexplicably, beginning last Thursday, President Joe Biden made no public comment about the situation on Maui for roughly 96 hours. As one news organization pointed out, television viewers on Sunday might have seen images of death and destruction on one side of their screen as the president “sat on the beach in Delaware, rode his bicycle and said little about the deadliest wildfire to hit the U.S. in a century” on the other side.
No president can afford to be defined as either disinterested or disengaged from an event as catastrophic as what is happening on Maui, yet critics have ample ammunition to suggest just that.
A statement from the White House, posted on August 15 and promising nonstop and intense aid to Maui, will not be good enough to mute the criticism. As you might expect, Republicans, especially presidential hopeful Donald Trump, blasted President Biden day after day for his silence.
In fact, domestic and international audiences were perplexed that President Biden did not devote more public attention to the relief and recovery efforts on Maui. Instead, after his weekend in the Delaware sun he carried out a business-as-normal approach, highlighted by the upcoming summit between Japanese, South Korean and American leaders at the end of this week. Needless to say, defense will be on the leaders’ minds, with one report suggesting some of the most sophisticated military technology in U.S. hands could be shared with its two East Asian allies. The message to China, and to a lesser extent the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is clear: The United States will raise tensions in the region as a means of demonstrating it still believes it is the world’s hegemon.
This Friday’s meeting, which will last only one day — and one is left to wonder the amount of emissions that will be dispersed into the atmosphere as two world leaders and their various teams travel from Tokyo or Seoul to Washington for such a short time — comes on the heels of American, Japanese and South Korean defense leaders meeting in Singapore about two months ago. Coming out of that meeting, the three sides slammed the DPRK for its missile tests, which the leaders asserted was a threat to world peace, and claimed they remained committed to freedom of the seas.
The reality is the entirety of Asia will be left to wonder if Biden’s overtures to his fellow leaders of Japan and South Korea is another indicator that NATO will seek a footprint in the region. Such a move, even in the most limited of ways, will raise those aforementioned tensions even higher. Noting how Japan and South Korea seem willing to paper over decades of friction between their two nations adds confusion to what is taking place among the three countries.
Unable, or unwilling, to accept the reality that the 21st century will be a multipolar world, with one polar led by China, President Biden maintains a 20th century Cold War mentality. China has been regarded as a new threat by Washington, but the phenomenon is the same: Cold War hawks believe the U.S. must dominate the world and that the U.S. is the only nation that can prevent its archenemy from spreading global chaos.
The fires on Maui are over, and the lengthy recovery is underway. President Biden could not put out any of the wildfires on Maui, and he does not want to put out the fires of war being stoked by the United States.
Anthony Moretti is Associate Professor, School of Informatics, Humanities and Social Sciences at Robert Morris University, the United States.